By Saurabh Gandhi
Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
Year after year, various global rankings are unveiled, giving us a glimpse of the top universities or educational institutions across the world. One thing that doesn’t go unnoticed is the absence (or meagre presence) of Indian institutions on that list. Predictably, the US and the UK dominate the rankings. However, our neighbor China is not as absent from the list as we are. This is despite the fact that India has an added advantage when compared to the Chinese – the ease with which we have adopted English. What, then, stops our varsities from getting global recognition and more importantly, what can we do to rejuvenate India’s education system?
It is important to underline here that it is not just the lack of global recognition that should force us to reconsider our ways. The reality, that a huge percentage of our graduates are considered unemployable by industries, should be shocking enough to jolt us. Moreover, in our pursuit of becoming a superpower we must realize that unless and until we attract the best brains from across the world, we can’t expect to be at par with the US. Forget attracting talent from abroad-presently, there is a brain drain from India to the rest of the world. In this piece, we look at certain concrete steps that we can take, to at least stem the flow.
Firstly, the university system across the country needs to be linked-a student should be able to do one semester in Delhi University and the next in Calcutta University. This might seem too radical an idea; but unless we shake up the system, surprising results will be difficult to achieve. What this linkage will do is make students move across the country and gain different perspectives. It is often said that the average American doesn’t know much about what happens across the world. However, what is increasingly becoming the case in India is that people from different states or cities are getting more and more tied down to their place of living. Students from a particular city are bound to take up science after 12; students from another take up humanities. These stereotypes go a long way in deciding the student’s fate. Sure, there will be few who will trudge along the path less travelled, but what about others who do not even know what options exist for them? Linking universities will enable students to move around the country and acquire different skills, even within their own field of study.
A corollary to the above step is the upgradation of the admission process to universities. Apart from a few courses, our universities admit students primarily on the basis of their grade 12 marks. Sure, academic performance is crucial to judge a student’s calibre, but that should not be the sole criteria. I am not advocating a GD/PI route to admissions, because the standard of most of our schools is not such that students can cope with such a process. What that will do instead, is just encourage mushrooming private guidance institutes that will be beyond the reach of those who need them the most. Hence, a holistic evaluation of the student’s capability, suitability and interest with regard to the course needs to be done.
The above step will become more effective if the schools across the country adopt a more hands-on role with regard to the grooming of a student. A school’s main job should not be restricted to attaining 100% results every year. Sure, students need to pass with flying colors, but they must also be equipped with all the information that they need in order to take an informed career decision. Apart from general information about the courses available, there should be a personalized report card prepared for each student detailing his skills and performance over various parameters, such as academics, sports, performing arts, organizing school events, oratory skills, and so on. Every school has some fest or the other at least once a year. Wouldn’t it be great if every single student was given some responsibility according to his calibre? Wouldn’t that ensure holistic development of a student instead of just encouraging one or two to become a great dancer and asking the rest to just sit and study?
Coming back to the condition of our higher education institutions, we can no longer ignore the word ‘research’. Firstly, more people need to be made aware that research is an option that is available to them and that they do not need to opt for an MBA/job. This won’t actually make a difference, however, until we make research financially lucrative in the country. Far from being financially lucrative, it can be said that research is frowned upon by parents and peers alike in India. This has to change. How do we expect to be a super power if we don’t develop new and innovative products that meet society’s needs?
On a deeper level, the aforementioned points seem superficial. This is because we are looking at a situation where even after years of independence, we haven’t been able to ensure that every single girl (or for that matter even boy) enters school at the right age and pursues higher education. Before we look at solving the quality problem of India’s education, we need to settle the quantity factor. Once we can ensure that everyone has access to primary and secondary school education irrespective of caste, sex, religion and economic status, we can create a level playing field. This, combined with making education loans more accessible to everyone, will ensure that we can focus more on merit and less on other grounds. If we overlook this, it can only be said that we are ignoring the elephant in the room.