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Being Vocal for Local education- why we need an overhaul

The coronavirus pandemic being unprecedented, and underestimated, has visibly radicalized the way education is currently being provided in India. Bharat having had her tryst with the challenges of westernizing her education system has come a long way from her Gurukuls and Madarsas. Today new India misses the school bus to Daffodils International ‘public’ school while old India walks with oiled plaits and soiled uniforms, tagging a sibling along to the local dilapidated Sarkaari Paathshaala. Surely, India has failed to bridge the disparity in the availability and quality of education provided to her children, despite there being (quite justified) aspirations to universalize education. This has only been exacerbated by the coronavirus debacle, leading to acute irregularities in who gets an education, and who does not.

Why :

India’s educators are barred from organizing themselves as an industry and are expected,

even while being private institutions, to operate as not-for-profit institutions. This is a futile check in place to prevent extortion in lieu of education, which rather than further the

objective to curb “donation seats” or “payment seats” has encouraged furtive payments that

remain off the balance sheets and on the attendance sheets. This reflects poorly on a country that remains among the few altruistic nation-states that have devoted themselves to providing education as a fundamental right. The Indian constitution has enshrined the Right to Education as a subclause of the Right to Life under Article 21A. This was legitimized through the 86th constitutional amendment Act, and further strengthened by the Right to Education Act 2005.

The provision of universal education encompasses the right of children between the age of 6 and 14 to avail elementary education free of cost, and enforceable both as a fundamental right, and a legal right. This brings us to the preliminary debate on ‘Acadonomics’ and why exactly India lags behind in providing premium education at the grassroots level, the only means for an ‘aam aadmi’ to rise in ranks and gain social traction. While it would be unfair to expect India to attain congruence with foreign institutions of eminence, it is worth a look to understand why Harvard can sometimes override the idea of “hard work sans Harvard”.

After all, the frontrunner for the coronavirus vaccine is Oxford-Astrazeneca’s inoculator, being brought to India by Cyrus Poonawalla, of the Serum Institute of India who himself is a holder of an Oxford Honorary degree.

Well, for starters, the United States of America heavily subsidizes her education. While

education is still (unreasonably) expensive in terms of foreign exchange for the middle class

Indians, it is mostly within reach for those in America that wish to educate themselves.

Scholarships never elude meritorious students, and students can almost never pull enough

strings to get into an Ivy League college despite having a spurious academic trail.

Her institutions are splendidly supported by corpora raised by affluent and well-meaning alumni, which seems like yet another tradition India herself lacks. Among the couple lakhs of IIT students, and students belonging to other institutions of national eminence, roughly 6% continue to endow and give back to their institutions.

Endowment funds:

Another solid cause for the deep pockets of American Colleges could also be attributed to

their generous endowment funds and the lack of political Interference. Harvard University

for example has an endowment fund of 40 Billion USD, which by itself accounts for a little less than half of the value of India’s ENTIRE education sector, standing at 90 Billion USD. Read that again.

Similarly, all the top ten US Universities have an endowment fund valued and ranging

between 10 Billion and 40 Billion, which list Yale, Massachusetts, Cal-Tech, and others. It is

also noteworthy that despite there being intent, these institutions have kept themselves aloof of all political interference, be it the grand Elephant or the Worthy Mule. It is simply

impossible to witness these universities being willing to lower standards in exchange for

political clout, money, or influential statesmanship. Sadly, this is not true of India’s

educational institutions, much of them having been politicized, both by the far right and the left-leaning radicals.

Some Institutions, far from being temples of knowledge have witnessed ghastly political vendetta, gheraos, and politically motivated attacks on students and professors. It is no longer uncommon to see a Professor who has a duty to impart education, become nearsighted, and unreasonable for his quest to dabble in shallow politics. There have also been several instances of professors from state universities being embroiled with sedition charges and slapped with preventive detention under the stringent UAPA. Clearly, this is an unwarranted detour from the objective of providing free and fair education, unbiased, and neutral education, leaving intent at the door while walking into a temple of knowledge to plant the seed of liberal thought, empathy, intellect, and rational thought in the mind of Indian youth.

Online Education:

While India has been quick to adapt to the new era of CoviD19 and has done well to grow a

couple more arms to embrace her children, it would not be unusual to say that apart from

the New Education Policy 2020, this has led to an extreme revolutionization of India’s

education sector. To speak the truth would be to say that India was not due for

universalization of online education before 2025. It would be ungrateful to insinuate this as a sign of her marked underdeveloped-ness, rather, it is more apt to say that India has done

exceedingly well in providing interpersonal mentoring to her achievers, and personal tuitions to those who needed assistance. The hit in the economy being palpable as the recession sets in, and the GDP this first quarter having had fallen by almost 24% has made visible the cracks in India’s internet infrastructure. The bigger schools have begun contracting with IT suppliers, and the smaller schools lamenting the overhead costs of buying second-hand equipment with additional installation costs for servers and broadband being heavy in the first place.

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Today, what India’s economy needs is a jumpstart revival through stringent use of wise fiscal policy (India already having backtracked, and refused to align with some of her best

economists including Raghuram Rajan, Viral Acharya, Urjit Patel, Amartya Sen, and Abhijit Banerjee.) It is high time that she make amends with some of her best economic and banking intellectuals and urgently fund her Acadonomics, without having to abandon her Thalinomics. It is also due, that we as a nation introspect why we agree to pay ‘x’ amount as tuition fee in the educational institutions we study in, and roughly ‘x+y’ amount to the coaching institutions that promise to launch our careers and to get us a medical or

engineering seat. This is a deliberate role that society plays in undermining the quality of

education that India provides to her students, further casting doubt on the competency of

mainstream teachers who devote their lives, not to profiteering but to being academics and

educators. Evidently, and deliberately this practice is also nowhere to be found in most

developed nations that value and preserve their education systems.

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