It is needless to repeat the role of education in individual as also social life. It enables the individual to understand better the things around him; makes him well-informed and helps, in a wider sense, participate in the democratic process in the country; and depending upon the level and quality of his education, enhances his social status and improves his employment opportunities. From the society’s point of view, the literate, well-informed, vigilant and, economically more efficient and productive population (labour force) is obviously a much greater asset in two ways: making democracy participative and also making the rulers accountable and accelerating the overall pace of socio-economic development.
Not only universal literacy rate, but good quality universal elementary and near universal secondary education, as also higher, vocational, technical and professional education has played a critical role in making the present day western countries and even some of the Eastern European countries economically and industrially advanced. It needs to be specially mentioned that the Gross Enrolment Ratio ( or GER is the ratio of children to total college-age going, say, 18-22 age group) joining higher education institutions in the developed countries is about 70 per cent, while for the developing countries it is about 35 per cent. Even for China, it is now about 28 to 30 per cent.
In India, real educational development as such began only after Independence. For the British were not interested in mass but in class education, to serve their colonial interests. Thus, though India’s achievements in the field of education of all kinds, compared to the conditions prevailing at the time of Independence cannot be described as stupendous, it also cannot be considered unsatisfactory: be it literacy rate, gross enrolment ratio at the elementary and secondary level, or the spread of higher, technical and professional education. Our GER in the higher education has improved from about 11 per cent in 2004-05 to about 18 per cent now. Still it is certainly low vis-s-vis what it ought to be in view of the technologically fast changing globalising economy.
Nevertheless, our education system continues to suffer from fundamental problems that need urgent attention of both Central and more importantly,the state governments. First, the much-quoted Kothari Commission, in 1966, recommended six per cent of the national income to be spent on education. But, despite huge increase in the expenditure on education during the Eleventh Plan ( 20 per cent of the total Plan outlay), the total expenditure ( Centre and States put together) has not crossed even four per cent.
Second, despite much improvement in the physical infrastructure, the quality of elementary education is far from satisfactory. Third, the proportion of untrained teachers is overwhelmingly high and teacher-absenteeism has become a formidable problem. Fourth, though the drop-out rates are falling, they are still higher at both the elementary and secondary level. Fifth, the number of out of school children too is large, and the implementation of the ambitious Right to Education is too not satisfactory.
Further, though the role of the private institutions in education, particularly the higher, technical and professional cannot be denied, the privatisation is virtually becoming commercialisation. Therefore, the technical and professional education is becoming increasingly unaffordable even to the well-to-do sections. Lastly, that about 67 per cent graduates and 47 per cent engineers should be unemployable should become eye-opener to us sooner than later.
The author is Member of Rajya Sabha, former Member, the Planning Commission and former Vice Chancellor, Mumbai University