The action plan needs to focus on the teacher who plays a pivotal role in imparting education.
Beginning in 1968, India has had two education policies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government constituted a committee under the chairmanship of late T.S.R. Subramanian to evolve a new policy. By the time the committee submitted its report, the Union HRD minister was changed.
The current government has only a few months to go. One fervently hopes that this report also does not meet the same fate as the one by T.S.R. Subramanian.
However, the key question is whether there is a need for a new education policy at all? It is undoubtedly true that what has so far happened in the education sector leaves a lot to be desired. What also needs to be considered is whether the dismal performance is on account of policy gap or are there other factors that are responsible for the current state of affairs? What is the rationale for a new policy in the school education sector?
During the past decade, the educational infrastructure (like school buildings) has certainly shown remarkable improvement, although there is still a long way to go. And, thanks to the midday meal, we have managed to get the child to the school. However, the quality of education that is imparted in most of the government schools has left a lot to be desired.
The learning outcomes have actually come down during the past decade despite an enormous amount of investment. The number of teachers has gone up substantially and the average pupil-teacher ratio comes close to the required levels. However, this has not solved the problem of quality.
To begin with, a large number of teachers are not qualified to teach, yet they are teaching. According to a rough estimate, out of 8 million teachers around 1.4 million fall in this category. Politics has seeped into this cadre in the most insidious manner resulting in the skewed distribution of teachers in most of the states as the tendency is to hang in and around urban areas.
The Right to Education Act did precious little to salvage these shortcomings. In fact, in some cases, like no-detention policy and mandatory provision relating to qualification and number of teachers, it created more problems than it solved. A tedious process of amendment had to be resorted to correct some of the wrongs.
Most of the action relating to education lies in the states. Moreover, India is too diverse to consider a single mandate by way of policy for the entire country. If a teacher does not go to a school in Kerala, there are chances that he or she will be punished, but some states in northern India are notorious for teacher absenteeism. Although the situation is now improving, it remains a big challenge in many states. Many teachers get away with playing truant. There are also instances of teachers employing a ‘substitute’ to represent them and even teach on their behalf. What quality of education can be expected from such so-called substitute teachers?
Can a new education policy solve the problems that beset this sector? Problems vary from region to region. If policies were to solve the problems of the country, they would have all been solved long ago. There should be just a short policy statement outlining the objectives: Providing quality education to every child in the country. Instead, what is actually required is an action plan clearly outlining what needs to be done, how will it be done, who will do it, and, by when will it be done? The roles of respective entities should be clearly defined so that the performance can be assessed.
The action plan needs to focus on the teacher who plays a pivotal role in imparting education. The entire value chain needs to be looked at, understood, and interventions clearly outlined. Beginning with pre-service training, to selection process, to in-service training, transfer and posting, engagement of teachers in non-educational activities, their promotional avenues and morale will need to be looked at. An action plan for each state will have to be worked out in detail, clearly outlining the roles of the central government and the respective state governments.
A beginning was made in this regard for the states of Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh. The one relating to J&K is apparently being implemented, but UP is languishing. Such plans will have to be made for and in consultation with each state and their execution closely monitored. Intervention for each state will vary.
Unlike the current dispensation, there will have to be sufficient flexibility in the central schemes to accommodate the differences among states. The whole approach has to be outcome-based rather than input-based, as has been the case so far.
Our country has been obsessed with the Western world. We had looked at Finland, England, Scotland, New Zealand, Holland and all the lands of the world, but not at our own motherland. A lot of wonderful work is being done within the country, but has so far gone unnoticed. A new ‘policy’ can’t help in this regard. What needs to be done is to facilitate identification, understanding and scaling of successful practices. If these homegrown practices have succeeded in the prevalent objective conditions, the chances of their replication and scaling are pretty high as compared to an ‘imported’ idea or practice. What is also required is to learn from states, like Rajasthan, that have turned it around through some remarkable state-level interventions both at administrative and financial levels.
Policy debates are always welcome and should happen, but what is required urgently is an action plan in consultation with all the stakeholders as has been done for a couple of states already. What is required is making things happen on the ground.
The author is a retired civil servant and former secretary in the government of India.