The Indian Education system, like its economy has both Government and private enterprise participating in it. But the Government still regulates, and perhaps attempts to micro-manage the private educational enterprises. In addition the legal system also plays a very important role in the Indian education eco-system. The influence of the judiciary extends significantly beyond the litigation that comes before them for adjudication to retired members of the judiciary actively participating in academic appointments such as selection of Vice-Chancellors of Universities to Chairing educational reforms policy committees.
Although initially education was the sole prerogative of the States, by means of a Constitutional amendment it was made a concurrent subject, and the ‘Centre’ had the sole responsibility for co-ordination and maintenance of standards.
At the School education stage, every State has its own education Board ( with the exception of Delhi) and there is a Central Board of Secondary Education. There is another all India Board for School education, which was formed when the Indian Government disallowed University of Cambridge from offering its School leaving qualifications.
At the University level, a University can be established only by an Act of Parliament for a Central University or by an Act of the State Legislature for a State University. There is one more kind of University called a ‘deemed University’ a status that is conferred under Section 3 of the UGC Act, upon fulfilling certain conditions demonstrating academic worthiness. There are some specialised higher education Institutes in areas of Technology, Management, Medicine, Agriculture, Fashion, Design and recent initiatives in fields such as Law, Corporate Governance and Defence.
In recent times, private Higher Education Institutions came up very rapidly in the areas such as Engineering, Computing and Management. But many of them are closing down with greater speed.
A private University is completely at the mercy of the State Government, even for its birth. Several years ago, the State of Chhattisgarh had made a very bold and progressive step forward by creating an over-arching legislation, much like the Companies Act, under which several private Universities could have been operated. But the progressive step was opposed by a very senior academic in the Supreme Court and the whole project was quashed amongst other things on the technical ground that every University must be created under a different Act. One can wonder as to how being created under a distinct Act makes a University Superior? It was a glorious step backwards.
By and large, for-profit education is not permitted in India and ‘commercialisation of education’ is frowned upon by the system. Some IB Schools have been created without the need to cloak the entity as a Society, a non-dividend distributing Company under Section 25 of the Companies Act or a Trust, as is the common practice.
In spite of this rich diversity in the educational landscape, India performs very poorly in the outcomes of its educational system. Instead of accepting the inadequacies of the system and responding to it rationally with measurement and strategic response it chooses to follow the Ostrich policy or the mind-set that has been described by one of its literary giants Premchand in a story ‘ Shatranj Ke Khikari’ ( The Chess Players).
So what are some of the urgent issues to be addressed by the Indian education system?
The challenges are broadly :
* The challenge of numbers
* The challenge of relevance
* The challenge of Quality
* The challenge of access
* The challenge of costs
It is well known the re-engineering the processes, and adopting recent and emerging technologies can address all the above issues. But the Policy makers prefer adhering to the past non-scalable models to assure that for several decades the country will be in the same rut. Instead of addressing the bigger problem, the approach is to take a small initiative and created a few ‘islands of superiority’ ( they are no longer worthy of bring called islands of excellence) while the problem remains.
Amongst other things, the concept of ‘jurisdiction’ is a limiting factor in the access of quality education. Borrowing the concept of ‘territorial jurisdiction’ in relation to ‘ cause of action’ in a legal proceeding to determine where the plaint or complaint should be filed, the regulatory system in India limits a University to operate only within its ‘jurisdiction’ which is often limited to a few kilometres in the town in which it is situated. In the case of a State Open University it may be permitted to operate within the whole State but not outside it.
From the learner’s perspective this is clearly inequitable and unjust. It is the taxpayers money that is funding both the best and the worst courses being offered on a given subject. So why should every learner not have the right to access the ‘best’ courses from within the country. And they of course has access to FutureLearn, Coursera and edX. So, clearly accreditation of prior learning through MOOCs from anywhere would go a long way towards meeting the learning requirements of the young in tertiary education.
An act called the right to education Act has been a major recent development and is facing implementation challenges because of the regulating bodies such as CBSE and NCTE. The NCTE teacher education model is caught in a time warp and CBSE and perhaps all other School Boards ban the use of mobile phones in the classroom, but the Government is willing to spend a lot of money for ICT in education.
The NCERT has done exemplary work in creating an App called e-pathshala from which all the NCERT books from class 1 to 12 can be downloaded, chapter wise in English, Hindi and Urdu. So NCTE should be training teachers in effective pedagogy when every child has access to mobile for pre-class, in-class and post-class learning. Ratan Tata has invested in the Khan Academy to have its products aligned to need of young Indian learners. There are numerous Apps for learning Maths, English and even coding….. but the regulators and policy makers refuse to take notice of them. Even Malawi the third poorest country in the world with an extreme shortage of teachers is using such Apps to teach Maths to very young learners. UNESCO for the last 3 years, runs a ‘ Mobile Learning Week’ and last year the focal theme was using mobiles to educate women and girls.
There is a great opportunity for investments in educational technology, but for the next stage. Most investors see tutoring as the opportunity, but the real opportunity is in the disruptive transformation of education. Medical practice evolves because the outcomes of medical and Scientific research are applied to actual medical practice. But in education, all the learning from research lies buried in journals and conference proceedings because decisions are made by a fatal combination of politicians, bureaucrats and legal experts.
I want to draw another analogy here. All of us use the GPS for finding how to go from point A to point B. But what is now routine, relies amongst other things to 2 very important front-line research. The first is Einstein’s theory and the second is the Caesium atomic clock. Without these the GPS would not be available.
I am proposing that we see learning credentials as not awarded by an authority upon complying with certain requirements, but as moving from point X which is the initial location in a multi-dimensional learning space to the desired point ‘Y’, and learning interventions are designed to achieve that journey in an efficient and enjoyable and fulfilling way.
And this will require the latest technologies of big data, learning analytics including facial analytics, machine learning to create a personalised learning pathway and experience. So for the EdTech entrepreneur the key message is that we are now going beyond the broadcasting at lower or even zero cost to a scenario where everyone who wants to learn can learn whatever the person wants to learn, if the learning prescription is adhered to.