Dear Ornetters,

The following article is a grim portrayal of education system back home. The article was quoted from a book by Chief Election Commissioner of India, T.N.Seshan. Unfortunately, the article stops at the description of the problem. Any solution remains as a food for your thoughts.

With regards
Surjit Sahoo (8/11/95)

A word from the contributor

Hello DM/SS,

I found this article on the net, which speaks for itself. you may like to post it in the weekend thoughts column.

Manoj Sahu

Education - A Big Joke!

Excerpts from CEC T.N. Seshan's book The Degeneration of India
The Sunday Observer
contributed by Rajesh G. Parekh (parekh@cs.iastate.edu)

If there is a first prize to be given for the primary reason of the degeneration of India, then it will easily go to education. Even if there have been failures in health, environment, the media and elec- tricity, none of these failed as miserably as our education system. While the others can be restored with an injection of funds and management, the loss of education can never be brought back to several generations of Indians. The extent of education has improved quant- itatively in India since independence: there are many more schools and colleges, more teachers and students. Where there were a mere 15 or so universities in 1947, today there are more than 200 universities. The number of higher secondary schools and general education colleges has nearly doubled in the last 20 years. Higher secondary schools have increased from 37,100 in 1970-71 to 84,100 in 1992-1993 (provisional) and while there were 2,285 general education colleges in 1970-71, there were 5,334 in 1992-93.

But what needs to be looked at is the quality of the education impart- ed to our children. Take language. The child is a victim of a confused policy on language. At one school in a particular state, he or she may learn English, Hindi and the local language. Rut if the parents shift residence to another state the student will need to learn a new 'third' language. The average child carries a daily beastly burden of books to school which damages the tender spinal column. Is it any wonder that many children these days hate school?

The child is taught to acquire knowledge only to pass exams and those exams appear to be the be-all and end-all of existence.

In many parts of the country, education has taken on a commercial character. The teacher comes into a school room and says that large portions of a course have been covered without even looking at a single page or discussing the subject. He or she then encourages the students to enroll in private coaching classes with himself or herself, where they pay high fees to learn what they should have been taught at school. Furthering the corruption of the education system is the fact that such students are beneficiaries of leaked question papers and often produce everything up to forged PhD theses.

Those who follow the rules face discrimination at every step. The wretchedness of the system was on full display when a friend's daughter, who was applying for a place in a foreign university, wanted to get a copy of her final marksheet from Delhi University. She filled in the appropriate forms and handed them, with the amount due, to the clerk on duty. The man made it absolutely clear to her that there was no question of her receiving the desired sheet of paper if a fifty-rupee note was not added to the official fee. The girl refused to pay the bribe. At the end of several visits and nearly two months, she was desperate because the marksheet had not been handed over and time was running out. It took the joint efforts of three persons: her father, who was then revenue secretary in the Government of India; the vice-chancellor of Delhi University, and me to procure that scrap of paper from the clerk. This was the problem faced by a well connected student. One shudders to think of what torture the less fortunate ones must go through to secure what is legitimately theirs.

Political parties make shameless promises, as did the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh, that they will abolish restrictions on copying if voted to power. The Bharatiya Janata Party government in that state, before its dismissal in 1992, had made copying a criminal offence. Many students were caught, handcuffed and even imprisoned briefly for such offences. Yet in 1993, Mulayam Singh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party promised to end all that and reward the offenders if returned to office in the state elections! And they did. Officials use schools to further milk the system by approving institutions that exist only on paper, with non-existent staff receiving non-salaries.

There are two worlds of education in lndia. The first and the best is available to those who are the richest and where schools charge a minimum of Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 in fees per child per month. The second is the standard government school, which is largely free of cost and also of education. It has few teachers, few buildings, few facilities and few funds. These days, even criminal politicians have invested illegal funds in 'good deeds' -- the setting up of new schools and colleges in their constituencies. The fact that these institutions rarely have anything to do with the education process is of scant concern to their promoters. And hoary institutions such as Allahabad University and Benares Hindu University have become places where hostel rooms are occupied by dadas from different political parties. These students are permanently engaged in wreaking havoc on the campus. In addition, the proliferation of teachers'unions and student unions have resulted in the absence of anything even faintly resemblng discipline. School and college admissions very often require payment of bribes or pressure from above according to 60 percent of the respondents in a survey conducted by The Times of India

Eminent sociologist Andre Beteille laments that the main problem with university education in our country is 'not of finance but of morale: increasing numbers of both students and teachers have come to regard as trivial or even meaningless the everyday work of the classrooms, the library and the laboratory'. Conditions with regard to education today are so stressful that no couple can think of conceiving a child unless arrangements are made for its admission to kindergarten three to four years down the line. Children are given entry not on the basis of their merit but on the basis of tests taken by their parents! Teachers write in report after shameless report that the child needs more attention at home when they receive no attention in class.

Forty eight years into independence, the constitutional clause that says that all children between the ages of 7 and 14 should compulsorily be in school is a big joke. Children drop out of school because of lack of facilities or pressure from kin to contribute their mind to the family, especially in the rural areas. That is assuming, of course, that there are functional schools around. Often teachers just do not turn up in rural schools. I remember visiting schools in Dindigul and Madurai, as sub-collector and collector. The teachers would be absent. I would open the drawer of the teacher's desk and there, every time, without fail, would be an undated letter of leave.

Yet, even the teachers deserve some sympathy: their classes are far too large. It is beyond the realm of human capability to cope with 50, 60 or more children in a room for five or six hours at a stretch. And sometimes one teacher has to handle two or more classes at the same time. The teacher too is badly treated in India: other professionals have progressed, whether they be doctors, lawyers, or journalists. But the teacher remains at the professional deep end of the swimming pool without receiving the respect that he or she needs. In addition, the teacher needs to perform other non-teaching activities such as taking hundreds of children for a 'Freedom Run' or filling up a conference hall at Vigyan Bhavan which is short of an audience. They are frequently recruited for election duty, enumeration, organising blood donation and eye-treatment camps. If they do not participate in such activities they are often harassed.

The biggest failure of education is that there is no scope for building character. Schools do not prepare a student for life: they do not provide a child with the ability to make moral choices, to resolve dilemmas by seeking clarity in solitude. ln short, they fail to give the child a strong moral backbone that will stand up to the burdens imposed by a world that he has inherited but not chosen.

Your comments are always welcome...

Manoj Sahu

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