Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Non Essay on Education in India

I saw an announcement for an essay competition and I became extremely happy and started collecting facts. After structuring my thought for two hours, I saw I was not eligible for that competition :P

So without further ado, I have converted it into a blog post.

We had a lot of themes and we had to use it to solve a grand India-centric problem. I thought of Indian education with the theme of computers. The research (Wikipedia) I did yesterday was eye-opening!

Initially, I had this grand scheme of how I would use technology to bring education to every single person, then some digging led to the following abysmal facts.


#1 The Sheer Number

India has the largest number of illiterates in the world. And that is highly ironic considering we introduced the concept of zero to the world. The number Googol would not be 10^100, it would be
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.. (33 times roughly) :P My favourite number 279 would be CCLXXIX.

It is an absolute shame that we have 287 million illiterate people. So I set my sights lower, to literacy. Forget education. So many people do not know how to read and write one language.

#2 Electricity

For my grand vision of bringing technology to the fore, the basic minimal requirement is electricity!! Only 67% of India has electricity. What on Earth is happening? Forget and its claim to net neutrality. I can't charge your free smartphone!

#3 Mobile Network Coverage

For technology to truly seep through the country, mobility is essential. Here is where the statistics are fishy. We have 930 million subscribers. But only roughly 60% of India is covered by the towers. That is because of people like me who have three SIMs. One from UG, one for hostel coverage, one for mess coverage :P

#4 Importance

As a country, we spend 4.3% of our GDP on education and they are concentrated on higher education. Even though we pay 2% of our taxes for education, that is all we spend. Basic literacy is not getting the vital amount of effort required to propel people to benefit from the importance given to higher education.

How can you integrate when you can't add?

#5 Existing Infrastructure

I had to write an exam in a government school once. It was one of the most nightmarish experiences I've ever had. No electricity, no water and sand flying from the grounds nearby. I used to have asthma then and just kept coughing. And this was happening in Chennai. I must be happy I had benches and an invigilator. Facilities across India are so terrible and teachers barely qualified and sanitation barely there, resulting in most girls dropping out in their teens. Yes and I have statistics for all of this, but this is a non-essay ;)

Some Observations

#1 High Correlation in Statistics

Electricity, sanitation, mobile coverage and literacy of all the states are highly correlated with each other along with one thing that is of paramount importance.

Per Capita Income

You cannot expect a hungry person to want to enlighten his mind and soul. The body has to be taken care of first. Wherever poverty and hunger are high, all these statistics drop.

#2 Our Legal Hierarchy

If you remember any civics lesson, you may be familiar that there are three lists - union list, concurrent list and state list. Each list says who is responsible for making legislations. All of these, except sanitation, are on the concurrent list. So the centre makes laws and the states fine tune them.

Though in practise, this sounds right, the statistics clearly show that this framework has not resulted in better literacy rates.

#3 A Wonderful Economy is our Greatest Asset

With the liberalisation in 1991, our economy is one which enjoys the best of both worlds - private expertise and government control. It has been steady for years. China, which has 95% literacy and a bigger population, is grappling with a major economic crisis. We need to protect and hone our economy.

 My Thoughts Ahead

#1 Distribute Wealth

Locally, some states have had tremendous success in education. For example, the midday meal scheme introduced in Tamil Nadu led to a huge surge in school registration. This was later adopted all over India. However, recently corruption has gnawed at its core.

It is not fair for me to gloat about my state's achievements. The reason why it is unfair is that many states do not have the wherewithal and income to grow. The resources and industries define a state's success and nobody should be poor because of bad geography. Literacy and education will lead to more jobs but that would become a cycle. We need to grapple with this. I am sure tax payers would be more than happy for a central scheme to get electricity, sanitation, mobile coverage and well-equipped schools for the country rather than a centralised metro rail scheme.

That is a lot of work! We can't sit and hatch eggs till then.

#2 Reduce Urban Illiteracy

By urban, I include towns and cities where India's population is concentrated. 14% of India's urban population is illiterate and that is a substantial number. Adult literacy programs need to be increased. Here is where the infrastructure is already in place and we need to step up.

  • Machine Translation - could be useful for travellers lost in another state as well ;)
  • NPTEL for school syllabus - Our school students deserve good quality videos for free on a subject much like NPTEL for college
  • Awareness - Awareness through social media messaging like WhatsApp

#3 Reduce Corruption on Infrastructure through Computers

Over - reporting on infrastructure is a major problem. Using satellite images, it can be literally verified how electrified India is, whether a school has been built or not.

So yes, I don't know how fruitful you may think these are. I definitely have no experience regarding these things. I believe we as citizens have a lot of potential to grow bigger, smarter and sharper. And it irked me, that we were just going along with things as they are. Maybe the first step is to get a little bit angry about why the world's largest democracy needs symbols for voting.

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