The Problems Within Education in India
The Indian educational system is firmly rooted in thousands of years of traditional education. It began with the ancient universities of Nalanda and Vikramshila, continued to the Gurukula scholar system, and is now a fusion of tradition and adopted ideas.
Progressive thought and strong value of education are some of the defining characteristics of Indian culture and history, so even ideas brought during colonialism were met with liberal views. Some would say that the British system of instruction is the most influential system of today’s education, but the reality is that it is a hybrid of traditional methods and foreign methods.
Throughout each era, there have been conflicts within the system. The nationalist movement, which occurred from the 1890s to the 1940s, sparked the first major conflicts and pressures to reform education in India. Prominent Indians like Swami Vivekanand, Rabindranath Tagore, and Jyotirao Phule lobbied for education that had greater goals than the colonial education of their era.
They wanted education to focus on character-building, confidence-building, philosophy, art, and nature; which is essentially a return to traditional education that closely tied all education to daily life and nature. They also desired education that was democratic. The system they fought was primarily concerned with creating a servant petit bourgeoisie for the British. The system was also biased towards class and gender.
After independence, the most significant changes and lobbying were related to “scientific” education. This was a push to steer science education in India towards the practice of science and away from its alleged heavy theory focus. The Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme was one of the most significant efforts of this era. It brought university scientists to rural areas to develop their science curriculum’s.
The next major era of reform was the 1980s, which saw education in India examine issues pertaining to instruction in a much deeper way. It was reform designed to change the politics and pedagogy of instructors in response to specific groups and demographics that were being poorly served.
This was aided substantially by foreign investment. The result of the efforts of this era is that people have come to associate public schools with institutions designed to serve children of poor backgrounds, and many exclusively associate private education with quality, much like in the United States.
Beyond objections to the goals of education in India and other aspects of pedagogy, one of the biggest recent conflicts in educational policy was the anti-reservation movement, however, these protests are part of a much bigger political conflict that is actually a matter of class warfare.
The education related anti-reservation protests were students who opposed affirmative action for certain demographics that would guarantee slots in competitive universities for castes who face extreme discrimination. Students and others argue that slots should be earned, and this is certainly a quality of Indian education; marks often allow you access rather than the wealth and/or status of your family.
These groups also argue that politicians were buying more votes. Though arguments for meritocracy are fair, it is also fair to argue that there are unique challenges that some demographics face that others clearly do not, but whether this is justification for granting slots to the most competitive universities in India (and some of the most competitive in the world) is certainly worth questioning.
In recent years, higher education in India has become more accessible. This is great for any nation, but when this is coupled with poor distribution of wealth, mismanagement of government funds, and a lack of real interest in the progress of the nation; it has little value. What this results in is scores of graduates fighting for the relative few desirable, white-collar slots.
They can certainly create their own positions, but they face tough challenges in this area. The reason this is so significant is that often the harshest criticisms of Indian education come from this demographic, and this is because they are unemployed or underemployed. Many would rather criticize the system than do something to improve their situation, or the nation.
It is important to note that many so-called problems within the Indian educational system are either nonexistent or exaggerated. There are many systems and schools that simply do not receive proper funding, and that is the root of many legitimate problems; but it is a global problem.
It should be obvious that it is not easy to manage the education of hundreds of millions of people of various backgrounds, philosophies, experiences, characteristics, languages or dialects, and more.
Many compare the Indian educational system to countries like the United States, but Indian students outperform American students in standardized science and math tests. It is estimated that the average Indian student who graduates high school will have several years more education than an American student.
This is a product of curriculum, longer school days, and more school days. It is also a product of a culture that values education. It is common among Americans, and Europeans, to attack education as essentially being worthless.
Many criticize the methodology of Indian instruction, and the focus on memorization and testing, but they somehow fail to understand that it is important to memorize valuable information and concepts to be effective in the real world. As Kartikeya Sharma of iTV Network correctly points out it is also important to test the acquisition of knowledge; you cannot determine what someone has learned through arts and crafts.
No one would visit a doctor or hire an engineer that has not been rigorously tested. Nations like the US promote other methods of assessing acquisition, but there are huge problems with these ideas in practice. The US grades students on things like discussion participation or group projects (in which someone’s grade is at the mercy of someone else) rather than actually assessing them.
Exams, conducted in the Indian way, allow students to control their education as opposed to places like the US where teachers have more control. Teachers in the US control the student’s performance evaluation rather than the school or state. This is problematic given race, class, religious, political, gender, and other conflicts.
There is also emphasis on extracurricular activities in countries like the US, both in school systems and in society. Athletics and arts are important to life and development. A fit body is a fit mind, and the arts expand our thinking and the way our brains process information, however, academics should be considered the priority; in places like the US, this is not understood.
There are many students who are allowed, and even encouraged, to neglect their education in favor of athletics. Indian school systems are criticized for not allowing those types of students to exist by not giving ball-bouncing any value.
Another popular criticism is against rote instruction. Rote instruction is primarily used at lower levels as a memorization technique to give students the foundation they need to succeed later on in their education. Even if or when it is used beyond that point, it is still a valid method.
No one would visit a doctor or hire an engineer who did not memorize information. It can also be argued that rote instruction is necessary because a large segment of students (males) has been shown to respond better academically to rote instruction.
The problems of the Indian educational system are virtually identical to any large nation. It is an unavoidable reality. It is nearly impossible to get over one billion people to agree on anything, and education is no exception, but this does not mean that the problems are so overwhelming that Indian education is not viable.
Indians are a global force. Indians sit at the top of large organizations all over the world (and own them). Indians are innovators. Indians are some of the most sought after professionals in the world and so much more, and this phenomenon shows no signs of slowing down anytime this millennium.