In ancient times, India boasted of having one of, if not the best university of the world Nalanda. In 1200 CE, along with Takshila and Vikramshila, India occupied the pinnacle of learning in the ancient world. Students from as far as Persia and Turkey in the Middle East and Japan and Korea in Central Asia were its students. It housed close to 10,000 students and about 2,000 teachers. Its staff included the likes of Aryabhatta, Nagarjuna and Xuanzang, one of whom is famous for having developed the concept of Shunya or ‘Zero’ as well coming up with the concept of pie.
817 years into the present, the situation has drastically changed. India’s ranking in the world in terms of education has drastically fallen so low that in the recently released Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018, not a single Indian institute was able to made it to the top 100 list.
Funnily, India’s representation has also declined, from 31 institutions to 30, while eight of its universities have slipped to a lower band. The Bengaluru-based Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has been placed between 251-300. (IIT) Bombay has been listed 351-400 category. IITs-Delhi, Kanpur, Kharagpur and Roorkee have been listed in 501-600 category.
A deeper understanding of the same is crucial. First and foremost, its argued that compared to western institutions such as Harvard, Princeton, Cambridge or Oxford, Indian institutions lay very little emphasis on getting original research done. Sadly, even when I was in Delhi University studying in one of the premier colleges in India, with each passing exam, all we were expected to do was to rote learn all our chapters and then vomit it out in the exam. Actual application of the knowledge was a rare occurrence. Field trips, first hand observation and ‘face to face interactions’ were only footnotes in our course books. Until this system is corrected nothing much can be achieved.
When I was interacting with a professor from a known DU college who is well-versed with green chemistry, even she told me of the practical and financial hurdles that she and her students had to go through to get money to fund their research. Though their research showed a lot of promise, getting funded for the same was a major pain. Though the government announced recently that PhD students in IISC and IITs nationwide will get Rs 70,000 as monthly fellowship, the grant is restrictive in nature. In 2016, the number of girls enrolled in the IITs was just eight percent of the total student population. And despite the reservations, a majority of the graduates in IITs are from creamy layers of the society. Campaign promotion sites such as Milaap and Kickstarter can be approached to boost sources of funding, which is now a major deterrant.
Moreover, compared to South Korea’s 4,451 domestic and foreign patent applications filed in 2013 per 1 million people, India filed just about 17 for the same ratio as per World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
A second reason is that the quota system in the country makes for a tiring experience. If you’re a general category person in the country, not only do you have to pay almost double the application fees for any exam but the cut-off marks too will be more for you. This is in stark contrast to the relaxations that are enjoyed by the Scheduled Caste/Tribe (SC/ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) people. Though the objective of reservation is social justice and equality, it’s equally important to see that the fruits of the same are enjoyed by educationally and financially disadvantaged groups and not well-to do ones. Many a times owing to extensive reservation, students who excelled on the basis of their own merit feel disheartened and even contemplate leaving the country. Would Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft leave India if true talent and innovation were given a boost in the country instead of blatant casteist politics? The answer would be a strong negative. In one of the premier instates of the country, just by entering the exam as a female, you’re automatically given 5 marks extra. Isn’t this a disgrace to the hundred others who’ve solely relied on their merit to make a name for themselves? A serious reflection of the same is necessary.
A third reason for dismal performance of India is low quality of primary education. In a recent survey released by the World Bank, titled ‘World Development Report 2018: ‘Learning to Realize Education’s Promise’, India comes second after Malawi in a list of 12 countries wherein a grade two student could not read a single word of a short text. India also tops the list of seven countries in which a grade two student who could not perform two-digit subtraction. If at the primary level, education is not being channelized into a driving force for greatness and wisdom, then isn’t it time for a major overhaul? Lesser levels of absenteeism amongst teachers, better incentives that’ll make them want to teach kids and a wholesome atmosphere that promotes ‘Actual Learning; is crucial.
The UN Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization, (UNESCO) in a 2016 report mentioned that about 47 million youth dropped out of class 10 in India. 47 million dropping out means a potential loss of 47 million to the job market. India, while it traces it trajectory from a developing to a developed nation, cannot afford this kind of loss. E-Shiskha portals, mobile classrooms, learning on wheels are some methods through which these youths can be channeled into the work sphere.
Although the steps towards a gradual elevation in international standards is a tedious affair, India has the means to achieve the top position easily if it strictly implements innovative ideas and laws that can boost the education sector in the country. It’s time that we got back our status as the ‘Knowledge hub’ of the world.