Global education in Indian context
Apart from national challenges, India’s new education policy must gel appropriately with global concerns and initiatives. Lower standards of learning have certainly dented India’s credibility
India eagerly awaits its new national education policy. The education sector is faced with numerous challenges. While it can claim huge advances in terms of increasing numbers of institutions and enrolments at each stage, it still has much to accomplish in terms of quality of products, their suitability for the job market and also the level of entrepreneurial skills acquired before they enter life. The most significant challenge could be comprehended in the query: Is the Indian education equipped enough to prepare its young persons to take advantage of the much-hyped ‘demographic dividend’ as the ‘nation of the young’?
Even in this arena, several other countries are ready with their well-educated and skilled young persons to offer a tough competition to Indians. Within the country, it is ironical that practically every sector of governance — from personnel in security forces to teachers in schools — suffer manpower deficiency, millions of young persons are waiting to get jobs. Are our educated youths, who enter various sectors, fully equipped with the nuances of national agenda of inclusive growth and development? Do we prepare them to comprehend the international scenario in their sector of activity and initiatives; and their relevance to the Indian situation?
One often finds that not many teachers are really familiar even with the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDG) identified by the UN General Assembly in 2017 to be achieved by 2030. Four of these SDGs relate to education: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Our education system needs to make them well-versed with specific national needs to bring the ‘last man in the line’ in the centrality of their thought and action. They must understand the importance of one per cent lucky individuals owning 73 per cent wealth of the country and that this cannot be an example of an evenly balanced strategy of growth and development.
The new national education policy needs to respond to national needs and also the global scenario. No doubt, young Indians have established their credibility, right from NASA to the Silicon Valley, but lowering standards of learning in Indian education across the spectrum has certainly dented credibility, rather globally.
Apart from national concerns that are well-known, the new education policy also has to gel appropriately with global concerns and initiatives that are being pursued via international collaboration. Another issue of paramount importance is the very survival of the planet Earth that is under unprecedented threat after the resulting out of wanton exploitation of natural resources, leading to irreversible damage to the sensitive man-nature bond.
The core global concern is to trace the path of sustainable development. In 2015, the UN General Assembly recognised UNESCO as the leading agency “to continue to provide coordination for the implementation of the Global Action Plan (GAP) on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) — in cooperation with partners, advocate for adequate resources for ESD, support member states in building capacity, promote the sharing of knowledge and bet practices, and assess progress towards the achievements of ESD”.
The 17 SDGs are an expression of a global resolve to create a better world by 2030. Goal IV has specific relevance to education policy formulation. It is an expression of the belief “that education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development”. There are high expectations: That all boys and girls shall complete primary and secondary education by 2030; that there would be equal access to ‘affordable vocational training’; and that gender and economic family disparities shall no longer remain a hindrance in the ‘aim of achieving universal access to quality higher education’. Impetus is new and timely but the criticality of the role of education in progress and development is certainly not a new idea. The fact remains that adequate synchronisation of the content and process of education with the delineated goals of development has not received adequate attention of our policy-makers.
This could be a consequence of lack of vision, ignorance or absence of necessary professional support within the nations. In fact, it is now widely recognised that one of the toughest crisis before the newly independent nations during the last half of the 20th century was to arrive at the proper delineation of the “ideology of progress” suitable to the specific needs and requirements of a particular nation.
Borrowed policies and action plans from developed nations have often done greater damage than assisting appropriately in the path of progress. However, there has been a global convergence on the idea of extending education to one and all as the critical means of inclusive growth and development. The Jomtien Declaration of March 1990, emerging out of the “World Conference on Education for All”, promising to universalise elementary education by the end of the century, was a great historic landmark in focusing on extending the outreach of education to the toughest groups as well. It certainly expedited towards universalising elementary education, though the goal is yet to be achieved fully. Total enrolment rate in developing countries reached 91 per cent in 2015. Worldwide, the number of out-of-school children has dropped almost by half.
Universal enrolments are necessary but equally important are participation and attainments to effectively achieve the aims of universalising quality education. The SDGs identified also include simultaneous action in other sectors that would make life better and worth living. These include removal of poverty, hunger and gender bias; provision of health care, clean water, clean power, opportunities for economic growth, promotion of sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, decent work, reduction and inequality, combat climate change, ensure sustainable consumption patterns, and other related concerns.
Indian systems are working on all of these aspects, though the progress may warrant not only additional resources but also a change of work culture. It is the pace with which initiatives are launched and implemented that would count. The climate of confidence and self-assurance that was created in 2014 needs not only to be sustained, but also inspired, motivated and wherever necessary, reignited. Non-utilisation of the power of youth would be a sin. Hence, every effort must be made to give them proper education and adequate levels of skill acquisition. The creation of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship raised high hopes amongst the youth. It is, however, being felt that its plans and programme implementation strategies require more vigour and vitality.
Similarly, colleges and universities must respond to the criticism of 70-80 per cent graduates being found deficient in the job market. Professional and academic leadership in education must rise to the occasion, fix their own targets of quality improvement, curriculum renewal and delineate the coordination of intensive emphasis on quality improvement and personality development. Further, to achieve the global targets of the SDG 4 nationally, India must primarily focus on its teacher education institutions. The quality of manpower in every sector is dependent on the quality of teacher education institutions. Fresh assertion in this direction is necessary.
(The writer is former Director, NCERT, and an educationist)
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