What do we need to change about the Indian Education System?
Education has been a problem in our country and lack of it has been blamed for all sorts of evil for hundreds of years. Even Rabindranath Tagore wrote lengthy articles about how Indian education system needs to change. Funny thing is that from the colonial times, few things have changed. We have established IITs, IIMs, law schools and other institutions of excellence; students now routinely score 90% marks so that even students with 90+ percentage find it difficult to get into the colleges of their choice; but we do more of the same old stuff.
Rote learning still plagues our system, students study only to score marks in exams, and sometimes to crack exams like IIT JEE, AIIMS or CLAT. The colonial masters introduced education systems in India to create clerks and civil servants, and we have not deviated much from that pattern till today. If once the youngsters prepared en masse for civil services and bank officers exams, they now prepare to become engineers. If there are a few centres of educational excellence, for each of those there are thousands of mediocre and terrible schools, colleges and now even universities that do not meet even minimum standards. If things have changed a little bit somewhere, elsewhere things have sunk into further inertia, corruption and lack of ambition.
Creating a few more schools or allowing hundreds of colleges and private universities to mushroom is not going to solve the crisis of education in India. And a crisis it is – we are in a country where people are spending their parent’s life savings and borrowed money on education – and even then not getting standard education, and struggling to find employment of their choice. In this country, millions of students are victim of an unrealistic, pointless, mindless rat race. The mind numbing competition and rote learning do not only crush the creativity and originality of millions of Indian students every year, it also drives brilliant students to commit suicide.
We also live in a country where the people see education as the means of climbing the social and economic ladder. If the education system is failing – then it is certainly not due to lack of demand for good education, or because a market for education does not exist.
Education system in India is failing because of more intrinsic reasons. There are systemic faults that do not let our demand for good education translate into a great marketplace with excellent education services. I discussed the reasons previously in this article: Will Education make a comeback in India?
Let’s explore something else in this one: what should change in India education system? What needs to be fixed at the earliest? Here is my wish list:
Focus on skill based education
Our education system is geared towards teaching and testing knowledge at every level as opposed to teaching skills. “Give a man a fish and you feed him one day, teach him how to catch fishes and you feed him for a lifetime.” I believe that if you teach a man a skill, you enable him for a lifetime. Knowledge is largely forgotten after the semester exam is over. Still, year after year Indian students focus on cramming information. The best crammers are rewarded by the system. This is one of the fundamental flaws of our education system.
Reward creativity, original thinking, research and innovation
Our education system rarely rewards what deserves highest academic accolades. Deviance is discouraged. Risk taking is mocked. Our testing and marking systems need to be built to recognize original contributions, in form of creativity, problem solving, valuable original research and innovation. If we could do this successfully Indian education system would have changed overnight.
Memorising is no learning; the biggest flaw in our education system is perhaps that it incentivizes memorizing above originality.
Get smarter people to teach
For way too long teaching became the sanctuary of the incompetent. Teaching jobs are until today widely regarded as safe, well-paying, risk-free and low-pressure jobs. Once a teacher told me in high school “Well, if you guys don’t study it is entirely your loss – I will get my salary at the end of the month anyway.” He could not put across the lack of incentive for being good at teaching any better. Thousands of terrible teachers all over India are wasting valuable time of young children every day all over India.
It is high time to encourage a breed of superstar teachers. The internet has created this possibility – the performance of a teacher now need not be restricted to a small classroom. Now the performance of a teacher can be opened up for the world to see. The better teacher will be more popular, and acquire more students. That’s the way of the future. Read here about why I think that we are closing on to the age of rockstar teachers.
We need leaders, entrepreneurs in teaching positions, not salaried people trying to hold on to their mantle.
Implement massive technology infrastructure for education
India needs to embrace internet and technology if it has to teach all of its huge population, the majority of which is located in remote villages. Now that we have computers and internet, it makes sense to invest in technological infrastructure that will make access to knowledge easier than ever. Instead of focussing on outdated models of brick and mortar colleges and universities, we need to create educational delivery mechanisms that can actually take the wealth of human knowledge to the masses. The tools for this dissemination will be cheap smartphones, tablets and computers with high speed internet connection. While all these are becoming more possible than ever before, there is lot of innovation yet to take place in this space.
Re-define the purpose of the education system
Our education system is still a colonial education system geared towards generating babus and pen-pushers under the newly acquired skin of modernity. We may have the most number of engineering graduates in the world, but that certainly has not translated into much technological innovation here. Rather, we are busy running the call centres of the rest of the world – that is where our engineering skills end.
The goal of our new education system should be to create entrepreneurs, innovators, artists, scientists, thinkers and writers who can establish the foundation of a knowledge based economy rather than the low-quality service provider nation that we are turning into.
Until today, an institute of higher education in India must be operating on a not-for profit basis. This is discouraging for entrepreneurs and innovators who could have worked in these spaces. On the other hand, many people are using education institutions to hide their black money, and often earning a hefty income from education business through clever structuring and therefore bypassing the rule with respect to not earning profit from recognized educational institutions. As a matter of fact, private equity companies have been investing in some education service provider companies which in turn provide services to not-for-profit educational institutions and earn enviable profits. Sometimes these institutes are so costly that they are outside the rich of most Indian students.
There is an urgent need for effective de-regulation of Indian education sector so that there is infusion of sufficient capital and those who provide or create extraordinary educational products or services are adequately rewarded.
Take mediocrity out of the system
Our education system today encourages mediocrity – in students, in teachers, throughout the system. It is easy to survive as a mediocre student, or a mediocre tea
cher in an educational institution. No one shuts down a mediocre college or mediocre school. Hard work is always tough, the path to excellence is fraught with difficulties. Mediocrity is comfortable. Our education system will remain sub-par or mediocre until we make it clear that it is not ok to be mediocre. If we want excellence, mediocrity cannot be tolerated. Mediocrity has to be discarded as an option. Life of those who are mediocre must be made difficult so that excellence
Personalize education – one size does not fit all
Assembly line education prepares assembly line workers. However, the drift of economic world is away from assembly line production. Indian education system is built on the presumption that if something is good for one kid, it is good for all kids.
Some kids learn faster, some are comparatively slow. Some people are visual learners, others are auditory learners, and still some others learn faster from exper
ience. If one massive monolithic education system has to provide education to everyone, then there is no option but to assume that one size fits all. If however, we can effectively decentralize education, and if the government did not obsessively control what would be the “syllabus” and
what will be the method of instruction, there could be an explosion of new and innovative courses geared towards serving various niches of learners,
Take for example, the market for learning dancing. There are very different dance forms that attract students with different tastes. More importantly, different teachers and institutes have developed different ways of teaching dancing. This could never happen if there was a central board of dancing education which enforced strict standards of what will be taught and how such things are to be taught.
Central regulation kills choice, and stifles innovation too. As far as education is concerned, availability of choices, de-regulation, profitability, entrepreneurship and emergence of niche courses are all inter-connected.
Allow private capital in education
The government cannot afford to provide higher education to all the people in the country. It is too costly for the government to do so. The central government spends about 4% of budget expenditure on education, compared to 40% on defence. Historically, the government just did not have enough money to spend on even opening new schools and universities, forget overhauling the entire system and investing in technology and innovation related to the education system. Still, until today, at least on paper only non-profit organizations are allowed to run educational institutions apart from government institutions. Naturally, the good money, coming from honest investors who want to earn from honest but high impact businesses do not get into education sector. Rather, there are crooks, money launderers and politicians opening “private” educational institutions which extract money from the educational institution through creative structuring. The focus is on marketing rather than innovation or providing great educational service – one of the major examples of this being IIPM.
Allowing profit making will encourage serious entrepreneurs, innovators and investors to take interest in the education sector. The government does not have enough money to provide higher education of reasonable quality to all of us, and it has no excuse to prevent private capital from coming into the educational sector.
Make reservation irrelevant
We have reservation in education today because education is not available universally. Education has to be rationed. This is not a long –term solution. If we want to emerge as a country build on a knowledge economy, driven by highly educated people – we need to make good education so universally available that reservation will lose its meaning.
There is no reservation in online education – because it scales. Today top universities worldwide are taking various courses online, and today you can easily attend a live class taught by a top professor of Harvard University online if you want, no matter which country is belong to. This is the future, this is the easy way to beat reservation and make it inconsequential.
What are the most important changes you want to see in the India education system? Share your ideas.