Even 67 years after independence, as we elect our 16th Lok Sabha after such a massive election, which is well deservedly have been termed the biggest elections across the world, the issues didn't seem to have moved beyond the general rhetoric of Roti, Kapda and Makaan. However irrespective of whoever forms the government at Centre, a plethora of issues would be staring expectedly at the new head of this gigantic country, crying for attention and which needs quick restructuring. Among issues which have been under severe neglect because of political inefficiency and failure of state machinery is Education.
In a country which is obsessed with IITs and IIMs, the primary issue of basic education has not seen making such inroads even after so many years. While nursery admissions at Delhi schools manages to get the attention of the Delhi High Court and often been guided with comments as to how it should function, somewhere in a far fetched village of Uttar Pradesh, a child continues to struggle to get even basic primary education. Even policies which have been lauded as historic such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and Right to Education have somehow failed at the grassroots either due to lack of Centre-State coordination or because of faulty implementation. The demographics of our country makes us the youngest country in the entire world, but if this potential is not stirred by quality education and exposure, we'll end up destroying not just the fate of the country but also fail to deliver on the expectations of an entire generation.
On Saturday, as the honourable President of India —Pranab Mukherjee was addressing the convocation of Indian School of Mines in Dhanbad, he emphasised on the fact that we should focus on creating more industry friendly graduates. And his concern is truly reflective of the current situation of both primary and higher education in this country. Forget about having one of our colleges in the Ivy League, they don't even find mention in the Top 50 universities of the world. This even after we've produced some of the sharpest minds and billionaires through these very same set of institutions.
When Satya Nadella got appointed as the CEO of Microsoft and caught the imagination of lakhs of youth in the country, we failed to realise that he is not a product of some high profile international schooling nor the alumni of an IIT or an IIM but went to the Hyderabad Public School and then later completed his BTech from Manipal Institute of Technology which is a privately run institute. But at the same time there exists hundreds of such private universities whose degrees are not even worth the paper they're printed on forget about being anywhere close to imparting quality education. Probably both the government and we as a society have collectively failed in our responsibility to educate the masses and bring about a change in the very outlook of how we treat education in this country.
A report submitted by UNICEF recently pointed out the utter failure of state mechanism in curbing school drop out rate of the country. The report says, that while nearly 80 million children don't complete the entire cycle of elementary education, close to 8 million are out of school. The dropout rate is much more higher among girls. These reports are a testimony to the fact that we have utterly failed in providing the children of this country their very basic right of education. Though central schemes such as the Midday Meal has bring in some respite in constraining the growing dropout rate, it has clearly not been of much help.
Apart from policies, the government needs to focus more on implementing these initiatives at the grassroots and make sure it is feasible and at the same time accessible too. Technology can play a big role in such a setup. Developed countries across the world have tapped the potential of community radio to spread education in rural areas but we in India have somehow still not being able to exploit it's potential.
When it comes to higher education, for every IIT and IIM graduate that bags a handsome salary package, there are lakhs of other graduates who even after years of completing education can't find a suitable job. The India Skills Report of 2014 reveal that only 52 % of engineering graduates and 34 % of our overall skill pool are employable. Such poor numbers coming at a time when every parent's dream in this country seems to be one day seeing their child as either an engineer or a doctor, preferably from an IIT or an AIIMS.
It is high time that the government realises that education is not just about earning degrees but also at the same time becoming industry friendly and job ready otherwise the person has no market value. Just regulations and legislations are not enough to solve the current crisis that we're in. The new government has to take a much more concerted effort in not just improving the quality of education but also in making it more accessible to the far flung villages of the country.
So next Prime Minister, the youth of this country has huge expectations from you and this would be one of your biggest litmus tests. Sincere efforts should be made in bringing in a Public-Private partnership so as to ensure that the quality of education both at the elementary level as well as at the higher levels is never being compromised. Effective implementation of existing government schemes and not more policies should be the key to tap the potential of the rural as well as the urban youth. The new government should also ensure that the non-conventional fields of study be made more lucrative so that students have a much more viable choice of alternatives while making a career choice.
If the new Prime Minister fails to deliver in these fronts, then I'm afraid that even huge economic boom won't be able to help this country in becoming the next Super Power. Unless the youth of this nation is empowered, we can't really rise the ladder of success in calling us the biggest democracy of the world as democracy is all about accountability and only a liberal, educated and socially aware electorate can hold it's government accountable.
(Bishal Paul is an author, blogger, columnist, political analyst and documentary filmmaker. In 2013, Hindustan Times announced him as India's youngest fiction writer when he made his debut with his book Footprints of Life. Bishal is also the Creative Director of Little Monk Productions. He writes columns for newspapers and online portals. He was recently in news for his directorial venture 'The Gujarat Promise' which is a critique of the Gujarat development model)
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