Quality education far from the reach of poor

Growing emphasis on privatisation and commercialisation of education makes it increasingly unaffordable for the backwards and poor to send their children to schools and colleges, writes MY Siddiqui

With India becoming the world’s youngest country with an average age of 29, the demographic dividend can be reaped with right training and education of our youthful population to face the challenges of the 21st Century world, which leaves much to desire. Under the current NDA Union Government, the overall quality and standards of education have waned, with reduced budgetary allocation from primary  to the higher education and the highest ever shortages  of faculty and teachers, growing lack of right infrastructure, swerving of universities from the hotbeds of argument, debate, uncloured mind and dissent to centres of conformity (regimentation of Sangh Pariwar ideology), causing a big hit to standards of excellence in education so much so that employability of our graduates has come down to five per cent from 10 per cent as per a NASSCOM survey done earlier for the Union Government.

The overall education budget in 2015-16 came down from 82, 771 crore to 69, 074 crore. Compared to UPA Government plan allocation that went up by 18 per cent in 2012-13 and by 8.03 per cent in 2013-14, the NDA Government reduced the plan allocation for 2015-16 by 24.68 per cent. There were drastic cuts across the board. The flagship Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) was reduced by 22.14 per cent, funding for the Mid-Day Meal Scheme by 16.41 per cent, the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan for secondary education by 28.7 per cent and the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan, to support state colleges, by 48 per cent. Important bodies like the SSA, which funds schools throughout the country, received 22, 000 crore against the demand for 50, 000 crore from the 2015-16 budget.

Educational allocation reveals that instead of investing in our future through strengthening higher education, the 2017-18 budget was stagnant at 3.71 per cent and only a meagre 1.5 per cent was allocated to higher education altogether, even though the need has arisen year after year with rising population demand and inflation reducing the value of such amounts year after year. The existing state of IIMs, IITs and NITs reveals that 26 per cent of faculty posts in the IIMs, 35 per cent of faculty posts in the IITs and 50 per cent of faculty posts in NITs are vacant. At the same time there is a race to create more and more such institutions, indicating a glaring lack of quality in higher education in India, where the government is collectively lacking. There are no teachers and students are being herded into half-built campuses with half the faculty strength to impart education, making it a depressing scenario.

In addition, there are shortages of six lakh teachers in the SSA, 9,749 vacant teaching posts out of a total 42, 640 teachers in Kendrya Vidyalayas. Added to this, 50 per cent of positions in teacher-training institutions are vacant. Most teachers training colleges are so bad that according to Justice Verma Commission report needed to be closed. A UGC survey reveals that 73 per cent colleges and 68 per cent of universities impart medium and low quality education. This is compounded by cent per cent appointments of teachers by the State Governments on contractual basis as Shikshsa Mitra with no job security and that also through corrupt practices of huge payoffs making it clear how the overall teaching quality has been compromised.

India has one of the largest higher education systems in the world and ranks second in student enrolment, exhibiting a healthy growth in the number of institutions and enrolment since the country’s Independence. There are now 864 universities and 40, 026 colleges but only a few world-class institutions like the IITs. India’s grim educational scenario depicts a sea of mediocrity, which bodes ill for the future of the nation. What is worse is the scenario wherein the government instead of improving the education system seems bent on saffronising our universities and institutes of higher and secondary education by removing the heads of several of such institutes and replacing them with persons with Sangh Parivar ideology.

With drastic reduction in the education budget that includes budget for research and development, scholarships to meritorious students and growing emphasis on privatisation and commercialisation of education, education is becoming increasingly unaffordable for the backwards and poor in our system of democratic governance wherein the people are the sovereign masters as they elect the the government of transient majority  and the government is accountable to its people. Cut in education budget is viewed as anti-people and anti-poor steps and the process must end in the national interest!