India’s investment in higher education is quite low in comparison to that of several other countries. For example, of the $565 billion that China has spent on education in 2016-17, $145 billion was solely on higher education, said NITI Aayog member V.K. Saraswat.
“In contrast, India spent $12.5 billion on education, reserving only $4.5 billion for higher education,” said Mr. Saraswat at the inauguration of two-day national workshop on ‘Accreditation, Quality Improvement and Ranking in Higher Education – Road Map Ahead’ that began on Monday.
The workshop was jointly hosted by Telangana State Council of Higher Education, Commissioner of Collegiate Education, Telangana, and Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abiyan. Education Minister G. Jagadish Reddy inaugurated the event.
Mr Saraswat spoke about challenges faced by higher education system, scope for improvement, Central government’s plans for higher education, and ways to boost research and innovation. He listed enrolment, infrastructure and representation of men and women from all sections of society as problematic areas that need attention.
He also stated that most educational institutions are owned by political leaders who are playing a key role in governing bodies of universities.
As per the new budget, Rs. 400 crore is allotted to world class higher education institutions, and Rs. 10,000 crore under National Research Fund has been announced to coordinate and promote research in the country, he added.
A new education policy, he said, will be unveiled which will focus on research and innovation, and that there will be heavy focus on foundation education provided to children up to eight years of age.
Policy makers, educational administrators and experts convened at the workshop to deliberate and work out future approaches and strategies to enhance the quality of higher education institutions in the State.
The government needs to immediately invest in resolving the following major problems with the Indian education system:
1) Infrastructure in public schools: if education is to remain a public good in any meaningful way, this is an essential reform. A task force should fix minimal mandatory standards and ask the central and state governments to put their money where their mouth is.
2) Elimination of rote learning: getting rid of this is going to be a Herculean task, especially because low availability of teachers will remain a persistent, concomitant constraint. A task force, consisting of representatives of public and private boards, NCERT, teachers, educationists should prepare detailed teaching manuals, and recommend model textbooks. This is needed for a pedagogy based on questioning and critical analysis ready to be implemented, at all levels, as soon as these documents are finalized. Much can be learned from the way school teaching is done in good schools in Europe and America.
3) Immediate restructuring of board examinations: could possibly start with intensive teachers’ training for Grades 9 to 12 to move the pedagogy towards more analytical and open-ended teaching-learning styles. Indeed it will remain an imperfect system because such pedagogy will not have been practiced in the earlier grades. But it is absolutely imperative to get rid of the current fascination with multiple choice questions and keyword-based answers.
4) Recruitment and training of teachers: this is the toughest one to solve because a competent pool from which teachers can be recruited is simply too small. Not too many people are interested in becoming school teachers given the uncertain working conditions and tenures, as well as the relatively low salaries in most private schools; even in government schools, while the salary is decent, temporariness seems to be standard. There seems to be little incentive for aspiring teachers in rural areas and small towns to invest in a 4-year B.Ed degree when their likely monthly pay will be a few thousand rupees. If these issues are not addressed through regulation and special recruitment drives to hire smart people, then there is no feasible solution.