Saturday, May 31, 2014

A wishlist for education sector...

Dear Ms. Smrithi Irani,

I have never been glad to get an HRD minister like you, having been an observer of your intellect in dealing with Media and criticisms. Your reaction to the controversy your educational qualification, has only enhanced my faith in you. Yet, I want to give my thoughts on the priorities you should focus on. They are broken into Primary education, High School, Vocational & Higher education. I hope that you will listen to these and put in place longer term plans …

  1. Primary Education: We have an odd situation where in children are neglected in early stages of education, leading a mushrooming of very high priced and inaccessible schools for the masses in this crucial phase of a child’s development. This has to be the utmost priority for you to fix. I would start with government schools (co-educational) that are only primary up to class 6. There is no need to provide Kinder Garden education, which in reality are nothing more than Crèches for working parents in India. I would use the anganwadi services to take care of that need. Every village in India needs at least one such primary school, with teachers recruited locally (from the village itself first, if not in the neighbouring villages etc. bottom-line we need people who have a stake in the wellbeing of the community there itself. Right now teachers recruited based on huge entrance exams and selection tests etc. and the city bred have a total monopoly on them, they rarely go to assigned schools and when they do bide their time awaiting a “transfer”. A single teacher for each subject is all that is required in terms of strength as they can deal with classes 1-6 in one go.  I would recommend an all-female teacher recruitment for this crucial phase in child’s development. It will also empower rural women, when that happens overall wellbeing and levels of literacy etc. will all go up ! 
  2.  Middle & High Schools: For every primary school - Middle schools which teach upto class 10 have to be in the same capacity nearby. After which distinct schools which operate in Junior college model with just 11/12 need to be created for clustered villages. Appropriate pay scales, commensurate with qualification need to be established so being an educator becomes a viable economic option for those who want to teach. In fact, I would introduce a standarded qualifying exam for B.Ed graduates and then with that qualification recruit folks who already live as close to the schools as possible for all these. 
  3.  Vocational education: We have a situation, where in we obsessively increase capacity in Engineering but a quality plumber/carpenter/electrician is very difficult to find. I would suggest an audacious goal of building a polytechnic where in people can join after 10th and get a two year course with a diploma in skill set disciplines. Not the present on which offers half baked mechanical/electrical/civil etc…. That way, folks will be employable. E.g. in a community of weavers, why can’t the curriculum be textiles… ? Be flexible, allow for disciplines in alignment with the local’s traditional skillsets and talent. Have an audacious goal of 100,000 such institutes which leverage local talent and industry that exists… In addition to universal electrician, plumber etc. 
  4.  Higher education: We are at the stage were our industry is failing in R&D even if you pervert that definition to mean “Read & Duplicate”, shed arrogance. Say I want basic under graduate facilities in each district in traditional engineering. The government should have a goal of a medical/engineering/Arts/Science college in each of the districts with capacity commensurate with an appropriate need based ratio per the population. Similarly each State should get an IIT/AIIMS/Law facility in one go. Have an aggressive goal of completing the infrastructure (buildings, recruitments in three years) and then start them with full capacity. You can factor in existing infrastructure in states and invest in where there is a shortfall. There are lot of foreign universities who with their brand name are looking to enter the “education business” some of them are also genuine established ones in higher education and research. To separate the grain from the chaff I would suggest a policy where in you allow the foreign universities to establish only PG institutions. That way we augment crucial needed sector as well.

Please don’t get into a trap like your predecessors, who were obsessing about IIT reform and mimicking the western education. Realize our innate strengths, with our scarce resources we need to be prudent also there is also inefficiency in ensuring outcome as well through social obligations like reservation etc. realize them and be pragmatic. I would keep one JEEMain exam, in all official language of India, work out a common syllabus for Science/Math/Biology with all the states with common evaluation for these. Do away with separate entrance exams by anybody period ! CBSE needs to be re-purposed as an arbiter ensuring this consistency and not an independent power center in itself, arrogating some special position in the scheme of things! Similarly, class 10/11/12 have to be a common board exam, conducted in each language. Most importantly respect the states and other language mediums as well.

The union governments so far, have been arrogant and have never taken the states in a partnership, I hope you will dispense with that attitude in Toto…

Here is hoping,

Baskar Kothandaraman