Education in India, Reassessing its Direction

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The Indian economy is in its boom phase, the recession being just a temporary slow down. The country is attracting huge investments, it is the most attractive outsourcing destination in the world and domestically the market is expanding rapidly.

To keep all this growth high and fired is the huge requirement for quality labour. The demand for manpower is India is symbolized in the rapid and growing presence of educational institutions both in the public and private sector.

Today, India’s higher education system is the third largest in the world. According to Wikipedia, as of 2009, India has 20 central universities, 215 state universities, 100 deemed universities, 5 institutions established and functioning under the State Act, and 13 institutes which are of national importance. Other institutions include 16000 colleges, including 1800 exclusive women’s colleges. As of 2006 India had 1200 engineering colleges. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) enroll about 4000 students annually. And while it may seem that much is happening on the education front, the truth is that much needs to improve, so that Industry can capitalize on the huge labour pool in the country.

Looking below the surface, a paltry 4% of the country’s GDP is invested in education. Because of the poor quality of public education, 27% of Indian children are privately educated, and the total enrolment in higher education forms only about 6 per cent of the relevant population (17 to 23 year olds).

Things on the education front need to change, and they need to change fast.

1. Investment in education must double; India must drastically increase the number of colleges and universities in the country. Where Government funding falls short, it must call upon private companies to assist.

2. The quality of education in India needs to improve dramatically. The courses offered in colleges are not tuned in to industrial needs and industry is finding that students emerging from colleges are so poorly trained that they need to invest thousands of rupees per candidate to bring them on par with industrial requirements. Importantly, what are lacking are soft skills. With all probability the syllabus for colleges needs to be upgraded every five years at the maximum, to keep up with industrial requirements.

3. Education anywhere in the world is an expensive affaire and in a poor country like India, only the rich can afford the luxury of higher and specialized education. This narrows the talent pool to a trickle. The Government must make student loans easily accessible, allowing poorer but talented students to study and thus widen the talent pool for industry.

4. Numerous companies cross the country are beginning to intervene and participate in the education system at different levels; this is a huge benefit for the education sector and the student community in particular. More needs to be done on this front. The Government must consciously rope in the private sector to qualitatively improve the education system in the country.

5. One of the key and often ignored components of education is the faculty. One of the primary reason education in India has suffered is because of the poor motivation and lack of innovation from the teaching community. There must be a system where teachers are given the opportunity to upgrade their skills and to interface with Industry. This will put them in a better position to guide students at the micro level and guide government policy at a macro level.

6. Technology can and must play a great role in delivering quality and uniform education across the country, be it through satellite or through computers and the internet. This will make education interactive and foster better learning.

India is undoubtedly going to occupy a central place in the world economic order and while the country, industry and people are brimming with confidence, education must keep up, if not it will be our weakest link as we enter the new phase of ‘developed nation’.

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