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Rediff article on Education



Following is a summary of Shalabh Kumar’s article in Rediff some time back.
The entire article is worth reading.   It is up to the intellectuals in the
IP group to debate and decide if there is any thing worthwhile in Shalabh’s
article, which is copied at the end.

Summary

		So far we have diluted out effort by making available limited government
resources to support a very broadly available higher education.  This has
resulted in lack of funds to support a broader all pervasive primary
education system as well as a system of practical training education.  The
result is that people with multiple college degrees end up doing clerical
and other jobs requiring very limited application of higher education.

		The author advocates the following :-

1.	Quality primary education must reach every individual.  This is needed
to enable every one to communicate effectively leading to awareness and
progress.

2.	To power our growth we need people with skills suited to economic
requirements.

3.	Also needed are people who push the frontiers of knowledge - people who
will guarantee our future and our rightful place in the global community.  

After end of primary education (class 4 or class 5), an evaluation should  
occur to decide the two streams - one for skill based education and the
other for "higher education".

		Considering the limitation on our present resources, we can only afford
to provide free education up to primary level.  Long term goal should be to
provide free education till class 12.

		In the meantime we should devise a merit-cum-means system to ensure that
‘needy’ students with academic or other potential are able to achieve their
full potential.

		Second screening should occur at Class 12 level.  Presently a screening
does occur as all the premier institutions. (IITs., Medical Colleges, etc.)
have a screening system.  The system however fails for the following
reasons :-

1.	Not enough of institutions of "academic excellence" to accommodate all
deserving cases; and

2.	The system does not differentiate between students who deserve practical
skills and others who should be heading for a culture of academic and
intellectual vibrancy.

		The author feels that the US model of higher education is worth
emulating.  Key features of the system are :-

1.		completely merit based, with scholarships for the deserving;
2.		Autonomous;
3.		Expensive; and
4.		Open to all nationalities.

		The author recommends limited number of colleges in all the needed fields
- each completely independent and autonomous, but linked by a common
selection process and governing body.  Colleges to be self funded with
private capital.

		The system should be open to foreign nationals.  Foreign students
will add to intellectual vibrancy and diversity.  They will also be the
future important ambassadors for India in their own countries.

		If we invest wisely, India could be one of the powerhouses of the
21st century. 

		Now the full article :-

    When the reforms process   was initiated in the early 1990s, there was
some discussion by the Indian
intelligentsia on the core areas that India could focus
on for rapid growth. That discussion died as the euphoria of the early days
of reforms was tempered by reality.
Yet, the basic premise of that discussion remains valid. We, as a country,
are playing a catching-up game. It makes sense, hence, to learn from the
experience of other
countries who have played this game successfully. Focussing on a few areas,
where the country has intrinsic strengths and/or future possibilities, is
clearly one of these lessons.


Through this article, I would like to re-start the
discussion on areas that we need to concentrate on.Education is not often
discussed as a core economic area because the commercial benefits are not
obvious, while the social benefits are. Yet education and the building of
intellectual capital remain a corner stone of a strong and developed country.

 Japan's rapid rise as an economic power was aided by an
 education system which 'mothered' its technological and
 process engineering strengths. The German education
 system has for long been the envy of other countries, for  its ability to
educate and train citizens for all level of economic and social activities.
Sweden, another success story of the 20th century, puts education at the
top of the things that the government must provide for its citizens.
Finally, we have the examples of Great Britain in the 19th century and the
US in the 20th century. It is a moot point whether either of these
countries would have built themselves into such         powerhouses if it
were not for their education systems.

                 The education model in these two countries provided not
                 just basic education for everyone but also supported, in
                 the fullest measure, advanced education which pushed the
                 frontiers of human knowledge in all fields. In fact, the
                 resurgence of the US economy in the 1990s, powered by the
                 developments in the IT industry, remains the best
                 advertisement for the support and building of higher
                 education.

                 Interestingly, most countries treat education as a
                 restricted field, directed to their own citizens and
                 shaped by their own economic requirements. As we enter
                 the 21st century, the USA stands alone among the
                 countries of the world, with infrastructure and support
                 for the pure pursuit of knowledge and learning . When you
                 think of higher education, you think of the US. It is no
                 surprise then that most major inventions and innovations
                 seem to be coming from the US. It is also one of the
                 fundamental reasons for the continuing pre-eminence of
                 the US in the world today.

                 The absence of an alternative to the US is an opportunity
                 for India.

                 India has a chequered history as a centre for higher
                 learning. We all know the stories about Nalanda and
                 Takshila. More importantly, even in current times we have
                 demonstrated, on a limited scale, our ability to build
                 excellent institutions of education -- the IITs, the
                 premier medical schools, the IIMs are all indicators of
                 this ability. There are two other factors which can help
                 us build India as a favoured destination for higher
                 education. There is, in India and abroad, a massive pool
                 of Indians in the teaching and research professions.
                 Maybe it is something that we do well as a race. Then
                 there is the dominance of English in our higher
                 education. The spread of English as a world language will
                 continue to work in our favour.

                 We have an opportunity staring us at our face. The cost
                 of education in the US is high and the students from
                 developing countries face great difficulty in getting
                 admissions. To the world community of developing
                 countries, India could become the destination for higher
                 education. There are two caveats to this -- one, the aim
                 is to become a centre for excellence which means it is
                 not just a cheaper alternative that one is talking about.
                 Two, to be a world renowned place, we will need to look
                 outwards and actively encourage deserving students from
                 other countries.

                 When I first discussed this idea with people, a very
                 valid objection was brought up -- shouldn't primary
                 education be the priority area, given our high levels of
                 illiteracy? Of course, it should be. But focus on
                 widespread primary education and building world-class
                 centres of excellence in higher education can go hand in
                 hand.

                 Any education system needs to cater to three levels:
                 primary education for every individual, skills training
                 for a significant sub-set and advanced education for the
                 other sub-set. Since the system on first glance appears
                 unfair or 'elitist', we have chosen in India a system
                 where higher education is also broadly available and
                 government subsidised.

                 The broad availability of higher education creates
                 multiple problems. It drains resources. That's one of the
                 reasons why we do not have funds to support a broader,
                 all pervasive primary education system. It is also the
                 reason why we have not been able to build a system of
                 practical training education, an idea which has been
                 around for some time. A bigger problem is that it is such
                 a waste of individual time and energy. In my own extended
                 family, I have examples of people with multiple college
                 degrees -- BA and two MAs, BA and LLB, MSc, etc -- with
                 jobs which can at best be described clerical. I fail to
                 see the value that an MA in History brings to an
                 administrative assistant's job in LIC or an MA in
                 Economics to a police job. The cost to the nation of the
                 number of productive years wasted by its youth is high.
                 The cost of the frustration that it builds in the youth
                 is immeasurable.

                 The education system that the country needs is clearly
                 different from what we have. Let us recognise first a few
                 indisputables: we do need a primary education system
                 which reaches every individual. We will never be able to
                 pull ourselves out of the economic and social morass that
                 we are in with 50% of the population illiterate. The
                 purpose of primary education is basic -- literacy allows
                 people to communicate more effectively with each other.
                 Effective communication leads to awareness, awareness
                 leads to progress. Ergo, we need primary education for
                 all.

                 Yet, 100% literacy is only a necessary condition not a
                 sufficient one. To power our growth and to secure our
                 future, we need both people with 'skills' suited to
                 economic requirements as well as those who push the
                 frontiers of knowledge. The second tier of education has
                 to impart 'skills' to people -- a lathe operator needs
                 training on the lathe, an administrative assistant needs
                 typing, filing and office software training, a service
                 representative needs technical training, a primary school
                 teacher needs education training. None of these people
                 need a BA in History or a BSc in Physics. If we could
                 change the curriculum in the vast majority of colleges in
                 the country to imparting functional skills, one of the
                 fundamental stumbling blocks in our economic development
                 will be removed.

                 A revamp must be preceded by a number of questions -- if
                 primary education (the education required to make a
                 individual know the three Rs) is till Class 4, how many
                 further years will complete the basic education? Class
                 10? Class 12? Bachelor's? The German education model
                 actually evaluates students at the Grade 4 level. One set
                 is identified for higher education and go through
                 different schools, while the other set is moved into
                 skills training through the 'apprentice' programme after
                 high school. So, could we also define basic education to
                 be complete after Class 12?

                 Given our economic situation, the participation of a
                 large number of children will be dependent on the
                 government support provided. Let us start with the
                 assumption that primary education, till class 4, should
                 be made available free-of-cost through government
                 schools. The country does not have currently the
                 resources to make basic education free till Class 12, but
                 that should be the long-term goal. In the interim, a
                 merit-cum-means system which ensures that 'needy'
                 students, with academic or other potential, continue
                 their education will need to be instituted.

                 The first level of screening should happen after Class
                 12. We already have an ad-hoc screening system working in
                 the country. The IITs and the medical schools have
                 entrance examinations, while the premier colleges recruit
                 on the basis of the performance in the Class 12
                 examination. The top academic performers actually get
                 selected for higher education. But the system fails at
                 this point because of two reasons.

                 First, there are very few of these institutions of
                 'academic excellence', not enough to accommodate all the
                 students who should be in such institutions and not
                 enough to build a strong culture of academic and
                 intellectual vibrancy. It also fails with the second rung
                 of individuals -- it provides for them also a similar
                 educational curricula, or at least the same
                 qualification, in colleges of dubious value. It is this
                 second rung of individuals who need to be directed to the
                 centres for building practical skills. There are a number
                 of ways in which this can be achieved. These centres
                 should be partly subsidised to start with, making them
                 economically attractive. In addition, conversion of the
                 current colleges into such centres will lead to an
                 automatic move.

                 We are, however, still nowhere close to building
                 ourselves as an intellectual powerhouse. To do that we
                 will need to strengthen the few academic institutions of
                 excellence that we have and to significantly expand their
                 numbers. While primary education is the foundation stone
                 and practical training a key element in building our
                 economic prowess, higher education will guarantee our
                 future and our rightful place in the global community.

                 The US model for higher education is worth emulating. The
                 key features of the system are:
                * Completely merit based, with scholarships for deserving
                 students

                * Autonomous

                * Expensive

                * Open to all nationalities

                 There are only few changes that we will need to make. The
                 US higher education system covers every possible area of
                 human curiosity -- we will need to focus. Some areas of
                 focus select themselves -- engineering, medicine (western
                 and traditional), pure sciences, agricultural technology,
                 management. These are also areas which developing
                 countries in general will be interested in.

                 A model, not very different from the IIT model, could be
                 adopted for each of the fields. That means a limited
                 number of colleges in each field, each completely
                 autonomous and independent, but linked by a common name,
                 a joint selection process and a governing body. The
                 colleges will be self-funded and private capital should
                 be encouraged. In engineering, with the already
                 established equity, one could consider a second chain of
                 colleges, to complement the existing IITs. A selected set
                 of existing RECs could be identified for development.
                 Similarly, in medicine, two separate chains for Western
                 and traditional medicine could be set up.

                 The key change to the system will be in opening
                 admissions to foreign nationals. It is a difficult
                 decision. Seats will be restricted in such institutions
                 -- to give them to foreigners, instead of Indians, seems
                 to run counter to the concept of building the nation. It
                 is not. Foreign students will never be a dominant group.

                 However, the small numbers who will be selected will add
                 substantially to the intellectual vibrancy and diversity
                 of the system. They will also be in the future important
                 ambassadors for India in their own countries --
                 economically and politically. To initiate the process,
                 the government could enter into a 'preferred partners'
                 scheme with a few countries. Once the process starts, it
                 has its own momentum.

                 It is difficult to say what the driving technology or
                 phenomenon of the 21st century will be. It might be IT --
                 in which case we may see another century of US eminence.
                 But I am willing to bet that the future will see
                 something even more powerful, even more fundamental
                 develop. Such developments will come from countries who
                 invest in human learning. These countries will be the
                 powerhouses of the 21st century. India could be one of
                 them.




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