“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
These lines of Robert Frost from the poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ depict a dream that is yet unfulfilled and needs a lot to be done to achieve that. It is for me the dream of an educated India, an India where minds are to be fearless, knowledge free and innovation is to follow. But here we are, after 56 years of Independence from colonial rule, suffering with an ill education system.
There are insufficient schools, poor teacher to student ratio, untrained teachers, absent students and absent teachers alike from schools, crumbling infrastructure, high drop-out rates, poor quality of education and what not.
Those who really want their children to get education may send them to private schools. And if you can’t pay their fat tuition fees and you may even be required to pay for a seat in these schools, but don’t blame anyone. This is how things are done here in India. ‘Everything goes.’
The layers of issues are encrusted to every level, be it primary, secondary or the higher education. The Indians may have got the ‘Right to Education’ but what they have not got is the ‘Right to Quality Education’. The schools in rural India lack even the most basic requirements like black-boards and washrooms. The schemes like Mid-day Meal may have attracted students to the schools but who is ensuring that they get the Education as well which is the main objective of running a school and not cooking and serving food.
And coming back to the right to education, implementation of which is shown by the fact that 4% of children in India never get enrolled for schools and 58% of those who get enrolled don’t complete the primary education. The whopping figure of 90% is for children who do not complete school and drop out early, which means that only 10% of children in India who enroll for schools complete the school education and become eligible for higher education.
There is an acute shortage of trained and qualified teachers in Indian schools especially in rural areas. I came to know of a few government schools in semi-rural areas where the teachers got their postings but instead of going to the schools regularly and imparting education to the next generation, they found a simpler way to evade all this ‘unnecessary’ exercise. What they have done is making arrangements with the few local employees in the schools and simply mark them present in the official register, so they keep getting their government job ‘salaries’ without doing the ‘government job’. In exchange they bribe the persons helping them to be present in the official registers. These teachers only visit the schools on the salary days making a completer farce of the education system.
This is when 90% of the public expenditure in Indian schools is on the salaries of these teachers and to run the school administration. There is one in four government school teachers who remains absent on any given day.
As an alternative to the government schools, private schools started springing up in the country with 7% share in the number of schools in India. About 50% of students in urban areas and 20% of students in rural areas were enrolled in private schools in 2004-05. However, these private schools also suffer from several issues with lack of trained teachers. Also, private schools do not fare good in terms of providing education to the poor as these largely remain unaffordable to them.
The quality of education has so deteriorated in public schools that people have started to prefer costly private education to the free public schooling. Only those who do not have the affordability or those who do not have the option of private schools (mostly in rural areas) are bound to send their kids to government schools.
This is no secret that education opens up the opportunities for economic and social development. Indians have increasingly recognized that and have made efforts in the direction to education but administrative lapses, corruption issues, lack of quality education, growing disparity between rich and poor are the obstacles that need to be tackled at every step.
I would leave with one more example of deteriorating education system in India. In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, from where I belong, lakhs of students sit for State Board Exams (10th and 12th Standard). These exams held at the state level are a big affair every year as the attempt to successfully convene the exams without any disruptions is the responsibility of everybody from state and district administration to the school administration. Under the nose of all these personnel or with their support, the act of providing means for passing exams to students goes on without any hindrance. The teachers write the answers on the board, the students obediently copy them, in some cases if a student is handicapped even to copy (as he just didn’t learn to write till then), the teachers assist them in writing their answer sheets. Parents are happy as they get return on their investment – mark-sheets with Pass on them, the administrators are rich as they pocket their bribes, students are still dumb as they did not learn anything and teachers are depraved and no longer a moral example for their students. It goes on.
‘Everything goes.’ It needs to stop.
The dream still remains.
“Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
– Rabindranath Tagore