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Education - Challenges to Change
By Fr. John Felix Raj. S.J.

Published in The Statesman, on September 10, 2000

“Those who are wise will shine as brightly as the expanse of the heavens, and those who have instructed many in uprightness, as bright as stars for all eternity” (Daniel 12:3).

Education is a process by which a person’s body, mind and character are formed and strengthened. It is bringing of head, heart and mind together and thus enabling a person to develop an all round personality identifying the best in him or her. It is a humanizing process.

Education is for transformation, to be able to think by oneself, to be able to relate to others meaningfully and to understand the world and society clearly. Without education one cannot discern what is good or bad? What is right or wrong? What is true or false? What is lovely or ugly? The purpose of education is, therefore, to make human beings capable, competent and wise to meet the challenges of life.

Jawaharlal Nehru declared that if all were well with our educational institutions, all would be well with the nation. Educational institutions are intimately linked with society at large. They are the temples of knowledge. They are the agents of social change and transformation. Therefore, the general condition of our schools, colleges and universities is a matter of great concern to the nation.

The Kothari Commission has beautifully said: “ The destiny of India is now being shaped in her classrooms. This we believe is no mere rhetoric. In a world based on science and technology it is education that determines the level of prosperity, welfare and security of people. On the quality and number of persons coming out of our schools and colleges will depend our success in the great enterprise of national construction whose principal objective is to raise the standard of living of our people”.


Educational Expansion
There has been enormous expansion in the educational system in India since independence. Primary schools have increased from 2.23 lakh with 192 lakh students and 6.24 lakh teachers in 1950 to 7.75 lakhs with 1088 lakh students and 31 lakh teachers. Secondary schools were 7416 in number with 31 lakh students and 13 lakh teachers in 1950. Today they are 1.2 lakh in number with 395 lakh students and 154 lakh teachers. There are 221 universities with 10,555 affiliated colleges where 3.3 lakh teachers teach 71 lakh students.

The Educational system
The present educational system is a legacy of the British Raj, which had the characteristics of western bias and elitist. Though the western bias is disappearing in our schools with the introduction of Indian languages as medium of instruction and greater inculturation of syllabi and programmers, it remains quite strong in higher education. The elitist nature also continues as before.

Although under the British rule attempts were made to widen the social base of education by removing the formal restrictions based on caste, creed and sex, opportunities of formal education were available only to the people from higher strata. In the independent India, the Constitution guarantees equality of opportunity for all citizens (Art.16.1), and forbids “discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, descent…” (Art.16.2).

The Government of India made a promise, reiterated in the National Education Policy (NEP 1986) and the Programme of Action 1992, to provide free and compulsory education to all children at least up to the elementary stage and to work towards provision of education of a satisfactory quality to all children up to 14 years of age before the commencement of the 21st century. Yet, it is an embarrassing situation to note that only 62 per cent of the population are literate (male 73% and female 50%). About 480 million people are illiterate even now.

Education in India is a joint responsibility of the State Governments and the Central Government. Many educational programmes have been launched. To mention a few: Non-Formal Education since 1979-80; The National Open School since 1989; Mahila Samakhiya since 1989; The Operation Blackboard Scheme since 1987-88; The Integrated Education for Disabled Children since 1974; Computer Literacy and Studies in School since 1984-85 The District Primary Education Programme since 1994; the Midday Meal Scheme since 1995 and so on.

What Mr. M. S. Adiseshia, an educationist, observed some thirty years ago still holds true. “The real ills of the present educational system are its elitist nature, its heavy pushout and dropout rate, its scandalously poor school environment, growing unemployed and unemployable product outcome, its indifference to the illiterates, its minimal learning and evaluation system, and its widening gap between the overt (prescribed) curriculum and the hidden (real) curriculum”.


The ills in our system

  1. The educational system has acquired a dualist character. It operates with a strong class bias. There is a wide disparity in quality. While 75 per cent of our Indian children go through an educational programme of poor even rock-bottom quality provided mostly by government schools and colleges, 25 per cent benefit from a small number of quality institutions run by private organisations. The former hail from the lower strata of society while the latter come from the elite class.

  2. The resources are inadequate. So the facilities offered in our schools and colleges are below the level of qualitative viability. In the 1st plan the Government of India allocated Rs.153 crores for education (0.7 percent of GDP). In the 9th plan, the allocation is to the tune of 20,381.6 crores(3.7 per cent of GDP). The proportion is much less in comparison with many countries.

  3. Academic and administrative problems faced by our educational institutions are further compounded by government control and council or university regulations.

  4. One of the greatest difficulties is that teachers and students feel a tremendous academic pressure on them. Our school councils and universities produce curriculum as bundles of good or package of values. It has been the practice of the educationists to burden the students with heavy load of study materials. The workload is still heavier in professional courses.

  5. Government policies and programmes are not effectively implemented. There are administrative, operational and financial problems. Reforms within the system or structure are slow.

  6. Political interference especially in government schools and college is rampant. Politicised teacher and student unions interfere with the normal functioning of the institutions. They use the institutions to gain credibility with their political bosses and to climb the political ladder.

  7. The syllabi of many universities reveal the extent of academic backwardness. They spell out subjects which are neither job-oriented nor life oriented. When students enter the world, they are surprised that there is hardly any job for the course they have studied. For an young ambitious man hailing from a middle class family, it is sheer waste of time, energy and money to have spent three or five years in a college. It is not uncommon to see swarms of students finding no job eventually throng the abode of unemployed.

  8. The authoritarian system, and the rigid and undemocratic structure in many of our schools, colleges and universities still continue without much change. People who are active participants namely teachers and students do not have a proper say.

  9. Our educational institutions in general and those imparting higher education in particular have become “knowledge industries” manufacturing graduates and postgraduates unfit for our society. Education, of late has become a commodity, which is being sold and bought in our schools and colleges. It is a fact that higher education has become costly like other commodities because of a steep increase in demand.

  10. The traditional “banking” method of education, which sees people as adaptable, manageable beings, still continues in many institutions. Concentrating on accumulating deposits of knowledge, students do not develop the critical consciousness that would lead them to involve with the social process and change it.

  11. The frustration of parents to admit their wards in particular institutions so that they can gain some social status. It has been the routine business of the parents and their wards to make a beeline for the offices of schools and colleges for admissions.

  12. India lives in villages. Majority of the villagers belong to SC/STs. They are, by and large illiterate. The SC and ST literacy rates are 20 per cent and 33 per cent respectively. Women literacy rate is poor, just 50 per cent. They lack employment opportunities and are often discriminated against. Provisions for educational opportunities for SCs/STs & women have not been effectively implemented in our country.


Educational Reform & Remedies
We are on the eve of the third millennium, marked by the phenomenon of “Global Village”. There is a process of global and cultural unification. Revolutions in the scientific and technological fields and cybernetic and electronic information transmission are sweeping the world. The institutional education is becoming an obscure one. We are faced with a challenge to change.

In such a situation, the relationship between the institutions and the student community, between the teachers and the students is bound to undergo major changes. For instance, The students’ active participation in the process of learning on their own initiative will remove the one-sided authoritarian teacher-student relationship. The teacher’s authority will now be based on his ability and creativity to contribute and help students to learn on their own.

The changes heralded by the recent technological progress will bring about greater flexibility in the educational system, in particular in regard to admission, attendance, the examination, assessment and rewarding system.

The UGC document on development of Higher Education in India (1978) and the Challenges of Education (1985) have suggested a radical reform in the educational system: “If the present system is allowed to continue, the chasms of economic disabilities, regional imbalances and social injustices will widen further, resulting in the building up of disintegrative tensions”.

In the context of the socio-economic, cultural and political realities of India, many of the reforms within the system such as academic freedom, college autonomy, open universities and active student participation in classrooms which can cure the illness of our educational system are inward looking and superficial, slow of achievement and maintaining the status quo.

In the recent past some colleges have been selected and given academic freedom and autonomy. They are called autonomous colleges. Their over all performance seems to be positive and quite successful. Among them are a number of Christian colleges. They are re-examining their goals and redefining their roles. They see themselves as centers of humanising process and social transformation. Some of their new perspectives may be worth mentioning:

  1. Academic and human excellence

  2. New and improved quality and methods of teaching;

  3. The college community - staff and students - is seen as a learning community,

  4. Forming men and women for others and country;

  5. Preferential treatment given to the poor and the underprivileged particularly SCs/STs and women,

  6. Commitment to justice and culture,

  7. Extension services and involvement in the neighbourhood communities,

  8. Multi-dimensional pedagogy as a creative art, a humanist discipline and ethical transformation,

  9. Value education

  10. Religious and faith formation,

  11. Inter-religious outlook and approach in the context of multi-religious teaching and student communities;

  12. A spirit of integration and decentralised administration;

  13. Introduction of vocational courses;

  14. All round extra-curricular activities and

  15. Remedial and tutorial classes for weaker students.




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