Why India needs to revamp its education system from the ground up

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By Harini Calamur

As India celebrates her 71st Independence Day, there is much joy and revelry. The last 71 years have seen a country been brutally partitioned, face the worse droughts, have a large chunk of the world’s poor and disposed, and written off as a nation that wouldn’t last – and yet, we have made it. We have taken all the negatives and turned them into positives – learned to live together, lifted millions out of poverty and hunger, and are ready to take the next step towards peace and prosperity.

In this path India became both a nuclear and a space power – and a role in the world as the enemy of none, if not, a friend to all. As India moves ahead, carrying the aspirations and hopes of 1.3 billion, her challenges in the years to come will be tough. And, no where will this be seen more than in education and training.

The biggest advantage that India has, is her much touted demographic dividend. In 2018, India’s median age is 27.9, compared to China, where the median age is 37.4, or the USA at 38.1 years, or Germany at 47.1 years old. Amongst other countries in Asia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Malaysia have marginally higher percentage of younger people, but the sheer numbers from India overwhelm any decision making.

Source : Youth in India, CSO, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, GoI

When we thin slice the population data further, two more data points emerge. 27.34 percent of India is under 14, and 18 percent fall under the 15-24 age bracket. It is these two figures that the Government should pay heed to, from a policy perspective, because it these that is going to impact the future.

At the core of decision making, has to be a focus on relevant education. For too long, policy discussion on education in India has been dominated by one subject, that neither provides skills, nor leaning to deal with the future world – and that subject is history. We are so stuck in figuring whether history is mythology, or mythology is history, that we forget that both pursuits are higher level pursuits – research on which can be undertaken by those interested, when able.

The core focus of the debate ought to be on education and skills that empower generation next to aspire to fill next gen jobs. With machine learning, artificial intelligence, and robotics replacing human jobs, India is still stuck with an education system that delivers people for an industrial age. We are taught to learn by rote, and perform by rote, in a world that demands skills, and reasoning, that is fuzzy. In a world which demands oral communication skills, we are still focused on written skills. And, while one isn’t berating the need for written skills, it is imperative that we also deliver softer skills. In a multi lingual republic like India, students must learn as much spoken language as possible, to be able to move between states looking for a job. Numeracy skills must include being able to read financial data, and grasp numbers. Across all schools, a subject on citizenship has to be introduced, that tells students how to live in a multi cultural Republic.

The overhaul of the system has to be ground up, not top down. We need to start fixing education from the point the child enters school for the first time. A top down approach, as it is now, will ensure that most of the students are unable to grasp what is being taught at higher levels. To be truly independent, India has to empower her people with education that is relevant; that helps people break out of their class barriers and move up social rankings. It has to help them hope and aspire for equality, riches, and greatness. The current education system doesn’t deliver this.

Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender and her areas of interest are the intersection of technology, media, and audiences.

Source: CNBCTV18

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