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Meaningful Education Reform in India
An Appeal by Indians

The Ministry for Human Resource and Development (MHRD) has come out with various proposed changes to the existing setup of education in India. The proposed changes are embodied in (i) the Ambani-Birla report , (ii) the introduction of degrees in Astrology/Karmakanda and (iii) the NCERT insertion of "value education" . The additions and oversights in these reports are troublesome for all Indians interested in the betterment of the people of India. There is a clear lacking of a well designed science based curriculum truly relevant to the Indian scene. We believe that access to a well planned and relevant system of education goes a long way toward fruitful development of an individual. It should not only help her/him to explore new horizons but, at the most basic level, enable a person to acquire the skills necessary for a sustainable earning potential. Undeveloped potential is a national loss. Here are our concerns and recommendations:

K-8th Grade Education :

Loosely termed as primary education, this is the only form of education (by many estimates) that a large part of our population (that is rural) will in good circumstances, get. It is, therefore, most disappointing that the reports fail to address the serious shortcomings of primary education both as to access and success in retaining the interest and enthusiasm of our young population. The education policies of the Government should have something of everyone. Today the lack of sensitivity to the needs and aspirations of our rural masses is too evident to miss in the rural sphere of Indian life.

The curriculum today is out of touch with the ground realities and of little practical import. The curriculum does not provide knowledge that can be utilized to enhance local resources through which employment could be generated in addition to improve the existing conditions. We hereby appeal that some sort of technical education be made part of a two-year program (one separate subject) that all children have to take part in before the 8th grade. We believe that if for some reason our young people are unable to carry on with their education they can be employed in areas where a skill set is required. If they decide to carry on then the skill set can be further enhanced. Such practical knowledge will give the students and their parents motivation to pursue education to higher levels. This is clearly a complimentary step to the equally important step of increasing access to education at the high-school and collegiate level.

Higher Education :

Loosely termed as undergraduate and graduate education. Here we also include high school education to this category.

Keeping the above recommendations in mind the High School curriculum of State and Central Boards of Education should incorporate courses that encourage students to carry on in the technical areas in which they have started to gain experience. This will have a two-pronged effect. One, that a more educated generation will come into being and second this will immensely aid in the development of our rural sector. Today this sector is apathetic to education as it has little do with its daily struggles for survival.

A good percentage of students who do get past the 12th grade cannot afford to go to institutions where professional degree programs are offered. This is because unlike most the developed world where on average expenses on education do not exceed 25% of per capita GNP in India that figure is a staggering 400%. We hereby appeal that this percentage is drastically reduced through regulation or otherwise so that all the talented students who are deprived a chance to excel in areas in which they have aptitudes get a fair chance. Such a denial of opportunity is a shame and great loss for the country.

Issues of increased access and affordability have been conveniently overlooked. Yet another painful indicator of how insensitive our decision-makers are to the causes of the common citizenry.

Value Education :

The MHRD wants to introduce mandatory "value-education" courses for better all-round development of our students. They want "values" to be the corner-stone of all academic endeavors. This is greatly troubling. The mandatory nature of such a recommendation is dangerous as it can very easily slip into indoctrination. Religious education should have no room in the classroom. Our existing books, in history as well as literature, have plenty of references to great men and women. They talk in depth of various religions, their philosophy and origins. Any more additions to the already existing structure will have two harmful effects. One, that there is almost no way that there will ever be a formula by which all religions could be equally represented thereby politicizing the education of our children. Second, it will burden our young students further. And whose "values" are we going to teach? Values are acquired at home and in the community. Parents need to take the lead role in this sphere not the Government.

Funds for Education :

India has tremendous human power. We have a population with tremendous intellectual potential. The present day meager allocation of 3.5% of the total GNP of the nation to education is a clear case of insensitivity and clear lack of a sense of priorities. We demand that the funding for education be increased to atleast 6-7% of the GNP. What else could be more important to the nation than the development of our children and youth?

The next issue that we want attention brought to is what areas get funded how much? The idea that the University Grants Commission should stop supporting universities except in a few disciplines (based solely on the whims of the global market) is truly appalling. Excellence in higher learning cannot and should not be determined by who can pay for it. Support for the universities and respect for their autonomous methodologies to advance human endeavor should be the guiding principles and not some arbitrary determination that only globalization oriented endeavors should be pursued. India must develop her own genius if Indian universities are going to become magnets for the scholars of the world in the years to come. These are not elitist thoughts but a desire to provide our people all opportunities to explore their interests to the highest level possible.

Nature of our Education :

We, too, want India to become a super power but not Super Power of guns and missiles but a Super Power of ideas and ideals so that as in the ancient past (Nalanda and Taxila come to mind), Indian Universities will be rejuvenated as power houses because of knowledge and wisdom in science, maths, etc. For example, the body of thought and action encompassed in Gandhi's movement can and should become a beacon to the world. Let us develop it in light of the latest principles of science in all its myriad aspects. No other country can lay claim to such an illustrious son. Why do we want to lose our uniqueness?

All of our education should be focused toward preserving India's secular principles. India represents perhaps the most diverse and most complex society on Earth. Maintaining its structure should therefore be a solemn duty for each one of us. We cannot afford to fail no matter how attractive a narrower focus appears in the short run. Let us preserve our diversity with a special view to uplifting those of us who have been most deprived in the past. Does the MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource and Development) feel that its proposals are in consonance with the tenets of secularism? If not, they should be summarily dismissed.

Prepared by Mohan Bhagat and Rohit Tripathi.

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