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Changing Face of Education in India - The National Knowledge Commission

The adage, “Education is that which liberates”, is as true today as it was at the time of its formulation. Education also means knowledge through learning and learning need not be time-bound, or region-bound. It should be free like the wind to blow from anywhere to anywhere without boundaries. That’s what great educationists envisage.

Since ancient times methods of teaching, learning and acquiring knowledge have changed according to the needs of the time. Before independence, Bapu advocated a system of basic education he called ‘Nai Taleem’ and was adopted by many educational institutions and proved to be very successful. After independence there have been many education commissions. From Dr. Radhakrishnan Committee in 1948 to the two more recent ones; the National Knowledge Commission 2007 chaired by Mr Sam Pitroda and Prof. Yashpal Commission on Higher education of 2009. Each time a commission is set up and its members chosen, their deliberations and meetings are viewed with great expectations by the people concerned about betterment of the country’s education system. But each time these commissions take more than the stipulated time and people lose interest by the time the reports are prepared and presented. The conditions and circumstances due to which the committees were set up also change and the goals, which looked very attractive at the time they were set up, also become obsolete.

In this context the present HRD Minister’s 100-day action-plan is very welcome and promises productive action. This also has the support of the Prime Minister. But the stiff criticism of his education policy, some legitimate and some politically motivated, may hinder the progress of some of the necessary and well meaning proposals.

Giving Mr Kapil Sibbal his due, the legislative part of making new laws viz: a law to prevent educational malpractices; a law for assessment and accreditation in higher education; a law to regulate entry of foreign educational providers; a law to amend Minority Commission education act; and also a law to establish fast track tribunal for stakeholders of education (teachers, students etc) may well be drafted and presented to the parliament before 100 days, but will he be able to implement any of them? Our fear remains that just like in the past the proposed recommendations might eventually gather dust. One only hopes he is able to put into effect the recommendations in good time.
The National Knowledge Commission’s (NKC) central theme has been universal access to good quality school education in every corner of the country for all Indian children. For this to happen, it has recommended, most importantly, to increase public resource allocation for education in the five year plans of the Govt of India and to share revenues of the ‘Prarambhik Shiksha Kosh’ with the state governments. It also wants the states to legislate and devise a time-frame within which universal education of a reasonable quality is achieved.

Other important recommendations are, to decentralise education, form collaborative models at the local levels and ensuring community participation as it is an important instrument to ensure accountability and improve the day to day functioning of schools. The community’s inclusion is crucial for effective implementation of the educational programs to percolate to all levels as they are the most affected stake-holders.

As illiteracy remains a major problem in India among the 15 to 35 age group the NKC also recommends functional literacy among the population directed towards improving skills. The National Literacy Mission (NLM) has been requested to create ‘continuing education centres’ in both rural and urban areas, so as to benefit children of migrant labourers, as well as the adults. There should be synergy between NLM and Skill Development Mission (SDM). These two seem to have lost their importance after the government’s shift in focus to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

The NKC has stated that land is the most important component for schools and so the urban planners for local development plans must incorporate the physical requirements for schooling, playground and other purposes for which land is necessary. Since states are always short of funds especially for school building, and other facilities extremely essential for educating children viz; library, laboratory, workshops, canteens and most importantly water and sanitation, the central government must share the burden of the states. It cannot shirk its responsibility by just converting a clause in the Directive Principles into a Fundamental Right.

Since private institutions play a vital role in providing school education, there should be enabling and regulating mechanism for the same. But there should also be transparent criteria for monitoring private schools in terms of admission-process, fee structures and minimum standards of quality teaching.

Regarding school inspection the NKC recommends greater transparency ensuring meaningful monitoring, and not just the inspection of physical assets. The number of teachers, their qualifications and service conditions must also be checked. Dissatisfied staff can never give their best to children.

As teachers are the spine of school education NKC recommends society and govt to restore the dignity of the profession by increasing incentives for qualified teachers so that the best talents are attracted to the profession. People should take up teaching by choice and not compulsion or as a last resort to earn a livelihood, and prove George Bernard Shaw’s phrase from Man and Superman, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach”, wrong. The commission suggests that teachers should not be involved in non-teaching duties as this undermines their professional status.

The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, did not achieve the success as expected. The NKC blames the central govt for rigidities in the current system of disbursal and transfer of funds to the states, which often lead to non-utilisation of the budgetary allocation. It wants central schemes to be more flexible, yet maintaining an effective tracking mechanism.
The NKC has has thrown cold water on the protagonists of ‘regional language only’ theory, by recommending teaching of English language in schools right from class I, and also to teach one more subject through English medium. It considers English language an avenue to employment and upward mobility. It also facilitates pursuit of higher education.
It has recommended allocation of more funds for modernisation of madrasas and to ensure more attendance of Muslim children especially the girl child.

(To be continued)

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Vandana Bagchi

Home Maker/Housewife

Madhya Pradesh ,  INDIA

Born and brought up in Allahabad. Educated in Allahabad and Delhi. Taught in various reputed schools in Delhi, Mumbai and Shillong. Now enjoying retired life in Bhopal

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