Thursday, 13 December 2018

What are the key challenges in education sector in India?

“What are the key challenges in education sector in India?” is being elaborated by me in the present article. In this piece of writing, I have discussed in details various issues such as “Access and Participation”, “Quality Issues”, “Skills and Employability”, “Curriculum and Assessment”, “Information and Communication Technology (ICT)”, “Teacher Development and Management”, “Equity Issues”, “System Efficiency”, “Governance and Management”, “Research and Development”, “Budgetary constraints”, and "Global Commitment”.  

What are the Key Challenges in Education Sector in India:

The earlier policies on education have laid out clear objectives and goals; however, many of these have not been realized fully. Though India has made significant progress in terms of enhancing access to and participation in all levels of education, the overall picture of education development in the country is mixed and there are many persisting concerns and challenges relating to access to and participation in education, quality of the education imparted, equity in education, system efficiency, governance and management, research and development, and financial commitment to education development.

Access and Participation:

Research from around the world highlights the importance of early childhood education. However, participation in pre-school education remains low. Expanding access to early childhood education to provide equal opportunity to all children to prepare them better for formal schooling emerges to be a high priority task.

Nationally the percentage of out-of-school children aged 6-13 years has declined significantly since 2000. However, the absolute number of out-of-school children remains high. The relatively lower enrollment rates in upper primary and secondary education as compared to primary education are also a matter of concern. Ensuring upward transition/mobility of students from elementary to secondary to achieve universal secondary education and from secondary to higher secondary and tertiary education continues to be a challenge.

India has the second largest higher education system in the world. Although the Indian higher education has already entered a stage of massification, the Gross Enrollment Ratio in higher education remains low at 23.6 percent in 2014-15. The current target is to increase GER to 25.2 per cent in 2017-18 and further to 30 per cent in 2020-21.

The relatively slow progress in reducing the number of non-literates continues be a concern. India currently has the largest non-literate population in the world with the absolute number of non-literates among population aged 7 and above being 282.6 million in 2011. India also hosts the largest number of youth and adult illiterates in the world with the youth literacy rate (15-24 years) and adult literacy rate (15 years and above) in India in 2011 being 86.1 percent and 69.3 percent respectively.

Quality Issues:

Poor quality of education resulting in unsatisfactory learning outcomes is a matter of great concern. Quality-related deficiencies such as inappropriate curriculum, the lack of trained educators and ineffective pedagogy remain a major challenge relating to pre-school education. A significant proportion of children who complete pre-school education do not have school readiness competencies in cognitive and language domains when they join primary school. The majority of pre-school educators are inadequately trained/prepared. The curricula for pre-school education in many cases continue to be a downward extension of the primary education curriculum.

The biggest challenge facing school education relates to the unsatisfactory level of student learning. The findings of the National Achievement Surveys (NAS) covering Grades III, V, VIII and X suggest that learning levels of a significant proportion of students do not measure up to the expected learning levels. Poor quality of learning at the primary and upper primary stages affects student learning at the secondary stage. Poor quality of learning at the secondary stage spills over to the college/university years, leading to poor learning outcomes in the higher education sector.

Several factors have contributed to unsatisfactory quality of school education. Some of these include: existence of a large proportion of schools that are not compliant to the prescribed norms and standards for a school; student and teacher absenteeism; serious gaps in teacher motivation and training resulting in deficiencies relating to teacher quality and performance; slow progress in regard to use of information and communication technologies in education; sub-optimal personnel management, inadequate attention to monitoring and supervision of performance etc. The perceived failure of the schools in the government system to provide education of good quality has triggered entry of a large number of private schools, many of which lack required infrastructure, learning environment, and competent teachers.

The quality of education provided in a large number of higher education institutions is a matter of great concern. Accreditation agencies were established in India in 1994 as a measure of quality assurance in order to enhance standards of higher education. Of the 140 universities accredited by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), only 32 percent are rated as A grade. Among the 2,780 colleges accredited by the NAAC, only 9 percent are rated as A grade. Among the accredited institutions, 68 percent of the universities and 91 percent of the colleges are rated average or below average in terms of the quality parameters specified by the NAAC. There has been mushroom growth of private colleges and universities, many of them of indifferent quality. The higher education sub-sector is constrained by shortage of well-qualified faculty due to vacant faculty positions; poor infrastructure in many private as well as a significant proportion of public higher education institutions; slow progress in the renewal of higher education curriculum to align it more closely with the skills demanded in a diversified economy; and inadequate funding for research and development.

Skills and Employability:

India is one of the youngest nations in the world with more than 54 percent of its total population below 25 years of age. This necessitates that the youth in the country are equipped with the skills and knowledge to enter the workforce through education and training. However, the institutional arrangements to support technical and vocational education programmes remain quite inadequate. Formally linking the development of skills in vocational fields, and bringing an academic equivalence to vocational accomplishments with avenues for horizontal and vertical mobility of students has been attempted only recently. Fostering dignity and social acceptability to high quality vocational training needs increased attention.

A large proportion of the products of the education system are found to lack employable skills. This has substantially lowered the credibility of the higher education system. The utility of higher education in assuring employment remains questionable. Many graduate and post-graduate students do not get jobs in their respective fields. The task of enhancing the employability of the products of the education system ought to be accorded high priority.

Curriculum and Assessment:

There is a growing realisation that there exist serious disconnects between the existing school and higher education curricula and the curricular thrusts that are needed for promoting the acquisition by students of relevant skills required for decent work and a better life in a rapidly changing world. A key challenge in this context is expanding opportunities for acquiring relevant skills, including skills needed for work and entrepreneurship; skills and competencies that allow learners to be more creative and innovative, to think critically, to communicate effectively, to solve problems independently; and life skills that enable individuals to grow as responsible citizens and embrace cultural diversity, live and work together harmoniously, etc. The overall assessment practices at the school and college/university level remain unsatisfactory. In most cases the assessment of learning achievement continues to focus on rote learning and testing the students’ ability to reproduce content knowledge. The whole assessment system needs to be revamped to ensure comprehensive assessment of the students, including learning outcomes relating to both scholastic and co-scholastic domains.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT):

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have made rapid strides in the past couple of decades. Many experiments have taken place in the country, and a large body of knowledge has accumulated in regard to the use of ICT in education. However, the potential of ICT in education has not been fully harnessed. The use of ICT in education remains limited and there is a need to accelerate efforts to use ICT for fostering quality education.

Teacher Development and Management:

In spite of the continued efforts for improving teacher quality and performance, the system for initial professional preparation and continuing professional development of school teachers continue to be characterized by several deficiencies. The current teacher education and training programmes are considered inappropriate in terms of equipping the teachers with the competencies required to cope with the new profile and roles expected of teachers and to enable them to carry out their duties in diverse social, economic, cultural and technological environments. The exists a continued mismatch between institutional capacity and required teacher supply resulting in shortage of teachers. The problem is acute in the eastern part of the country where there is a huge backlog of untrained teachers. The capacity to train teachers is also very limited in these States. Research, experimentation and innovations in teacher education remain very limited. These deficiencies have brought about an erosion in the professional identity of teachers and the status of teaching as a profession. The issues relating to the capacity, motivation and accountability of teachers to achieve improvements in learning outcomes of students need to be urgently addressed.

Equity Issues:

Though substantial progress has been achieved in increasing enrollment in pre-school education, children from disadvantaged population groups still lack access to pre-school education. Children from economically disadvantaged groups are more likely to receive less opportunity to participate in pre-primary education.

Despite considerable progress, enrollment rates in upper primary and secondary education in some states remain well below the national average. While there has been a rise in the demand for secondary education and increase in the number of secondary schools, the spread of secondary education throughout the country remains uneven. Regional disparities continue, as do differences in access depending on the socio-economic background of students.
Though the number of out-of-school children (OOSC) has declined significantly since 2000, the number and proportion of out-of-school children remain much higher than the national average in some states. The proportion of OOSC has been higher than the national average for SC children, ST children and Muslim children. This indicates that these children need greater and focused attention.

Regional disparities in Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education are large. In 2011- 12 GER in higher education ranged between 8.4 percent in Jharkhand and 53 percent in Chandigarh. Similarly, the variations among the social groups too are considerable the Gross Enrollment Ratio in higher education remains low at 23.6 percent (24.5% for boys, 22.7% for girls; 18.5% for SCs and 13.3% for STs) in 2014-15. One of the challenges faced by the higher education sector in India is to harmonize the expansion requirements with equity considerations.

Most states have successfully integrated inclusive strategies to facilitate enrollment and retention of disadvantaged population groups in primary education. Despite these efforts, children from certain sections of the population, such as children with disabilities, children in remote locations, children belonging to nomadic families, migrant children, and other vulnerable/disadvantaged groups have not been able to take full benefit of the educational opportunities. Urban poor children constitute another group of children whose participation in education remains low. Ensuring access to education for the hardest-to reach section of population remains one of the key priorities in the context of efforts to achieve universal elementary and secondary education.

The findings of the National Learning Achievement Surveys reveal significant differences in the average achievement levels of students between States/Union Territories (UTs). They also indicate that urban students are performing significantly better than rural students; students in private unaided schools performed marginally better than government schools; students from the general category and OBC category performed better than the SC and ST students. These findings suggest a serious challenge to the goal of ‘equity in learning’. Children from historically disadvantaged and economically weaker sections of society and first generation learners exhibit significantly lower learning outcomes.

Children with disabilities and children with special needs constitute a significant proportion of out-of-school children. This situation highlights the needs to equip schools to address the challenging needs of children with disabilities who are both socially and educationally disadvantaged.

Though the dropout rate is a matter of concern in the case of all categories of students, drop-out rates among socially and economically disadvantaged groups, especially for girls from these groups, remain higher than the national average. This brings into focus the need to undertake measures to improve retention in schools of children from socially and economically disadvantaged communities.

Most states/UTs have made impressive progress in terms of reduction in gender disparities in participation, with most of them either having reached or surpassed gender parity, particularly at the primary and upper primary stages of education. However, large disparities remain at the senior secondary level. Many girls are not sent to schools; and many who complete secondary education are not able to pursue their studies at the higher secondary level and in colleges. Once in school, especially at the secondary stage, there are several barriers that prevent a significant proportion of girls from continuing their education. The interventions which are currently being made to bridge the gender and social category gaps need to be stepped up, and more focused strategies need to be worked out to facilitate effective inclusion and participation of girls and other special category children.

The relatively higher gender gaps in youth and adult literacy rates remain a principal challenge. India continues to be characterized by higher level of gender gap (8.2 percentage points) in youth literacy rate, with the youth literacy rates for male and female population (age 15-24 years) in 2011 being 90 per cent and 81.8 percent respectively. India also continues to be the country with higher level of gender gap (19.5 percentage points) in adult literacy, with adult literacy rates for male and female population (age 15 years and over) in 2011 being 78.8 percent and 59.3 percent respectively. It is clear that major efforts are needed to raise the literacy levels of girls and women.

System Efficiency:

Even though the drop-out rates at elementary and secondary stages of education have been declining, large numbers of children continue to leave the school before completing elementary education. In 2014-15, the retention rate at primary level was 83.7 percent and it was as low as 67.4 percent at the elementary level. This indicates that roughly, four in every 10 children enrolled in grade I leave the school before completing grade VIII. Dropout rates in secondary education continue to be high, especially for socially and economically disadvantaged groups of learners. Though the dropout rate is a matter of concern in the case of all categories of students, drop-out rates among socially and economically disadvantaged groups, especially for girls from these groups, remain higher than the national average. This brings into focus the need to undertake measures to improve retention in schools of children from socially and economically disadvantaged communities. Ensuring completion of elementary, secondary and higher secondary education by all enrolled pupils emerges to be high priority task.

Governance and Management:
Several studies have reported the challenges in education governance exemplified by teacher absence, delayed fund flows to schools/colleges/universities and administrative capabilities. Capacity constraints relating to effective programme planning and implementation continue to be a key issue. Consequently, the progress of implementation of planned programmes remains uneven. The governance and management of education system and institutions, especially at the tertiary education stage, has assumed complexity with the advent of a multiplicity of providers, programmes and modes of financing. While it is true that some states have displayed encouraging initiatives and innovative management, the overall picture in the country is mixed. A renewed look at governance and management policies both at the system as well as the institutional level has become imperatively urgent.

Commercialisation is rampant both in school and higher education sub-sectors as reflected in the charges levied for admissions in private educational institutions. The proliferation of sub-standard educational institutions has contributed to the diminished credibility of the education system.

Research and Development:

Research and development initiatives in universities in India remain weak. There has been only a limited initiative for upgrading the skills of existing faculty; build synergies between teaching and research to promote excellence in both; promoting internationalization by encouraging and supporting higher education institutions and their faculty to engage more deeply with institutions and faculty around the world to improve quality of research; creating and facilitating alliances for research, and linking university departments with research institutions and industry to accelerate the process of knowledge development.

Budgetary constraints:

Insufficient financing of education continues to constrain efforts to expand access to education and foster quality education. Several studies have reported the challenges in education governance exemplified by the delayed fund flows to schools/ colleges/universities. The earlier education policies had endorsed a norm of 6 percent of GDP as the minimum expenditure on education. However, this target has never been met. Shortfall in the funding has been a major constraint to the complete implementation of some of the programmes designed to further expand school, higher and adult education programmes and to maintain a reasonable level of quality in education. There have also been pervasive and persistent failures in timely programme implementation leading to sub-optimal utilization of the resources provided.

Global Commitment:
The global Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) within the Agenda 2030 seeks to ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. The EFA agenda initiated in 2000 remains unfinished, particularly those relating to youth and adult illiterates, out-of-school children, low access to Early Childhood Care and Education, inadequate opportunities for skill development and unsatisfactory quality of education and student learning levels. The NEP will, therefore, pursue both the unfinished EFA agenda and the targets associated with SDG4.

The challenges being faced by the education sector call for innovative approaches and sustained efforts to foster education development in general, and quality education, in particular without compromising on access and equity. The main thrust will be to devise effective strategies to address the divergent challenges for the growth of education in India and realizing the potential of the country’s ‘demographic dividend’.

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