74th Rajagiri Round Table-Cost of Educating the Have-nots
Indian education system suffered a lot from the caste-based exclusivity in education from olden days. The Buddhist revolution to make education universal in India did not sustain in the wave of resurgence of old caste-based thinking. The traditional question, “if the children of all have-nots get education, who will till our fields” still resounds, especially in the villages of India even today. The educators of the nation are hated by the landlords and are being systematically persecuted and even killed.
To make matters worse, the digital divide in education have shown its ugly head during the Covid-19 pandemic. Children of the have-nots were excluded from the regular education activities. The post-Covid recession is expected to make many more people poor in India and elsewhere. The questions on the accessibility and affordability of modern day education are expected to resurge in India and beyond.
It is high time that the policy makers address these serious questions over the equity of education. Naturally, there arises questions how to redefine education and simplify its conduct so that quality education could be made really universal.
In this backdrop, the 74th Rajagiri Round Table Conference was held on the topic “Cost of Educating the Have-nots” on Wednesday, 18th August, 2021 via Zoom Meet and attended by leading academicians, public policy analysts and think-tanks.
The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, a path-breaking effort by the India Government in education has come three decades after the last reforms were announced in the same year the economic liberalisation policy was implemented in 1991. However, NEP 2020 doesn't have a mention of the historic Right to Education Act 2009 that guarantees the right to every citizen of India between the age of 6 and 14 for free and compulsory education. “Especially in the context of Article 16 of Indian Constitution, it is a denial of gains made through struggles for justice, equity. There is also a problem of 32 million children unable to attend school today,” according to Dr Maria Charles, Secretary for Education and Culture, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), New Delhi. The NEP doesn’t take care of such have-nots. It doesn’t talk of scheduled castes or other backward classes but only about socio-economically disadvantaged groups or under-represented groups, thereby undermining the historic discrimination and oppression suffered by backward classes. This will hinder the poor from getting higher education as only the rich and affluent have recourse to exorbitant fees charged by coaching centres for entrance examinations to professional courses.
It brings us to the question of how inclusive is our education system in terms of resource allocation? Education is in the Concurrent List, apart from Department of Education there are 40 other departments involved in central and state levels involved in allocating budgetary resources for education. For the disadvantaged groups, there is the Scheduled Caste,Scheduled Tribes, Ministry of Social Justice and Ministry of Tribal Affairs which play a major role for their upliftment. Cumulatively such spends only add upto 4% of Gross Domestic Product allocated for education compared to the mandated 6% and school education gets only 2.8%.“Shortage of allocation is seen across all components of education, whether it is recruitment of teachers, teacher training, monitoring,” according to Protiva Kundu, Additional Co-ordinator –Research, Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, India. Thereby the underallocation leads to under utilisation and that leads to further decrease in allocation, a vicious cycle.
There is a narrative that teachers are getting good salaries but they are not accountable to the system, therefore, it is creating fiscal burden on states. Therefore, government schools appoint teachers on contract and only 2% of state education budgets are used for teacher’s training. And we blame the poor quality of education and teachers but there is no budgetary provision to improve the system, ProtivaKundu said.
She pointed out that one year after the NEP 2020 was approved by the Union Cabinet, the Union Budget for 2021-22 did not reflect the changed priorities in education. Union Budget was slashed for the National Scheme for Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education from Rs. 120 crore to Rs. 1 crore, a flagship programmes for all SC/ST girls to prevent drop out after class VIII.
There are also wide variations of per student cost in various schools- in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) it is Rs 14,000 per girl student while in Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya it is Rs 85,000 per student and in Kendriya Vidyalaya it is Rs 34,000 per child.
The pandemic has brought forth the digital divide making education inaccessible to a vast majority. “Should we equate equity with technology, whether both these things can be considered as leading to one another? Are we in a position to say that equity has been reached for technology to be accessible? The problem is that we haven’t achieved equity in technology access,” according toDr Reena Merin Cherian, Department of Social Work, Christ University, Bengaluru. She pointed out that 100% electrification of homes is a distant dream and National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) data showed that 27% of students did not have smart phones and even in the case of students in private institutions, 28% lacked access to electricity to avail online learning.
India government had launched the Digital India programme in 2015 and we are made to believe that there is considerable progress in digitalization. However, when it comes to education, the digital divide was exposed across geographies, gender, caste and communities, according to ProtivaKundu. The budget for Operation Digital Board was slashed from Rs 25 cr to Rs 1 cr in the Union Budget for 2021-22, she added.
Focus on Human Development
India’s education system lacks focus on human developmentand resource allocation is input-based and not outcome based, according to Sarthak Pradhan, Associate Fellow at Takshashila Institution, Bengaluru. Our education system is a sorting mechanism and not making students who can be gainfully employed, productive and resourceful. When the system depends on rote learning, memory becomes the only faculty that is tested. “A child who is good at memorizing is not necessarily better educated. Hence, the curriculum needs to be simplified with lesser content and focus on developing critical thinking, understanding, analytical skills, assimilation and various functional competencies,” Sarthak Pradhan said.
Education requires drastic simplification as it will be a crime to teach the poor children of India with an outdated or redundant pedagogy. “It will deprive the poor not only the future but also the present. We need to provide the have-nots the world’s best education. If a poor child is imparted education that provides insufficient skillsets, he or she will not be able to make a career or living out of it,” according to Dr (Engg) Varghese Panthalookaran, Professor at Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology (RSET). He pointed out that entrepreneurial education that goes beyond the higher order skills of Blooms Taxonomy such as analysis, evaluation and creation and into venture is the need of the hour. Entrepreneurial education is different from entrepreneurship education which is required for may be 5% of the people who complete high education to equip them for a startup venture. Entrepreneurial education based on Pallikkutam Pedagogy that develops values, skillsets and attitudes from pre-school to pre-university levels that develop problem solving and critical thinking abilities in children, he added.
Part of Economic Policy
Education policy should be considered as part of economic policy and centrality of education in economy policy is not yet accepted by the government, according to Prof MKunhaman, Former Professor of Kerala University and Tata Institute of Social Sciences. “Many of the questions usually discussed about education are economic in nature. The cost of education cannot be reduced and modern education is costly in terms of infrastructure, digital libraries, teacher salaries and setting up lab facilities,” Prof Kunhaman said.
“Scope for reducing cost of education is indeed limited. What is required is reorder the spending priorities and private sector should also shoulder some responsibility for providing education to the needy and have-nots,” Kunhaman added. We have to do away with the distinction of haves and have-nots in education and India being a resource rich country is capable of providing quality education for all.
-Government needs to step up public spending in education to attain 6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
-More resources are required for teacher training and recruitment of new teachers to ensure quality education.
-Educational content should be simplified and focus should be on human development and outcome based learning.
-Make digital technology-gadgets, devices, computers, broadband connectivity accessible to all.
-Reprioritise public expenditure with zero budgeting to avoid unproductive expenditure.
-Let government fund education and private sector run the institutions as they have proved to be efficient.
-Formulate policy with regard to internet and digital access, and also ensure online learning is safe.
-Keep the learner and teacher at the centre of education and technology as a third entity to provide support.
-Private sector should play an important role in educating the have-nots.