- NL Sena
AAP’s promise of setting up 500 schools in Delhi will only add to the education problem in India.
The easiest promise to keep is one that is backed with debt.
No other nation worries so little about its future, or of the millions who would have to grapple with it one day, than we do. Why should we? There are just too many of us. Let’s worry about the present; we’ll think of the future when we come to it, by which time it will be the present so why worry about the future at all? Honi, fate, destiny – that is what maketh a man.
The recent Aam Aadmi Party promise of setting up 500 schools in Delhi is, at first glance, praiseworthy and noble. True, they have in their enthusiasm gone way beyond what the Bharatiya Janata Party (“more” schools) or the Congress (150 schools) might have thought logistically or financially possible, but AAP cannot be singled out, they cannot be blamed for following in the footsteps of people desirous of being re-elected time and time again. Laptops, mixer-grinders, electricity, water, bus rides, train rides, permanent jobs, Moon, Mars – they can materialise at the click of a politician’s fingers. Debt is a four letter word and we, the people, operate the guillotine. Either that or our Lawrence will handle the mayhem now that we have conquered Damascus. Right?
Wrong. The question is not of promises. It is of why we make them. It is of what comes of them in the end.
The question is of broken dreams, and we only have to look over our shoulder to witness how little it takes for dreams to be shattered.
For decades, China has had a one-child policy, a draconian code praised by the Chinese as one responsible for preventing a population explosion. In large measure, it has been successful – China’s population is no longer “exploding”. What the mandarins didn’t factor in, though, was a future where, with the Chinese preference for a male first-born, 24 million Chinese men of marriageable age would be left tragically without a mate. That’s roughly the population of Haryana not allowed to reproduce any more. Alarmed, China has now woken up to this disaster and relaxed the one-child policy. But it’s too late for those who had to follow it – the parents, and too late for those who had to bear its brunt – the children.
What we are doing to our education is nothing if not worse than what China did to its family-planning. And just like China, we don’t see it yet – the looming disaster. By any conservative estimate, 150 students will emerge into the brave new world from each of these new schools every year. That’s 15,000 Class XII pass-outs looking for admission in a university or a college – in Delhi alone. If one takes into account the senior secondary schools that exist already in Delhi, the admission seekers add up to around 300,000. Where are the universities and colleges to take these teenagers full of hope and desire to make something of their lives? Yes, let them fend for themselves. It’s a ruthless world outside, didn’t you know. When we were kids, we took so many hardships on the chin, became men before our age. It made us strong. It made us world-beaters. We have emerged from the University of Life, the best university there is.
Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Ahmedabad – the numbers when added up are scary. But not as scary as the realisation that our politicians have never bothered to answer this simple question: Is passing out from a school an end to one’s education, or does one need a university education, too?
These dreamy-eyed kids will be the victims of India’s one-child policy – with no money or degree, only dreams, crushed by policy-makers who got them through schools but then left them helpless, on their own, without any hope of furthering their education. Picture them, you need to. Picture the kids robbed blind by those who made 500 schools but not 500 universities because they didn’t think it through, they didn’t care what would happen if one increased the number of schools without increasing in equal or substantial measure the number of universities or colleges. A school, they thought, is just like a stand-alone hospital. The patient, once cured, wouldn’t need to visit another, more advanced hospital.
A year from now, those quarter million boys and girls would be on the streets of Delhi. They will have nowhere to go. There simply aren’t enough good universities or colleges that can take them in. What is their future? But this is exactly how we think: “What is their future?” as though their future is not our future, too. It is. Allow me to explain.
According to the 2013 Ministry of Human Resource and Development Report, there exist 574 universities and 35,539 colleges in India. Of the 574 universities, 129 are “deemed” and 115 private. The 2013 UGC report, on the other hand, lists the total number of universities as 656, with 171 of them as private. Different government departments can wrangle over the exact number of universities – that’s nothing new, scandalous though it certainly is – but what cannot be disputed is that not a single Indian university figures in the top 200 universities of the world. Ask any person remotely connected with education and he’ll tell you a fact not entirely hidden from students and professors alike: 95% of the total number of universities and colleges in India are not worth the loose bricks they are built from. The horrors that plague our education system don’t end there. As many as 75% of technical graduates and 85% of our general graduates are simply unfit for corporate hiring. When the numbers are as high and horrific as that, it cannot be the student’s fault. A student fails not because of his inadequacies, but rather those of his teacher’s. Complete absence of research, lack of basic facilities, abominable teaching methods, teacher absenteeism, fly-by-night vice-chancellors – it makes for painful reading and no rug is large enough to hide this shame, and you know how bad the situation is when none other than the UGC chairman decides to pull it.
Prof. Yashpal & Another Vs State Of Chhattisgarh & Others
Verdict: The Supreme Court of India (http://indiankanoon.org/doc/564368/)
Date: February 11, 2005
Bench: Chief Justice of India RC Lahoti, Justice GP Mathur, Justice P Balasubramanyan
In 2004, Professor Yashpal petitioned before the Supreme Court that “Chattisgarh was establishing universities in an indiscriminate and mechanical manner without having slightest regard to the availability of any infrastructure, teaching facility or their financial resources. In a short span of about one year as many as 112 universities were established and many of them had absolutely no buildings or campus and were running from one room tenements. There was absolutely no regulation or supervision over them. The legislation has been enacted in a manner which has completely done away with any kind of control of UGC over these private universities. The guidelines issued by UGC on the courses being taught and award of academic degrees have been given a complete go-by. The universities issued brochures for award of all kinds of degrees like “Member of the International Institute of Medical Sciences”, “Fellow of the International Institute of Medical Sciences” and many other similar degrees. The universities are wholly incapable of imparting any education much less a quality education in absence of basic infrastructure like classrooms, libraries, laboratories or campus.”
The honourable judges were outraged and rightly so. In a landmark judgment, they ordered immediate quashing of the Act that notified such universities. “Such universities shall cease to exist!”
Nothing changed. The same Prof. Yashpal commented recently on the state of our private universities. “These so-called universities”, he said, “are business centres with nicely done receptions and other allurements to trap degree seekers. These institutes have nothing to do with higher education. They run only those courses that generate maximum revenue. A few are selling PhD degrees for cash.”
A parliamentary committee concurred with the professor’s lament. “It seems that nobody is serious enough in the entire process of conducting of inspections”, it said. Adding that the “purpose behind the conducting of inspection of private universities seems to have been simply forgotten by all concerned. The Committee is disturbed to note that these inspections are simply being conducted at a leisurely pace, time-limit wherever prescribed simply forgotten. The Committee is of the firm view that there is an urgent need of over hauling of the entire system”.
There you have it – the traditional soap opera piety coming through sanctimonious committee reports, drafted by politicians who are wholly responsible for this mess. But what no report would ever tell you is that the only thing worse than our universities and colleges, are our schools. According to Unicef, the net attendance in Indian secondary schools hovers around 50%, this when the youth literacy rate is 88% (male) and 74% (female). And the results of a recent survey of 596,846 children in 14,591 schools are shocking beyond measure. The percentage of Class V children who can read a Class II level text: 46.8. Percentage of Class V children who can solve a 3 digit by 1 digit division problem: 24.8. In 2010, two-thirds of all rural Class V children could not do simple division. In 2012, this number was close to three-fourths. 8.4 % of Indian schools are still without toilets.
The latest GOI commissioned All India School Education Survey says there are 226,719,283 students (Class I to XII) enrolled in our schools – a quarter of a billion – and of the 117,006 secondary and 64,398 higher secondary schools, 66,927 are government-run. Include in this 2,602 higher secondary schools that are erroneously called “degree colleges” and what you get is a behemoth that churns out a yearly supply of 15 million students – a population the size of Portugal wishing to further their education by joining a university or a college.
It gets worse. According to the most recent Ministry of Human Resource Development, School Education and Literacy Report, there are 1,303,812 elementary schools in India, of which around 1 million are government schools. Shockingly, 32% of all schools are short-staffed, with 9.33% being single-teacher schools. 7.4% of schools have no drinking water facility, 49.5% schools have no boundary walls, 61.02% of schools have no electricity connection. Mid-day meal tragedies, like the recent Chapra one, aren’t isolated incidents either. All this makes one wonder whether Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, who, along with Dr Meghnad Saha and Dr Zakir Hussain, was appointed a member of the first Ministry of Education Commission on November 4, 1948, dreamt of a different future for India’s schools, a future that included a surahi and a bulb and boundary walls to keep the hyenas away. He must have.
In Delhi, of a total of 4387 schools, 1346 are higher secondary. From the quarter million students who emerge from these Delhi schools, only a tiny fraction – around 20,000 – get admission in Delhi University. If this isn’t a crime, what is? And yet, every party manifesto promises more and more schools. They are oblivious to the storm that is on the horizon. Staring at a problem, year-on-year, decade-on-decade, seldom leads to a solution, it only fills reams of committee reports. The solution is there – it really is – and it does not involve reading hundreds of reports or listening to tens of experts. It involves watching a film available freely on the net: Waiting for Superman.
It is certain that the promise of building 500 schools will be kept. Debt is always in the past and we’ve never cared about the future. Perhaps for the forthcoming General Elections, some party may even promise 700. Who’s to tell? There’s no Election Commission guideline for manifesto promises.
A million schools, 574 universities.
Is it cruel to make a thirsty child squat on the floor in near-darkness and attend teacher-less classes? Is it cruel to have him eat khichdi garnished with cockroaches for lunch? Is it cruel to show him a glorious future, only to crush his dreams afterwards?
During the Great Leap Forward and the devastating famine that soon followed, the Chinese traded their children among distant villages because they couldn’t bear the thought of eating their own (Mao – The Unknown Story, Chang & Halliday).
We love to think we are different.