Universalizing Opportunities through Investing in Education in India

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ImageThe World Bank released a report this week on the current state of the educational system in India and concluded that while investments and performance have improved at the primary and higher education levels, there remains a rather considerable gap in access, distribution, and achievement at the secondary level.

As India continuously develops and entrenches itself as a major player in the global knowledge economy, the majority of growth have been in the skilled services and manufacturing sectors. This requires that the 12 million young people who join the labor force every year have the necessary skills to access these more lucrative jobs and compete successfully in the global economy, especially as the IT sector has become an essential driver of the economy.

“Evidence from around the world suggests secondary education is critical to breaking the inter-generational transmission of poverty -— it enables youth to break out of the poverty trap.” Lead Education Specialist Sam Carlson said.

However, India's gross enrolment rate (GER) at the secondary level of 52% is lower than the GERs of countries like Sri Lanka (83%) and China (91%). However, I was quite surprised that the rate was also lower than countries with lesser GDP per capita such as Vietnam (72%) and Bangladesh (57%).

There’s also a substantial gap between different regions and provinces. For instance, the enrollment rate is a commendable 92% in Kerala while it is strikingly low at 4% in Jarkhand. The report also states that that access to secondary education is today highly inequitable across income groups, gender, social groups, and geography. These challenges may be amplified due to the constant increase in demand for secondary education with enrollment expected to increase from 40 million to 60 million within the next ten years.

According to the DNA daily paper, “The situation on the ground is appalling, especially in government schools and rural schools. In a metropolis like Mumbai, civic-run schools are in a state of disrepair, barely hanging on with poorly paid teachers and crumbling infrastructure.”

The Deccan Herald also wrote an article scrutinizing the teacher recruitment process and cited from the report that, “teacher candidates are frequently required to pay between Rs 1,00,000-2,00,000 in order to be selected, usually to the school headmaster. In such a situation, the school headmaster is in a poor position to insist on greater teacher accountability, which reveals the weaknesses of unsupervised local hiring.” Emphasis should be placed on improving monitoring and evaluating teachers to curb issues like absenteeism, as well as putting incentives in place to rewards good performers.

The challenge for the Government of India is to simultaneously improve access, enrollment and quality of secondary education. The recently announced secondary education program, called Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) offers a tremendous opportunity to respond to these challenges.

Among the number of recommendations made in the report, the four approaches that resonated the most with me were; improving access, investing in information communications technologies, setting high standards for teacher performance and curriculum, as well as combating location and gender disparities.

What other strategies do you believe will be effective in solving these challenges?


Joe Qian

External Affairs Officer

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