Education- Where India Fails

A NASSOCOM-McKinsey study last year predicted a shortfall of 5,00,000 by 2010 for IT sector. It shocked the Indians who were languishing under the perception of its demographic advantage, as India turns out 4,00,000 plus engineers a year. Admissions last year in engineering schools touched 5,69,000. India has around 350 universities and about 17,700 undergraduate colleges. But according to Nasscom, only a quarter of technical graduates and 10-15% of general college graduates are suitable for employment in offshore It and BPO industries. All good companies are having their own institutes to train the fresh graduates. An increased interactions between the industry and engineering colleges can sort out the drawbacks of the engineering education system.

However, is it not surprising that the number of admissions in engineering so low, when in a single state like Bihar about 6,91,000 students appears for the Matric examinations? Surprisingly, as per data compiled by YS Rajan, Principal Adviser, CII, only 1.5% out of students who join school go for higher professional education and only 8% graduate. India will have to improve upon these percentages.

Primary Education

Today, over 95% of children between ages 5 and 10 is enrolled in schools and there is a school within 1 km of every habitation, barring few in Bihar and Rajasthan. Because of many initiatives such as Sarv Shiksha Aviyan and mid-day meal, the number of out-of-the school children in the 6-14 age group has dropped from 13.4 million in 2005 to 7.06 million by end-March 2006. But, shockingly, about 70% students drop out by the time they reach class 8. It gets reflected in the workforce population too. As per a Goldman Sachs report, in 2000, the working age population in India, had, on average, attended 5.1 year of school, compared to 6.4 years in China and 6.8 years in Malaysia. There are hardly any options to join vocational education after one drops out before completing class X, the minimum requirement for getting admitted in ITI. It is necessary that an innovative approach be taken to get them skilled in hundreds of various trades that can make them employable, even with help of people just experienced enough to provide the training, if the regular teachers are not available. Both manufacturing and service enterprises can come out to train them.
But another concern is about the quality of education system at the primary level. As reported, “Children learn little. Whereas they are expected to learn to read fluently by the end of standard 2, only about 50% can read fluently even in standard 5.” And that must improve by making the teachers more accountable through fresh training, and if the parents start taking interest into the education of their children. Panchayats and other social groups including NGOs can also contribute.

The quality of education in rural India is poorer. One of the main reasons is the lack of education among the mothers. There seems to be a relation between the education of the mother and the prevalence of the child remaining out of school and/or their performance. The ASER-Pratham survey of rural schools confirms this. It reports that the chances that a child is out of school are much higher for an unschooled mother. Looking at reading skills for children aged six to eight, 25 per cent of those with unschooled mothers cannot recognise alphabets compared to 13 per cent for children with educated mothers.

Trade Education

There is a serious shortage of skilled workers too for a sector such as real estate and construction. It is difficult to get good plumbers, carpenter, electricians, and even bricklayers.

India has 6,500-odd Industrial training Institutes meant to impart vocational training. There must be sufficient trade schools that can impart training to all those who don’t go for higher education. Moreover the present institutes must teach more trades instead of sticking with old and outdated 10-120 trades. In China, the students get an option out of about 4,500 trades.

Starting from the Budget for 2004-05, the Finance Minister Chidambaram is trying to upgrade Industrial Trade Institutes. In his first, he announced that 500 ITIs would be taken up for modernisation. Later, 100 ITIs were taken up for upgrades with domestic resources in a Rs 160 crore scheme, and 400 with World Bank assistance. This year Chidambaram’s Budget announced again that 1,396 industrial training institutes would be upgraded into centres of excellence in specific trades and skills through private-public partnerships (PPPs), with 300 being taken up every year from 2007-08 onwards with the cooperation of states. However, perhaps the model followed by Haryana is worth emulation by other states. The companies such as Sona Koyo Steering (at Nagina), Liberty Shoes (Karnal), Jai Bharat Maruti (Faridabad) and Maruti Udyog Ltd (Gurgaon and Rohtak) having signed MoUs to adopt five ITIs.

Chidambaram proposed an interest-free grant of Rs 2.5 crore to each ITI for revamping, and the allocation of Rs 750 crore for the modernisation of 300 ITIs every year, starting 2007-08. However, I doubt if the heads of these institutes are qualified and experienced enough to use the money efficiently. Industry and institutes tie-ups under a consultative committee of technical people could provide the best solutions.

Raghuram G. Rajan, the IMF’s chief economist once opined that ‘India could be a global leader in education and financial services, to name just two possibilities’. And certainly, India can. However, the education system in India requires an overhaul.

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