Three Indian higher education institutes are among the top 250 of the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings while another five make it to the list of top 500. Predictably it is the IITs and the IISc, Bangalore that have made the cut. At the same time, industry estimates some 94% of engineering school graduates are unemployable. A young girl takes her life because she has scored ‘only’ 74% in the school leaving board examinations. School learning outcome surveys find that sizeable numbers of Class 8 students are unable to read and solve math problems at the Class 5 level. All these point to a crisis in the Indian education system. This is a crisis that has been in the making and festering over the last seven decades.
Through the ages, education has been a crucial component for growth and prosperity of nations. It is even more important in today’s knowledge economy. Yet, the Indian education system has not been able to fully align itself to this reality. Examination scores that rate students’ ability to recall information from memory rather than their comprehension and ability to apply their knowledge continue to be the most important marker of performance. With increased mechanisation and developments like AI, reproducing information that is already available is not enough. If India is serious about sustained growth, and a larger global footprint, it must think beyond simply enabling graduates to go abroad.
It must build an education system that fosters innovation, promotes creativity, and, most of all, encourages analytical thinking and questioning. Global resources that can be accessed using ubiquitous mobile broadband must be tapped for this. Turning around a system which privileges rote learning and test scores is not an easy task. The effort must begin with the schools.
Education at the school level must focus on students’ ability to understand and apply concepts. Improved teacher training, curricula reform and more freedom to educators to experiment are crucial if India is to address the crisis in its education system. Improved learning at the school level will lead to more innovation and research in higher education institutions.