Education figures on Lists I, II and III of the Constitution of India, namely the list of subjects of the Centre, the states and of both. Over the years, education has spread in the country almost all children of school-going age are in school, more of them complete schooling and a quarter of those who complete secondary school go on to college. However, this happy story in quantitative expansion turns into a dreary tale of unemployability, stifled creativity and rote learning, when it comes to quality in education. For India to be competitive in the globalised economy that is taking shape right now, it is vital to tackle the quality deficit in education. And it has to begin at the school level, given India's commitment to democracy.
In a context of unbridled elitism, it would be fine to restrict quality to a few select institutions that cater to the elite while hoi polloi make do with a smattering of learning to be picked up from rudimentary schools where teachers who barely know better than their students pass on their ignorance in ways that eviscerate the term, pedagogy. Unfortunately, such a description fits the kind of education India has at present. For this to change, India has to spend better, rather than more, invest in building pre-school human capacity, essentially nutrition and mental stimulation of the children of materially and culturally deprived parents, and step up teacher training. Increasing allocations to higher education without improving quality at the school level only serves to save the elite the financial burden of sending their children to foreign universities.
State spending on higher education must increasingly take the form of research support, freeships and scholarships and underwriting of liberal student loans. Colleges must mobilise the bulk of their budget as fees, gifts and bequests from alum and sponsorship of research by companies. It is not just science, technology, engineering and maths that matter. Only creative people can thrive in and build the new economy. The humanities and social sciences matter as much.
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