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We Need To Demolish The Lie At The Heart Of Indian Education

30/06/2016 12:40 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Sandipani Muni high school teacher, Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India, Asia

All of us want good teachers. We want intelligent, smart people to choose teaching as a profession. We want great education. We shout, "Demographic dividend!" Yet, we also refuse to pay for good teachers, great institutes and quality education.

Whoever said that teaching is a "noble profession" has done a huge disservice to the cause of education, to the larger cause of India. Those who choose to be teachers are paid a pittance to "serve the nation". It is not supposed to be a money-making occupation. Forget that, it is not supposed to be an occupation!

When the government is supposed to be pushing for greater transparency, it is seen as opposing it. Only the Supreme Court, with all its might, is forcing transparency. As long as the government fixes fees, no educational institution can push for better quality; it will be forced to rely on donations. The fees fixed are unrealistic and arbitrary. Imagine running a medical institution and charging ₹60,000 as fees for the MBBS programme? Quality is the first compromise.

We allow Indian students to go abroad and spend almost ₹1.5 crore on an undergraduate course. Each year, at least 125,000 students go out leading to an outflow of ₹200,000 crore annually. And this has just begun. This flow will increase dramatically with the upwardly mobile section of society increasingly preferring better institutions for their wards. The competition in India is such that even the best students do not have access to good institutions. Most bureaucrats and politicians I know are sending their children to study abroad. And they deny the same privilege to Indians by putting obstacles in creating good institutions!

The problem starts with the definition of education being a "not for profit" and "noble" profession.

Why can't we allow our own institutions to build world-class facilities and offer good-quality education within India? Why can't we free them from bureaucratic arbitrariness and force them to be transparent? Why can't we pay our teachers more? Why can't we make teaching a profession that attracts the best and the brightest? India can be a net revenue earner by positioning itself as an education destination for foreign students. As of date, not more than 20,000 students travel to India to study here. Most of these are from South Asia and Africa, driven primarily by grants based on agreements between the two governments.

The problem starts with the definition of education being a "not for profit" and "noble" profession. Trusts and corporate veils are created to hide behind technicalities that only lawyers can decipher. Even the Supreme Court alludes to the hallowed "noble profession". Must only education and no other profession bear the burden of nobility? My Lordships, isn't giving justice to victims a noble profession? In my opinion, that must be the noblest of all professions. The cost of getting justice in India is so prohibitive that very few dare to seek it and prefer to remain victims. A good senior lawyer in the SC could drain you of about ₹8 lakh per hearing! To extend the argument -- what is NOT a noble profession? Even priests who are supposed to be in the service of God in Tirupati go on strikes to demand a hike in pay.

The government must empower institutions and let them compete in the market. The good ones will survive and the bad ones will die...

Education being "not for profit" is the bane of India. It has cost us dearly with brain drain and will continue to hurt us in our global ambitions. The government must empower institutions and let them compete in the market. The good ones will survive and the bad ones will die, and that is a good result.

The IITs have been funded, subsidized, given land and buildings and still charge almost ₹8 lakh for four years, much more than the fees fixed by the empowered fees fixation committee (at times it is as low as ₹32,000 per year). The IIMs, fully funded, subsidized with zero cost of infrastructure and capital creation charge upwards of ₹15 lakh, while states impose a fees cap of around ₹2 lakh for an MBA. The real cost per student for an IIM is upwards of ₹1 crore. Ever wonder why education is so bad? The only way to control the spiralling cost of education is to create good state supply at a cheaper cost. They should act as a correcting force and a deterrent through market forces.

However, the socialistic norm of education not being for profit will eat into India every year, as much as the lopsided reservation policy. And no political party, including the one with the 56-inch chest, has the courage to push for a radical discourse in such issues. Because the solutions to the problems of real India are always sacrificed at the altar of realpolitik. The tragedy is that we still talk of the demographic dividend while what we have at our hand is a demographic nightmare'.

Bharat Mata Ki Jai!

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