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India will take around 56 years to achieve female youth literacy: Report



The Times of India

NEW DELHI: Literacy is still a distant dream for vulnerable young women. Going at the present pace of development, India will take at least another 56 years to achieve female youth literacy.

A serious gender imbalance in global education has left over 100 million young women in low and lower middle income countries unable to read a single sentence, and will prevent half of the 31 million girls out of school from ever enrolling. These are among the main findings of the gender summary, which analyses data from the Unesco Education for All Global Monitoring Report.

As per the South-West Asia factsheet of the report, young people who have spent just a few years in school do not develop literacy skills and in some cases even completing primary school is not always a guarantee for literacy. The report cited the example of India where after completing up to four years of school, 90% emerge illiterate and after five to six years in school, around 30% still emerge illiterate.

Poor women are the most vulnerable, with two out of three of them in South and West Asia who cannot read are from this category. While poorest young females in Bhutan are not projected to achieve universal literacy until 2083, Pakistan will not reach the target until the 22nd Century. India is no better, projected to meet the target between 2070 and 2080.

The new summary, launched in partnership with the United Nations Girls Education Initiative, calls for equity to be at the forefront of new global development goals after 2015, so that every child has an equal chance of learning through quality education.

Despite some progress, in 2011, only 60% of countries had achieved parity in primary education and only 38% of countries had achieved parity in secondary education. Among low income countries, just 20% had achieved gender parity at the primary level, 10% at the lower secondary level and 8% at the upper secondary level.

It is projected that only 70% of countries will have achieved parity in primary education by 2015, and 56% will have achieved parity in lower secondary education. Unless improvements are made, the poorest girls will achieve universal primary completion 60 years later than the richest boys.

“It is simply intolerable that girls are being left behind. For poor girls, education is one of the most powerful routes to a better future, helping them escape from a vicious cycle of poverty,” said Irina Bokova, director general, Unesco.



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Harvard India Conference: Meet on where India is headed

Learning Achievements, Literacy

BOSTON: International leaders from government, business, non-profit, media and entertainment sectors are meeting here over the weekend to discuss where India stands currently and where it is headed over the next decade.

The discussions are part of the 9th Harvard India Conference with the theme of India: The Next Frontier, co-hosted by Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government March 24-25 at Cambridge, Massachussetts and Boston.

The conference promises to present a clear, unbiased perspective on where India is headed over the next decade, taking with it the lives and destinies of a billion people and the attached fortunes of an integrated, increasingly dependent world.

Panel discussions with experts in their respective fields would focus on future of the Indian economy, healthcare, education, entrepreneurship, retail and energy, according to organisers.

Hardeep Puri, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, and Bharat Desai, chairman of Syntel Inc, are the keynote speakers at the conference.

The India-heads of Apax partners, TA Associates, TPG, New Silk Route & Tata Capital Firms will talk about the challenges and opportunities of the booming investing market in India.

Speakers include Nitin Nohria, Dean and Richard P. Chapman, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School, and Bollywood personalities like Abhinay Deo, director of “Delhi Belly”, and Ritesh Sidhwani, producer of “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara”.

Jay Sean, popular Indian origin singer from London, will dwell on building a brand and successful business in the biggest entertainment market in the world.

The Tata group of companies, which gifted $50 million to the Harvard Business School, is the title sponsor of the conference.

The South Asian Times, the popular New York-based premier newspaper for the South Asian community, is the prime media sponsor of this prestigious event.

The Economic Times, 24 March 2012


What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success

Global news, Learning Achievements, Literacy

Everyone agrees the United States needs to improve its education system dramatically, but how? One of the hottest trends in education reform lately is looking at the stunning success of the West’s reigning education superpower, Finland. Trouble is, when it comes to the lessons that Finnish schools have to offer, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.

The small Nordic country of Finland used to be known — if it was known for anything at all — as the home of Nokia, the mobile phone giant. But lately Finland has been attracting attention on global surveys of quality of life — Newsweek ranked it number one last year — and Finland’s national education system has been receiving particular praise, because in recent years Finnish students have been turning in some of the highest test scores in the world.

Finland’s schools owe their newfound fame primarily to one study: the PISA survey, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies on every survey since 2000, neck and neck with superachievers such as South Korea and Singapore. In the most recent survey in 2009 Finland slipped slightly, with students in Shanghai, China, taking the best scores, but the Finns are still near the very top. Throughout the same period, the PISA performance of the United States has been middling, at best.

Compared with the stereotype of the East Asian model — long hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorization — Finland’s success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play. All this has led to a continuous stream of foreign delegations making the pilgrimage to Finland to visit schools and talk with the nation’s education experts, and constant coverage in the worldwide media marveling at the Finnish miracle.

So there was considerable interest in a recent visit to the U.S. by one of the leading Finnish authorities on education reform, Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility and author of the new book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? Earlier this month, Sahlberg stopped by the Dwight School in New York City to speak with educators and students, and his visit received national media attention and generated much discussion.

And yet it wasn’t clear that Sahlberg’s message was actually getting through. As Sahlberg put it to me later, there are certain things nobody in America really wants to talk about.

* * *

During the afternoon that Sahlberg spent at the Dwight School, a photographer from the New York Times jockeyed for position with Dan Rather’s TV crew as Sahlberg participated in a roundtable chat with students. The subsequent article in the Times about the event would focus on Finland as an “intriguing school-reform model.”

Yet one of the most significant things Sahlberg said passed practically unnoticed. “Oh,” he mentioned at one point, “and there are no private schools in Finland.”

This notion may seem difficult for an American to digest, but it’s true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.

The irony of Sahlberg’s making this comment during a talk at the Dwight School seemed obvious. Like many of America’s best schools, Dwight is a private institution that costs high-school students upward of $35,000 a year to attend — not to mention that Dwight, in particular, is run for profit, an increasing trend in the U.S. Yet no one in the room commented on Sahlberg’s statement. I found this surprising. Sahlberg himself did not.

Sahlberg knows what Americans like to talk about when it comes to education, because he’s become their go-to guy in Finland. The son of two teachers, he grew up in a Finnish school. He taught mathematics and physics in a junior high school in Helsinki, worked his way through a variety of positions in the Finnish Ministry of Education, and spent years as an education expert at the OECD, the World Bank, and other international organizations.

Now, in addition to his other duties, Sahlberg hosts about a hundred visits a year by foreign educators, including many Americans, who want to know the secret of Finland’s success. Sahlberg’s new book is partly an attempt to help answer the questions he always gets asked.

From his point of view, Americans are consistently obsessed with certain questions: How can you keep track of students’ performance if you don’t test them constantly? How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers? How do you foster competition and engage the private sector? How do you provide school choice?

The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America’s school reformers are trying to do.

For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.

Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.

As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”

For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.

And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Paronen: “Real winners do not compete.” It’s hard to think of a more un-American idea, but when it comes to education, Finland’s success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.

Finally, in Finland, school choice is noticeably not a priority, nor is engaging the private sector at all. Which brings us back to the silence after Sahlberg’s comment at the Dwight School that schools like Dwight don’t exist in Finland.

“Here in America,” Sahlberg said at the Teachers College, “parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It’s the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same.”

Herein lay the real shocker. As Sahlberg continued, his core message emerged, whether or not anyone in his American audience heard it.

Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.

* * *

Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.

In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.

In fact, since academic excellence wasn’t a particular priority on the Finnish to-do list, when Finland’s students scored so high on the first PISA survey in 2001, many Finns thought the results must be a mistake. But subsequent PISA tests confirmed that Finland — unlike, say, very similar countries such as Norway — was producing academic excellence through its particular policy focus on equity.

That this point is almost always ignored or brushed aside in the U.S. seems especially poignant at the moment, after the financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street movement have brought the problems of inequality in America into such sharp focus. The chasm between those who can afford $35,000 in tuition per child per year — or even just the price of a house in a good public school district — and the other “99 percent” is painfully plain to see.

* * *

Pasi Sahlberg goes out of his way to emphasize that his book Finnish Lessons is not meant as a how-to guide for fixing the education systems of other countries. All countries are different, and as many Americans point out, Finland is a small nation with a much more homogeneous population than the United States.

Yet Sahlberg doesn’t think that questions of size or homogeneity should give Americans reason to dismiss the Finnish example. Finland is a relatively homogeneous country — as of 2010, just 4.6 percent of Finnish residents had been born in another country, compared with 12.7 percent in the United States. But the number of foreign-born residents in Finland doubled during the decade leading up to 2010, and the country didn’t lose its edge in education. Immigrants tended to concentrate in certain areas, causing some schools to become much more mixed than others, yet there has not been much change in the remarkable lack of variation between Finnish schools in the PISA surveys across the same period.

Samuel Abrams, a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s Teachers College, has addressed the effects of size and homogeneity on a nation’s education performance by comparing Finland with another Nordic country: Norway. Like Finland, Norway is small and not especially diverse overall, but unlike Finland it has taken an approach to education that is more American than Finnish. The result? Mediocre performance in the PISA survey. Educational policy, Abrams suggests, is probably more important to the success of a country’s school system than the nation’s size or ethnic makeup.

Indeed, Finland’s population of 5.4 million can be compared to many an American state — after all, most American education is managed at the state level. According to the Migration Policy Institute, a research organization in Washington, there were 18 states in the U.S. in 2010 with an identical or significantly smaller percentage of foreign-born residents than Finland.

What’s more, despite their many differences, Finland and the U.S. have an educational goal in common. When Finnish policymakers decided to reform the country’s education system in the 1970s, they did so because they realized that to be competitive, Finland couldn’t rely on manufacturing or its scant natural resources and instead had to invest in a knowledge-based economy.

With America’s manufacturing industries now in decline, the goal of educational policy in the U.S. — as articulated by most everyone from President Obama on down — is to preserve American competitiveness by doing the same thing. Finland’s experience suggests that to win at that game, a country has to prepare not just some of its population well, but all of its population well, for the new economy. To possess some of the best schools in the world might still not be good enough if there are children being left behind.

Is that an impossible goal? Sahlberg says that while his book isn’t meant to be a how-to manual, it is meant to be a “pamphlet of hope.”

“When President Kennedy was making his appeal for advancing American science and technology by putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960’s, many said it couldn’t be done,” Sahlberg said during his visit to New York. “But he had a dream. Just like Martin Luther King a few years later had a dream. Those dreams came true. Finland’s dream was that we want to have a good public education for every child regardless of where they go to school or what kind of families they come from, and many even in Finland said it couldn’t be done.”

Clearly, many were wrong. It is possible to create equality. And perhaps even more important — as a challenge to the American way of thinking about education reform — Finland’s experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.

The problem facing education in America isn’t the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad.

The Atlantic, 29 December 2011


Education in India is at Crossroads

Access to education, Curriculum Development, Finances & Budgets, Learning Achievements, Literacy

Indian culture is a rare manifestation of intense pride in knowledge. India’s historical fabric flaunts great works of knowledge that are not only an important part of India’s heritage, but the world’s heritage. Education has been the greatest leveler for the Indian society rife with divides between caste, regions and religions.

It not only enables social mobility but is also a crucial factor for financial success and status in India.

A report by Ernst & Young says that in a typical Indian household, families spend a high amount of money on education. Only food and transportation account for a higher amount of spending.

The National Sample Survey Organization shows average household expenditure on education in India has risen from 2.55% in 2008 to 7.5% in 201 0. Between 1999 and 2009, Indian household spending on education jumped up by as much as 378% in rural areas and 345% in urban areas.

Additionally, the Central government has announced 24% hike in the budget allocation for education in 2012.

As household and government expenditure on educations zooms, it is interesting that the overall quality of basic education remains poor. This is the result of the flawed attitudes towards education. On one hand, the government thinks that allocating more money to its education budget would reform the poor public education system. On the other hand, the people consider education a means of employment. The parents and kids alike are happy as long as they are able to bag a job with fat package and perks as soon as they graduate. However, this is an alarming trend for a country whose growth prospects largely depend on how it tackles its demographic dividend today.

There appear to be serious fault lines in India’s current education system, which focuses on rote rather than experiential learning. Exams and marks rather than creativity and critical inquiry are the important parts of India’s education. In most schools, memorization is mistaken for learning. Most of what is remembered is quickly forgotten. (How many remember how to take a square root or the formula for sodium nitrate?)

In a society richly steeped in culture, traditions, heritage and multilingualism widespread over the ages, where every major world religion co-exists, we need to reflect on transforming the attitude towards education. Looking at the current state of education in the country, one could not agree more with William J Crocket who asks “ if school is not ‘a people place’, where tears are understood, spirits can take wing, feelings can be heard, where one is accepted as one is, then where else can one be, just oneself?” Our educational system misplaces its focus on ‘knowing’ rather than the ‘different ways of knowing and learning styles’.

A major problem is that our approach to education is wrong, our focus is to get the children “employed” not “educated” – in a curious historical inversion, our educational history interestingly has followed an inverted pyramid from being a nation that was home to the world’s oldest and finest universities in recorded history (Nalanda and Takshila), we have now an education system that cannot even boast of one institute of higher learning amongst the top 100 in the world. The nation at large is complacent, with some isolated islands of excellence like the IIT’s and IIM’s (Indian Institutes of Technology and Management). While the majority of institutions of learning, whether schools or universities, have failed to transform their outlook towards education.

The existing models of learning are reasonably good for developing a disciplined mind, crammed with information. Howard Gardner, one of the world’s most influential thinkers and author of the theory of Multiple Intelligences(MI) recently was asked if there were too many engineers in India, Gardner said: “I’m skeptical about any profession being valorized over others. Who knows what is going to be needed in the next 25 years? In the U.S. and in India, schools should not be preparing people for professions; professions should do that themselves. Instead, schools should prepare them to understand arts and science better. The point of developing intelligence is to become a competent human being.”

While the country’s economy is growing at the rate of 7%, we are not sure at what rate our children’s minds and intellect are expanding.

There is an urgent need to understand education in its deepest and widest sense. In Sri Aurobindo’s words, amongst one of India’s greatest philosopher and thinkers:

“That alone will be a true and living education which helps to bring out to full advantage, makes ready for the full purpose and scope of human life all that is in the individual man, and which at the same time helps him to enter into his right relation with the life, mind and soul of the people to which he belongs and with that great total life, mind and soul of humanity of which he himself is a unit and his people or nation a living, a separate yet inseparable member.”

If this is the true meaning of education, then what passes in its name today in our educational institutions is obviously very far from the mark. The purpose of education cannot be, even at its best, to merely create a literate individual, a skilled technician or a law abiding citizen, these are only the byproducts of a truly great education system. These are essential however they are not adequate in themselves. Nor do they create a well rounded individual or a great nation.

There are change makers working round the clock to make a difference in the educational landscape of the country. If India succeeds in changing its approach towards education, we have the opportunity of transforming the minds of one sixth of humanity!

Koraputonline.org, 01 March 2012


In school, barely literate

Government run schools, Learning Achievements, Literacy

– Status of education report ranks Jharkhand way below Bihar
Ranchi, Feb. 18: Out of 10 children in Classes I and II at the state-run schools of Jharkhand, five can’t recognise numbers and alphabets, according to Annual Status Educational Report (ASER) 2011.

Union minister for human resource development Kapil Sibal released the report in New Delhi last month. NGO Pratham, which facilitated it, gave state-wise tabulations to reveal how, after more than two years of the Right to Education Act (2009) which promised compulsory education to all children between 6 and 14 years, primary schoolchildren were actually faring in class.

According to the ASER report — the word was chosen as it means “impact” in Hindi — Jharkhand stands 11 in the list of states, much worse than Bihar at rank 4. Andhra Pradesh tops the list of states, which it deserves to, for 89 per cent of its children in Classes I and II can recognise numbers, 87.3 per cent know their alphabets and 64.5 per cent can do subtractions.

Compared to this, their peers in Jharkhand fare much worse. Only 49.2 per cent recognise alphabets, 49.7 per cent recognise numbers and a mere 41 per cent can attempt two-digit subtractions.

Between September and November, a team of Pratham officials carried out a survey in 22 districts, excluding two. Out of 22, the figures of two districts — Dhanbad and Jamtara — are yet to be compiled. In all, Pratham visited 537 village schools.

Interestingly, compared to 2010, reading and writing abilities of children had gone down in 2011. Even the dropout rate had increased by almost one to 4.7 per cent now.

Sadly, even in Class III, a third of children can’t even read Class I textbooks, and one-tenth can’t recognise numbers and alphabets. Only the brightest 5.8 per cent, a tiny majority, can do divisions.

Kumar Katyayani, convenor of Pratham (Jharkhand) squarely blamed the teachers.

“We came to the conclusion that learning levels of children had taken a nosedive mainly because teachers were seldom in class. They were either on strike or doing panchayat election and census duty,” he said.

The official also blamed the liberalism of the RTE Act to an extent.

“Most students were promoted to the next class without tests. The RTE Act specifies no child can be detained. So it affected learning,” he pointed out.

The ideal student-teacher ratio (30:1), mentioned by the RTE Act, is non-existent. The Jharkhand government had failed to recruit teachers in the primary level within six months.

Another factor that contributed to the dip in learning was the absence of school toilets for girls. “Around 23.4 per cent of schools have no separate provision for girls-only toilets, which discourages attendance,” said the Pratham official.

Another big reason was that most tribal children did not comprehend Hindi. “In Jharkhand, 61.2 per cent of children have one mother tongue and another language in school, which creates confusion,” Katyayani pointed out.

The Telegraph, 18 February 2012


TN students cut a sorry figure

Learning Achievements, Literacy

CHENNAI: In Tamil Nadu, 99 among 100 children in the age group of 6 to 14 are enrolled in schools. Yet, half of the class III, IV and V students cannot read a simple four-sentence paragraph in Tamil meant for class I. Nor can 45.9 per cent of class I students recognize numbers. These pointers to the appalling quality of education were revealed at the release of Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2011, held here on Saturday.
The ASER 2011 survey, conducted by the Pratham Education Foundation, tested 26,350 rural students in 29 districts of the state for their reading and arithmetic capabilities. In both parameters, the state fell short of the national average, performing better only than Bihar when it comes to reading abilities of Class I-II students.
Busting the myth that government schools were academically inferior to private educational institutions, the report has revealed that the difference in performance between these categories is only little. While 65 per cent of students in private schools in class V couldn’t read a Class II level text, among students in government schools, the number was 68. “This proves that the decision of parents enrolling their kids in private schools for better performance is a choice made of ignorance about the qualitative difference in education between the schools,” explained educationist Dr V Vasanthi Devi, who was present at the event.
While only 48.2 per cent of India’s children in class V can read a story, in Tamil Nadu, the number is much lesser at 32.3 per cent.� The national average in itself has reduced by 5 per cent from last year.
With the Right to Education Act being implemented, it has been revealed that more than half of the schools in the state (52.3 per cent) have the pupil-teacher ratio required by the Act (Two teachers for up to 60 students in Classes I-V). Three-fourth of schools have the required teacher-classroom ratio of the Act — at least one classroom for every teacher. Only 48.4 per cent schools in TN have a usable toilet, while 77.6 per cent have drinking water facilities.
“The report is an indication of the inequality in the country, and efforts should be made to study the qualitative outcome of our education programmes,” said Balaji Sampath, secretary of AID India, whose Eureka Child initiative assisted the survey. N Ram, director of Kasthuri and Sons Ltd, released the report. Also present at the event were Dr G Viswanathan, founder and chancellor of VIT University, Vellore, and educationist Dr S S Rajagopalan.

Ibnlive, 19 February 2012


It will take 100 years to revamp education!

Curriculum Development, Learning Achievements, Literacy

HYDERABAD: Revamping education system in a country like India will take 50 to 100 years of hard work, believes Professor Howard Gardner of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Best known for his theory of multiple intelligences, he was in the city as part of his six-city tour in the country.
The professor of cognitive psychology emphasized that for India, “there are no quick-fix solutions for changing the education system.” Speaking to the media at the Indian School of Business, the educationist spoke of the narrow framework in which educational institutions and learning are judged.
“The observation that if it is not quantified, it is not useful is a fall out of neoliberalist policies of the US and India. Quantifying intelligence does not take into account only school tests. If a child is doing well in school, do not spare a milli-second trying to quantify his abilities. Quantifying the various forms of intelligence helps when a child suffers from learning disabilities,” said the professor whose hypothesis of various forms of intelligences has been adapted across schools in the US to mentor students in a specific skill from a young age.
The professor pointed out that in India, where education is more about competition and less about understanding, the evaluation criteria has its drawbacks.
“There is a funnel problem in India where a large number of students are competing to get into a few elite schools such as the IITs. The admission process in universities in the US is much better as intake is not based on a single test score. It takes into account the candidate’s hobbies, interests and other aspects,” explained Gardner who visited IIT Chennai before his stop in the city.
He also underlined the importance of social capital a child brings to the school.
“Schools cannot foster creativity if they believe in error-free learning,” opined Gardner introducing his hypothesis which talks about five different minds and seven types of intelligences.
Among the five different minds which cover the psychology of an individual, the ‘synthesizing mind’ will be respected in the coming years, observed the cognitive psychologist.
“The ability to correlate information and connect relevant information is the function of a synthesizing mind. But there is also the need to develop an ethical mind,” he said. Sharing an anecdote, he said if students at Harvard were asked to read only one book in their life, he would recommend to them Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography, My Experiments With Truth. “It is not the most elegantly written book but captures best the ethical dilemmas an individual faces,” he said.

Ibnlive, 05 February 2012

1 Comment

Needed urgently: An education revolution

Learning Achievements, Literacy, Quality

No country has transited from being poor and backward to being rich and developed without an education revolution. We in India are busy boasting about our economic growth rates and geopolitical rise but have lost sight of the deep weakness of our society. The results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009+ test, which Indian students from Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu took, are an indication of the abysmal state of our education system.

Here are the results from these two states. In reading competence, of the 74 regions worldwide participating in PISA 2009+, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu beat out only Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. In mathematics, the two states again beat only Kyrgyzstan. In science, the results were even worse; Himachal Pradesh came in last, behind Kyrgyzstan, while Tamil Nadu finished 72nd.

Of course, when we in India get bad news in terms of global comparisons, we have the usual reactions. The first reaction is to shoot the messenger: the person or organisation giving us the bad news must be anti-Indian or have a hidden agenda. The second reaction is to become methodological purists: question the nature of the test, the sample taken, the statistics used, and so on. The third and worst reaction is nativism and exceptionalism: India has its own way, its own genius and its own time horizons.

So i have heard responses to the PISA result that go something like this. Indian education is unique and is not geared to foreign tests. Indians are “essentially” clever and the tests don`t pick up the “jugaad” culture of India. There is a deep wisdom in the humblest Indian, and literacy, numeracy, comprehension and problem solving are not true education. Finally, it is too soon to pass judgment on Indian education. We in India do things gradually.

Perhaps this is all correct. Or perhaps we just don`t want to face reality. I have been in school and university education in India since 1989. And i can say, in all earnestness, that the PISA results do not surprise me at all even if they are not completely accurate (would it really make a difference if Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu had ranked 60th out of 74?). Incidentally, there are Indian studies carried out by respected groups such as Pratham that bear out the basic conclusions reached by the PISA test.

Let`s face it. Our school system, vocational education (such as it is), colleges and universities are in a shambles. At Independence, India would have ranked much higher in Asia. Today, its education system has fallen massively behind. Our universities certainly were at the top of the pile in Asia in 1950. Today, not a single Indian university ranks in the top hundred institutions of the world while there are over a dozen Asian universities on that list. Even amongst Asian IT and engineering universities, India has only half a dozen out of the top 50 institutions – when India is the second most populous country in Asia and, on a purchasing power parity basis, the third biggest economy after China and Japan.

Why such a mess? The central government, committed to spending 6% of GDP on education, spends 4%. Then there is the quality of teachers. Finland, which tops the PISA rankings, recruits its teachers from the top 10% of its graduates (yet does not pay them exorbitantly); i shudder to think where we get our teachers from. Thirdly, there is the accountability problem. The government recruits teachers, pays their salaries, and cannot get them to perform. And this when government teachers are paid twice the salary of private school teachers. Why the lack of accountability? The teachers` unions are too strong, legal protections for teachers seem unassailable and the government just does not care enough to challenge either.

The Times of India, 04 February 2012

1 Comment

Quality Education in India- A Challenge

Learning Achievements, Literacy, Quality

As a nation whose growth is talk of the town, quality education in India remains still a distant dream. A lot has been written about the system of education in this country.

A lot of questions have been raised against it- are we doing the right things for progress, is our research output anywhere near other nations of our league and inspite of having bright minds and enough numbers on our side we have failed to produce proportionate number of Nobel laureates.
So, before I proceed any further let me tell you that I am not going to offer any magical solutions to the problem but shift your focus to the deeper issues of this problem, I am sure going to do.

A couple of weeks back the results of the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) survey were out and led to quite some frenzy. The reason – out of the 74 economies that had participated in the survey (which compares the quality of education in these participating economies) India was placed second from last, only ahead of Kyrgyzstan. The results were shocking for many of us in India probably due to the fact that the country’s education system has been considered to be one of the most rigorous and even Obama could not help but tell-he fears that the Indian and Chinese students may capture all the jobs- but for those who have been continuously lamenting the real state of Indian education system which lacks quality, it came as no surprise, only that the results made their point more evident and helped them back it up with comparative facts.

It is impossible to disbelieve all that was in the findings especially considering the fact that this is a country where education just means passing examinations to get degree or certificates! To earn your degree, you need not innovate, think creatively, work hard on your mind as higher studies would require you to, you just need to cram the answers that your teacher would want to see in the answer sheet. There is nothing for us to point finger at the poor student here, he just can’t be blamed for anything, that’s the way it is and we have been trained to do it since our very childhood. So it doesn’t come as a surprise when a survey, which was done in Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, shows primary students in a very poor light. Only 17% of students, in Tamil Nadu, were estimated to possess proficiency in reading that is at or above the baseline. And in Himachal Pradesh, this was 11%. The PISA study also found that only 12% of students in Himachal Pradesh and 15% in Tamil Nadu were proficient in mathematics. Put it without any statistics and according to the survey, not even half of the children, 15 years of age, could perform basic arithmetic or basic reading – something which brings in a lot of concern especially driven from the fact that the two states being talked about here, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh, have always been on the right side of development and are considered among those progressive states in the country. A lot of concern for the quality of products in India but no value for quality of education or human resource!

Although one could easily dismiss the report, saying that most countries considered, as a part of the survey, are either developed economies or small countries with a history of quality education but that does not take away from the fact that our system has failed to provide what it is supposed to –quality. In fact, we are still stuck in a state of absurdity where only a meager percentage of the population, usually the urban middle class and upper castes, have access to good schools and teachers and it would be no exaggeration to say that majority of our children, especially in the rural areas, are either employed as laborers or study in those schools which lack teachers and resources. With such disparities, it’s true that we can’t really be serious about economic development by just including the fortunate sections. Real development lies with the inclusion of all the people and for that quality education is the key.

Increasing enrollment is a major task in the process. It is indeed wonderful that mid day meal scheme and Right to Education Act have actually achieved that to an extent, but standards of what constitutes education are problematic themselves. Is it a mere ability to write one’s name or is it something more than that- to actually go out into the real world?

The RTE and the mid day meal scheme maybe buzzwords, but the real truth is that we can’t just stop with these laws alone, we just cannot afford to have children in schools just because they are getting a meal or fulfilling a law. Mid-day meal and Right to Education are indeed important but equally important is THE RIGHT EDUCATION and we just have to find ways and means to ensure quality for our own good and also to prevent a possible scenario where the world may see us as ‘Bharat drowning’.

The Fortnight, 26 January 2012

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Why is India wasting its biggest and brightest asset?

Edupreneurship, Literacy

What is India’s biggest — and brightest — asset? Its people.

Or more precisely, its youthful, working-age population, which is set to become the world’s largest working-age population (972 million) by 2030.

In theory, economies that make productive use of their youth population can experience huge advances in growth. That’s what called “reaping the demographic dividend.”

Yet, India seems dangerously close to squandering its huge advantage given that it still isn’t doing enough to make productive use of its youth population. What do we mean by that? Providing proper education and skills training to our young men and women. Without those things, they can’t be active and productive members of society.

Education remains one of India’s biggest and most pressing challenges. Sajjad Hussain/AFP
Yes, education remains one of India’s biggest and most pressing challenges. Currently, public spending accounts for more than 60 percent of education spending in India, but the quality and quantity of educational institutions and teachers are nowhere near satisfactory. Rote learning is actively encouraged and most curricula are hopelessly out of date with job market requirements.

“Despite the rising demand for skilled manpower as a result of India’s rapid economic growth, employers find a majority of new graduates are unemployable on account of inadequacies in the educational system,” noted a recent education sector report by a local brokerage, Anand Rathi.

That’s the tragedy of it all: even as hundreds of graduates search for jobs — any job — hundreds of jobs go abegging for lack of skilled workers.

Ironically, the implementation of the Right to Education Act, which guarantees every child between the age of 6 and 14 the constitutional right to education, might even make life even more difficult for those seeking education in private institutions.

According to The International Herald Tribune ( a sister publication of The New York Times), the Act makes strict demands on stringent teacher-student ratios, classroom sizes and parental involvement in school administration. Any school that fails to comply by 2013 could face closure.

The demands, the report said, threatens the operations of several private schools across the country. “Fifty percent (of private schools) will be closed down as per the Right to Education Act” a top education official in Hyderabad told the newspaper.

In a country where supply, not demand for education, is the real problem, the Act might serve to curtail the growth of private-sector educational institutes, which sprang up in the first place to ease the acute shortage of good schools.

If these issues are not resolved quickly, our demographic edge (India is the only country among BRIC nations to have a growing working-age population; Brazil, Russia and China are set to experience declining youth populations) could soon become an economic liability and India could quite easily join the list of economic has-beens.

As it is, some experts, including Jim O’Neill, the Goldman Sachs analyst who coined the term ‘BRIC’ recently noted that other emerging economies may now be better investments, especially Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt and Mexico, according to a Bloomberg report.

The brokerage also predicted that the average annual expansion of the BRIC countries would fall during this decade to 6.9 percent from 7.9 percent in the 10 years to 2009, then drop to 5.3 percent in the 2020s, according to the report.

Rapidly ageing populations, especially in China, will add to pressures and cause slower growth in future, it said, although the four countries will still significantly influence the global economy.

Nevertheless, Goldman Sachs believes the best times for the four nations are probably already over. “In terms of the role of the BRICs in driving global growth, the most dramatic change is behind us,” Bloomberg quoted the brokerage as saying in a note last month.

If that’s the case, India has no more time to lose. Faith is already diminishing in the potential of BRIC to remain economic growth drivers. By investing more, much more in our biggest asset (human resources), it’s up to India to prove that the world is wrong.

Firstpost, 04 January 2012

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