Whither Formal Education?

The New Education Policy Documents in 1986 had begun with a startling preamble: 'the teachers do not teach and the students do not study'. A decade later it is being confirmed by news reports that the traditional educational institutions do not have much role in preparing students for the examinations that really matter. The work done outside the school hours and coaching through private tutors enable the students to succeed in these examinations.

Clearly, class room teaching has been a major victim of the new trends in education where qualifying the public/competitive examinations is seen as the secret to a successful career. The syllabus and methodology of these examinations are quite different from the final examinations at the school, college and university level. The situation today is that the formal diploma and degree examinations act merely as entrance level examinations. The competitive examinations are seen as launching pads for a satisfying career.

A lot of factors have contributed to the growth of this phenomenon. These must be seriously considered if we wish to effectively deal with the anomalies in the present situation. The first and the foremost is that the universities and boards seem to have no faith in their own curricula and examinations. At every stage they have started conducting entrance examinations for higher level courses of study. It is amazing that the full time courses with many hours of teaching should act only as qualifying examinations where as the three-hour competitive examinations should act as the main ones.

I have had the opportunity of conducting both these types of examinations. Undoubtedly, there is some difference in the manner and conduct of the competitive examinations. However, if the concerned authorities know what is wrong with the formal examination system, why don't they make improvements in the formal examinations instead of starting examinations which cause additional problems for all - the students, the teachers and the parents. The same is true of the contents of the formal teaching and the syllabuses prescribed for the competitive examinations.

The gross commercialization of education in the recent years has further affected the regular teaching work in the class rooms. Interestingly, the idea of private coaching is deeply linked to the promotion of private educational institutions. As it prevails today, at the time of the British rule in India, the government was unable to meet the growing educational needs of the multitudes. In addition, the British had a biased educational policy towards the natives. In order to meet this challenge, certain organizations which were committed to the cause of the common good and promotion of the local culture and values opened private educational institutions to provide quality education to the deserving at concessional rates. These institutions were often made viable by great sacrifices made by the teachers and the administrators of these educational institutions.

The situation is not much different today. The government cannot shell out money for the education of the masses although it swears by the cause of universal education. And because, the government has failed to provide cheap and quality education to the masses, the privatization of education is being promoted.

However, there is a difference. The private educational institutions today are demanding a great premium for whatever education they are providing! They are fully exploiting the situation in which dissatisfied consumers are increasingly turning to them in the hope that their wards will learn better there. For most private educational organizations, it has become a trade and commerce to open such institutions. The land is got free of cost or at concessional prices, and the buildings are constructed by public finance and forced donations from the parents of the wards. The teachers are paid low salaries. However, the students are charged exorbitant fees.

Consider the so-called public schools in cities, which are charging enormous amounts—to the tune of rupees twenty thousand—for admission of a child to their nursery classes apart from the regular tuition fees. Further, after selling the admission forms for a couple of hundred rupees each, they even fail to call all the children who apply for an interview! Whereas all education is about imparting human values, the only values that the students can ever learn from such institutions are cheating, coercing and looting.

As with private educational institutions, so with the teachers. Earlier the teachers taught tuitions to the 'weak' students who, because of certain reasons, would not be able to qualify in the annual examinations without extra coaching. The teachers took great pains to improve the standards of attainment of these students and the remuneration they received in turn was nominal. For the students, attending these coaching classes was then more of a stigma rather than an advantage. However, the clever among the teaching community soon learnt from the private educational institutions, who were mostly exploiting them, how to get one over them. Getting full benefit from the inherent weaknesses in the system, they increasingly laid less stress on the class room teaching and more on coaching at home. Slowly, a situation has arisen where the halls of learning are devoid of the students but the teachers' homes are overflowing with them, not withstanding all governmental restrictions, income tax raids, and all that!

There are many in the teaching community who would disagree with this analysis as far their professional ethics is concerned. Truly, there are many among their distinguished cadres who do worry about the decline in attendance in their classes and make every effort to teach their students, but how can they bring the unwilling horses, in search of greener pastures elsewhere, to the desert land which the affluent students perceive the formal classes to be.

A very painful situation thus prevails in the country where getting educated is once again becoming a privilege of the rich and the powerful. The common man's wards have very little chances of making it to the top. Even for appearing in the competitive examinations, one requires a great deal of money to be paid by way of getting enrolment forms and examination fees. To be able to purchase the required books, and getting appropriate coaching is quite another matter. But then who thinks of the common man any more?

Rather than, ending on a passive note, may I suggest that the Ministry of Human Resource Development immediately set up an Education Commission to study the whole situation and come up with the new alternatives. Otherwise the farce in the name of education will continue. It is true that many recommendations of the earlier Education Commissions have still not been implemented, but the changed scenario definitely needs a new set of recommendations to bring about the much needed reforms. Meanwhile, the autonomous educational institutions in the realm of higher education, mainly the universities, can begin their own exercise to make formal education worthwhile and need-based.