The Termites of Indian education

The Indian education system, like the Indian bureaucratic system, is Victorian and still in the 19th century. Our schools are still designed to produce clerks for an empire that does not exist anymore.

History of Indian Education System

The history of Indian education has its roots to the ancient ages where they followed the Gurukul system – a system where the students resided in the house of their teacher until the teacher felt that he has imparted all that he could. The subjects taught varied from Sanskrit to Scriptures to Mathematics to Metaphysics and the knowledge attained would be passed on to the future generations. However, this system was changed during the Colonial era when the British set up schools that followed a curriculum confined to subjects such as Mathematics, Science etc. While the ancient system included more interaction with the nature, the modern system was more classroom oriented.

Why is change required?

In 2014, India’s global education ranking slipped to 93. This, together with a series of scams faced by the Indian education sector, calls for an immediate need to bring reforms in our education system. Indian Education System has been synonymous with ‘Examinations’, ‘Board Exams’, ‘Entrance Exams’, ‘Marks’, etc. A student in India is left with the options of choosing from Science, Humanities or Commerce after he/she finishes his tenth grade. However, the trend shows that more and more students are opting to go abroad for further studies after completing their post-graduation in India. As per the statistics of The U.S. Council of Graduate Schools’ offers of admission to Indian post-graduate students, the admissions are up 25 per cent for 2013-14 from the previous year, compared to a 9 per cent increase for all countries.

Education is the founding stone of a country’s economy. A country that fails to provide its citizens the right to education lags behind in every way.
History of Indian Education System

The history of Indian education has its roots to the ancient ages where they followed the Gurukul system – a system where the students resided in the house of their teacher until the teacher felt that he has imparted all that he could. The subjects taught varied from Sanskrit to Scriptures to Mathematics to Metaphysics and the knowledge attained would be passed on to the future generations. However, this system was changed during the Colonial era when the British set up schools that followed a curriculum confined to subjects such as Mathematics, Science etc. While the ancient system included more interaction with the nature, the modern system was more classroom oriented.

Why is change required?

Some of the reasons for this soaring number of students not opting India to pursue their further education are:

(1) Lack of top-quality programmes offered by Indian colleges.
(2) Poor quality of teachers. Teaching is not considered as a lucrative career option in India. Most of them end up in this career as they couldn’t find jobs elsewhere.
(3) Outdated syllabus taught in most of the colleges.
(4) Lack of state-of-art infrastructure in the top colleges.

Reforms should begin with schools

Schools play a vital role in shaping a person’s social and professional growth. The conventional schools in India focus on nurturing the children to face the competitive world outside. Examinations and assignments are encouraged by them as tools to assess the capability of the students. Whether a child was knowledgeable or not depended on the marks he/she scored. Many activists today who oppose the Indian Education system are of the opinion that the schools teach the students in learning things by-rote and not to understand things through application. National Survey conducted few years back reveals that, more than 80% of the school principals in India blame rote-learning as the reason for poor standards to learning in students passing out from schools. Of these, nearly 70% of them felt that the curriculum followed in India today did not give sufficient scope for creative thinking.

“Focus should be on Skill-based Education: Give a man a fish and you feed him one day, teach him how to catch fishes and you feed him for a lifetime”

Latest trends in the Indian Education System

A typical Indian classroom is characterized by long hours of lectures by the teacher with very little focus of the students ability to comprehend. However, Indian Education system today is seeing many technology-driven innovations for students. Smartclass from Educomp is such an example. Smartclass is essentially a digital content library of curriculum-mapped, multimedia-rich, 3D content. It also enables teachers to quickly assess how much of a particular lesson students have been able to assimilate during the class. Once a topic is covered, the teacher gives the class a set of questions on a large screen. Each student then answers via a personal answering device or the smart assessment system. The teacher gets the scores right away and based on that, she repeats parts of the lesson that the students don’t appear to have grasped. Another example is the launch of YouTube channel Edu India, which is an Indian curriculum focused education channel. Some other players in this sector who have come up with innovative ideas in changing the education system are Everonn Education, NIIT, Core Education & Technologies, IL&FS, Compucom, HCL Infosystems, Learn Next, Tata Interactive Systems, Mexus Education, S. Chand Harcourt and iDiscoveri. We also see a lot more schooling options available today as a replacement to the conventional mainstream system. In his article, Vaibhav Devanathan of LaughGuru has emphasized that the high-level of stress in students caused by the mainstream schools have given rise to various alternative methods of schooling in India like Montessori schools, Krishnamurti schools, Home-Schooling and Gardner’s Model.


Indian Education Systems predominantly follows the system laid by the British. Although we can boast of having the IITs, IIMs and some of the best law and medical colleges, India’s contribution to the world of innovation is close to none. Our education system should therefore focus on churning out not just engineers, but also entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, writers etc. all of whom are influential in the development of the economy.

Along with improved administration, the system needs an overhaul to address India’s human capital crisis effectively
As we embark upon a new decade, India celebrates the 10th anniversary of its Right to Education Act (RTE), which went into effect in April 2010. While the RTE has been censured for its limited focus on governance and learning outcomes, its achievement in improving access to schooling is undeniable. It has also served as a rallying point for a wide range of stakeholders to intervene in the sector.

But as is well-established by now, India’s learning outcomes remain stubbornly low. Quality concerns around education are seldom viewed as a political priority. But these concerns cannot be ignored for much longer, especially in light of India’s human capital crisis, reflected in unemployment statistics. Furthermore, as economist Shamika Ravi writes, those with higher education are less likely to be employed than those without: “It says something about the quality of Indian education; too many engineers and other professionals are waving around degrees that are relatively worthless.” The 2030 Skills Scorecard by the Global Business Coalition for Education reinforces these concerns — in 2030, India will have the highest number of secondary school graduates in South Asia, but nearly half of them will lack the skills to enter the job-market.

Until now, the band-aid response to such crises has been to establish a Ministry of Skilling, instead of more profound reforms in school education. Moving forward, India must extricate itself from this unstable equilibrium and view education within a larger human capital framework. In the upcoming decade, India’s education sector must focus on both scale and substance, addressing the learning problem at a system-wide level, while also recalibrating the raison d’etre of the education system itself.

Strengthening administration
In the past, even the most sophisticated education policies and curriculum frameworks have failed to live up to their promise, owing to weak administration. Strengthening the pillars of governance in the education sector is of undeniable importance. The state’s role is central, as Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia and Chair of the Global Partnership on Education writes: “Like any good orchestra conductor, governments must get a diverse collection of instruments, each playing its own notes, to produce a sound of coherent splendour.”

Over the past few years, several States, including Haryana, Rajasthan, and Himachal Pradesh, have taken ownership to drive large-scale changes in how education is administered. In many of these States, the starting point has been the integration of schools. Historically, government schools have emerged organically without a coherent strategy, sometimes serving just a handful of students, causing a large, unwieldy school network. The state’s capacity to manage such a system, however, is limited with inadequate frontline administration, information gaps, and large vacancies among faculty.

Optimising for the number of schools is complemented with interventions directed at infrastructure improvements, adequate staffing of teachers, school leaders, and frontline officials, and developing the capacity of these staff. Alongside is a strong focus on ‘remediation’ to enable all students to achieve grade-level competency. In terms of administration, programmes across States appear to share some common elements: management information systems to improve review and monitoring; communications across all levels of government, leveraging technology such as video conferences and WhatsApp; and project management protocols at the State, district, and block levels.

In Rajasthan, where the International Innovation Corps worked with the Department of Education alongside other players, the State focussed on developing approximately 10,000 “model” secondary schools — one in every gram panchayat — with quality infrastructure and prioritised staffing under the Adarsh programme. Headmasters of these schools were subsequently designated Panchayat Education Officers and trained to mentor other schools. Such efforts reduced teacher vacancies from 50 per cent to 19 per cent over four years, and created a cadre of frontline administration that regularly monitors schools. The State has defied national trends to witness a reverse migration of students from private to government schools, and both the National Achievement Survey and Board results point to improvements in secondary school outcomes.

Other States have similarly seen positive results. For instance, in Haryana, an evaluation by Gray Matters India estimates that students in 94 of the 119 blocks are now “grade-level competent.” This has been attributed to the Saksham Haryana Programme. The programme has instituted new mechanisms for data collection and analysis, and a restructuring of planning, coordination, mentoring, and monitoring at the district- and block-levels.

Building on such successes, the NITI Aayog and three States — Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Jharkhand — are in the process of scaling such efforts through the SATH-E programme. Additionally, 14 of the 30 indicators for the NITI Aayog’s new School Education Quality Index are concerned with governance processes, including availability of teachers, training, and accountability and transparency.

Revaluation of outcomes
This focus on building the capability of the state to better manage the education system is an important shift in the sector, and the aforementioned examples demonstrate how to go about it. But despite their successes, these should be viewed as starting points. These efforts remain focussed on the public school system. For more meaningful change, it is imperative to transition from seeing the government as just a provider to a regulator and facilitator.

There has recently been an increasing sense of competition, with governments claiming how their schools are out-performing private schools. While this may induce a positive pressure to perform, the reality is that apart from an elite few, the bulk of private schools are under-resourced and have little regulation of quality, safety, or outcomes.

More fundamentally though, improving implementability needs to be complemented with a recalibration of intent. India’s education system continues to be centred on standardised and ambitious curricula, students grouped by age instead of learning levels, and high-stakes board examinations. The consequence is, as economist Karthik Muralidharan writes, a “sorting system,” not a human capital system. In this context, we should question if administrative strengthening, by itself, is merely improving the management of a faulty process, perpetuating a mass-production model of education — or the ‘Prussian Model’ — that may have outlived its utility.

Traditionally, education systems around the world have followed a linear logic of prioritisation — expanding schooling access, improving working to improve the quality of core academic subjects, and finally, focussing on cultivating the skills needed to thrive in the world. But, Rebecca Winthrop, as co-director of the Center for Universal Education, finds, there exists a 100-year gap between the educational attainment of those in developed versus developing countries. At the same time, there is uncertainty about the skills required for a rapidly changing world. What are the outcomes we want schooling to generate, and are they adequate to produce the qualities for individuals to contribute meaningfully to society and the economy? These factors, Winthrop explains, imply an urgent need to break away from this linear logic and “leapfrog” by transitioning to a system that expands its idea of outcomes from literacy and numeracy to a “breadth of skills” —the larger set of skills that are needed in a changing world, including critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving.

Fixing administration is an important but belated response to the state capacity problems. A new policy must capitalise on this energised administrative apparatus to redefine the broader objectives of the education system. This will require a fundamental reengineering of assessments mechanisms, a mass behavioural change to facilitate a shift in focus from high-stakes examinations, and new partnerships between stakeholders — parents, students, teachers, frontline administrators, and NGOs.

An “outcomes-focus” is undoubtedly critical, but should be underpinned by an overarching human capital strategy. In a few years, a generation of students, who would otherwise not have access to an education, will have completed a full cycle of schooling thanks to the RTE. But over the next decade, the key priority that education policy must seek to address is to make sure that schooling isn’t just an end for students, but a ladder to opportunity.

Rohan Sandhu was formerly Associate Director at the International Innovation Corps, and is currently at the Harvard Kennedy School. This article is by special arrangement with the Centre for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania.

Technology can be a great teaching ally too. The existing digital content helps teachers engage the classroom effectively. In the coming years, we will see a rise in the incorporation of Learning Management System (LMS) into the K-12 sector. LMS aids in planning and delivering education course and also tracking its delivery. An LMS will help a teacher plan the curriculum in-depth and also track the learning progress. The detailed reports will inform teachers about the deviations encountered in the well-defined learning path so that action can be taken to mitigate these deviations.

There has been a rise in e-learning content. However, a major part of the available content is ineffective in engaging students and improving learning outcomes. Thus, parameters to evaluate content will have to be set. The role of government bodies is paramount in promoting such initiatives.

Thus it can be inferred that in the next few years, the k-12 sector will witness improved learning outcomes. It will be able to provide an environment conducive to increased student engagement and improved teacher performance.

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