India’s education problem

Published: June 18, 2016
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The writer is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Westland in 2014. His book, India, Low Trust Society, will be published by Random House. He is Executive Director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are his own aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

The writer is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Westland in 2014. His book, India, Low Trust Society, will be published by Random House. He is Executive Director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are his own aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

India’s first education minister was Abul Kalam Azad. He was a serious intellectual and one of the best read men in politics anywhere in the world. He is called maulana because of his knowledge of religion. His work simplifying the Holy Quran is still the standard text followed by maulvis in India and Pakistan. His knowledge of history and literature was unmatched in Congress. In 1931, when Jawaharlal Nehru wrote the beautiful 900-page Glimpses of World History from jail, he had no reference books to check facts and dates. But he had Azad and his encyclopaedic knowledge about everything from the history of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome to tea in China. As education minister in independent India, Azad founded the Sahitya Akademi. My point in saying all this is to show that many great people have held this office in the past.

Today, the education ministry has a different name. It is called the ministry of human resource development and it is headed by the actress Smriti Irani. She believes she has been doing a good job as minister even though ome supporters of Narendra Modi think she is not because they see her lacking in education and experience. A few days ago, Irani listed some of her achievements which included the following: over 4 lakh school toilets made in one year, focused interventions to improve maths and science levels, and focused interventions to improve reading and writing levels. She claimed many of these things were being done for the first time under her direction. She listed many other things, including installation of statues and innovations in recording attendance and so on, but for now let us look at these. What is the problem of education in India? The biggest one is the quality of primary education. Almost everything is going wrong here. There are no proper facilities, teachers often do not show up, the free food served is so casually prepared that children sometimes die of food poisoning. The government has failed to do this vital work properly, forcing even the poor to send their children to private schools. In 2006, fewer than 20 percent of students were in private schools, and 10 years later it is more than 30 per cent. Even here, the quality is variable and many private schools are worse than government schools.

The result is that majority of students produced by Indian schools are not educated. The best annual survey of education in India is conducted by the organisation Pratham. It will be instructive to look at its findings for Gujarat. In 2014, only 22 per cent of Class 7 students in rural Gujarat could read a sentence in English. This number was 37 per cent in 2007 and so the education standard is actually falling, even in a state which most Indians believe had good governance. Of the Class 5 students tested, the number was six per cent meaning that 94 percent of Gujarat’s students aged 10 could not read a single sentence in English. I should add here that over 20,000 students were surveyed so the sample size is very big. Less than half (44 per cent) of students in Class 5 had Class 3 level reading ability in Gujarati. This number also had deteriorated over the years. Only one-third (35 per cent) of students in Class 3 had Class 1 reading ability in Gujarati and this number had deteriorated by 10 per cent since 2007. The data is from government schools but even the numbers from private schools are similar. For example, 13 per cent of Class 5 students in government schools could do division. The number for private schools was only 16 per cent. Gujaratis, among all Indians, are supposed to be born businessmen but if more than 80 per cent of them do not have the ability to do basic arithmetic, the future is grim.

Some of the blame can be put down to a lack of resource. The US government spends $115,000 on the education of each American child from age six to 15. This means that Rs7 lakh is spent per child per year. This is unimaginable in India. It will require 100 years to reach that level. But we must also accept that there are poor countries that do not have India’s problems. Education in Zimbabwe, which has a per capita income lower than India’s, is superior to ours. The issue is not only a lack of money. I often write that the problems of India are only partly those of government. The big issues are in society and they cannot be changed by a minister no matter how brilliant she may be or think or herself as being. India is producing barely literate and unemployable citizens. They will not be productive and, for no fault of their own, will not be equipped to work in the modern economy. We are failing to develop our human resource. It is something our human resource development minister should accept with humility because it is not her fault. Even though she believes new things are being done for the first time under her, many great people have done the job she is doing today and all have failed.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (20)

  • Raj - USA
    Jun 19, 2016 - 2:05AM

    This is one write up from Aakar Patel that I like. Points he has raised are valid. He has identified the underlying reasons. Conscious and dedicated efforts should be made by the society as a whole and the government to chart out a course of action and find a solution. Recommend

  • Kafir
    Jun 19, 2016 - 2:20AM

    So, to get it straight. All evils in the Indian education system are attributed to the 2 year old stint of Smriti Irani. Also, its quite pertinent to note the bringing up of her past acting history to show her as a misfit for the job. By that account, Sonia Gandhi, a waitress has no business to be the President of the Grand Old party and to put it succinctly, a quasi decision maker in the previous dispensation.Recommend

  • Jun 19, 2016 - 4:37AM

    When you read the comments by Hindians in this newspaper, they say
    there 120% literacy in Hindia. Nobody knows how it can be 120%.
    But they insist, it’s 120% literacy….that’s what the Hindians claim…..karma.Recommend

  • Mahakaalchakra
    Jun 19, 2016 - 7:22AM

    Most places in USA almost 75 to 80 percent funding of public (government) schools from KG to 12th grade is collected directly from high rates of property taxes to the resident of each town or city to keep their standard high, even better than private schools of India. In India not many would be willing or able to pay such a high taxes. There is no free lunch in USA. Deal with over population by limiting the size of families to up to two. This is one of the best long term solution for India. China went for one child limit which was not good but it gave China a chance to remove poverty in quickest period. Recommend

  • ahmed41
    Jun 19, 2016 - 7:28AM

    “…….The US government spends $115,000 on the education of each American child from age six to 15. This means that Rs7 lakh is spent per child per year.
    This is unimaginable in India. It will require 100 years to reach that level.
    But we must also accept that there are poor countries that do not have India’s problems. Education in Zimbabwe, which has a per capita income lower than India’s, is superior to ours.

    The issue is not only a lack of money. I often write that the problems of India are only partly those of government. The big issues are in society …..”

    WHAT IS THE SOLUTION ?????Recommend

  • Secular Indian Hindu
    Jun 19, 2016 - 9:04AM

    Education system currently is producing large number of unemployable youths. except few colleges most graduates needs to be trained and skills imparted by companies who employ them. Also, many colleges still teaches archiac subjects like steam engines in mechanical engg courses. Problems are plenty in most of these Private bodies like poor quality of faculty, infrastrucrure, commercialisation of education system.Adding to this problem,India has a incompetent Minister who invokes little respect with dubious educational background. Leadership with farsighted vision and knowledge of education system is needed badly to leapfrog India into developed economy.Recommend

  • Tyggar
    Jun 19, 2016 - 10:28AM

    @Motiwala:
    The problem is with your comprehensionRecommend

  • Rajashekar
    Jun 19, 2016 - 11:56AM

    @Motiwala: You seem to comment only on Aakar patel’s vlogs? Anyways no Indian or “Hindians” as you call , ever claimed India has an excellent education system. This is ,it is the best atleast in the sub-continent , driving literacy from a mere 9% in 1947 to about 80%. Quality keeps varying from state to state. The South indian states have excellent govt schools at primary level. Recommend

  • Lalit
    Jun 19, 2016 - 12:11PM

    @Motiwala
    Rest assured,nobody claims like that in India….For a better perspective you can ask the CEOs of Google,Microsoft or Pepsi.And you seem to be bitten by the bug of Karma….Bad Karma indeed.Recommend

  • Ahmar
    Jun 19, 2016 - 12:25PM

    @Tyggar:
    The problem is your denial mode.Recommend

  • Jun 19, 2016 - 1:21PM

    Education and Hindustanis simply do not mix. When 60% of a population
    of two billion hindus are illiterate, and can barely write their name, then there
    is not much of a going concern, is there?. With an exploding population, Bharat
    will permanently lag behind. No catching up here. Relegated to the servants door..
    Because, to educate a massive, teeming, seething population, you need a huge
    budget, which does not exist. The much needed money, is being spent on third
    rate missiles, a mission to Pluto, all these Prithvis firecrackers, Somnath jets, [with no
    one to fly them] rusted oil leaking tanks and a 2 million man army that runs backward
    at the sound of gunfire,…oh! And World War 2 vintage aircraft carriers.
    So, will it be education or useless, third rate armed forces? You guessed it….Recommend

  • Akram
    Jun 19, 2016 - 2:22PM

    @Lalit:
    Proud of people serving others eh?Recommend

  • Raj
    Jun 19, 2016 - 3:57PM

    Yes, I fully agree with the author. The education standards are pathetic and the teachers’ knowledge is more pathetic and the so called graduates, post graduates that are being produced by India are nothing but sub-standard graduates who knows nothing about anything including writing of basic english, science, mathematics etc. If such thing continues then all the glory of good education and expertise will be gone soon. Recommend

  • Ajeet
    Jun 19, 2016 - 4:30PM

    Pakistan has no such issues as they don’t conduct census of anything and with CPEC, they can survive by serving the Chinese just like the north Koreans Recommend

  • Jun 19, 2016 - 4:51PM

    @Lalit:
    Gosh darn!! You mean there are hindus working in the factories of Microsoft, and
    Pepsi, driving their trucks, cleaning the floors. Have seen hindus at Dubai and
    Doha airports, they keep them sparkling, and the shops running, the bathrooms
    clean. Hindus do have an affinity for these menial jobs. True. You are right. Agree.Recommend

  • ravi
    Jun 19, 2016 - 5:31PM

    @Rangoonwala:

    Just go to any organisation in Gulf and check who is the boss and who is the subordinate.Recommend

  • Singh
    Jun 19, 2016 - 5:36PM

    I confess, I didn’t read your op. But from headline I can say that you are prime example of Indian education system.Recommend

  • abhi
    Jun 19, 2016 - 8:07PM

    When mr Nehru made a maulana the first education minister of India, what happened to secularism? The rot started right there, primary educatin was not a priority since begining and that is still a problem.Recommend

  • No-Akar
    Jun 20, 2016 - 3:45AM

    This man’s rants prove his point. He obviously missed the school bus too often.Recommend

  • harkol
    Jun 20, 2016 - 5:11AM

    Rubbing my eyes! Sensible Article from Mr. Patel?!!

    He is right – We are failing big time in education in India. He is also right that the problem is all pervasive rather than just one department. Example is how India’s supreme court made 12th scores the main criteria for admission. This has skewed Indian parent’s priorities from ‘learning’ to ‘coaching’ for cracking exams.

    Objective of education should be to open minds, enhance understanding & cultivate a lifelong learning attitude. Indian education does very little of these things. It can only change when parents wake up and tell their children that we are in an era where there is no end to ‘education’, and education happens even outside of schools.Recommend

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