Due to the COVID pandemic, there is a lot of uncertainty in the various walks of life and various sectors. As all of us are aware, education is also a sector that has paused, and faces uncertainties: both near-term and mid-term uncertainties.
The education sector in India — early childhood education, school education, and higher education — are mostly government-regulated. Even the private schools, colleges and universities are quasi-regulated by the state governments or the central government bodies.
Most countries have been measuring their spending on education as a percentage of GDP of their respective economies.
What is this spending on? Is it an expenditure or an investment? At the level of a country’s budgets for spending, my personal view is that it should truly be an investment and not an expenditure. The country, the governments, and the regulatory boards should perceive spending on education systems as an investment in the ‘present students’, and as an investment in the future of creating responsible citizens of the country who carry forward the culture and belief systems collectively, as responsible citizens. Maybe they will become the future leaders.
Whether it is the private unaided schools or the fully owned government schools, the goals are the same — to shape characters and individuals who will be the best in their chosen areas as life scientists, astrophysicists, chartered accountants, legal advisors, or any other working professionals. This will repay a huge dividend, particularly with the demographic dividend, and the country can leverage it by investing in education and training.
One of the fundamental requirements, when the education system has hit a halt, is that we did not have a Plan B deal with it. The lockdown period would have been useful if all the parties came together, including the governments.
This isolation of natural practices is completely violated in many parts of the word, and that in turn gives rise to the outbreaks of pandemics. Let us understand the situation in practical terms. Due to the COVID crisis, students are unable to come to schools. How long this will continue is uncertain. So, that gives us two options: discontinue delivering education, or leverage on available technology, improvise on it, and be creative in how it is used.
Most schools are delivering education online. Some of them just do lectures online, and some of them at the top end of the spectrum do it more creatively by providing toolkits for teachers and also for students, specific to their requirements. The toolkits comprise of curative digital interactive content, and are being used by all the countries of the world.
There are many agencies that make decisions about when to conduct exams, when to provide internal assessment grades, etc. They are inconsistent particularly because so many regulatory bodies are involved that can be contradictory and drag the process in many directions. Sorting all this out and coming to a consensus should happen beforehand. The directions from a single point of contact in the government and the authorities may be dynamic, as we all know that the COVID situation is uncertain and fragile.
As a nation, if we are all serious and committed about the future of education and research in our country, we should plan for a time until COVID lasts, and another plan to return to normal or a ‘new normal’. At this point in time, when the nCOVID spread is increasing, we have the hope of medical trials that are at various stages, and we will have to wait for them to become available until then. As a nation, we can afford to invest in education using different models, but it should not be stopped.
Today, the pride of our country is the numerous engineers and doctors in the Western countries, contributing significantly to solving many scientific and engineering challenges. We are proud of them. Most of them are of Indian origin, and did their school and collegiate education in India.
The COVID crisis has put a pause on emigration of brilliant Indian talent to other countries, and while that lasts, we have the unenviable task of building our educational infrastructure, particularly in research. With such a good educational infrastructure, we will be able to shift the brain-drain to the other direction. We should plan a strong India as one of the world’s largest educated people, educators, and high-quality research.
While all the above is not fantasy, there has to be a unified lean body of eminent thinkers who will provide consistency to the direction of all the aspects of education. Let us not waste too much time. Teamwork at the highest levels is required to educate and develop high quality academic programs and research centres, even if it requires some radical thinking.
THIS IS THE NEED OF THE HOUR. LET US WORK COLLECTIVELY TO MAKE IT HAPPEN.
India should become the destination for the students from other countries to come and pursue their academic programs here.
Let us all work together to accomplish this. I hope our Hon’ble Prime Minister will seize this opportunity of the reforms to be brought in the education system at all levels, and that we would be proud of the excellent education and research ecosystems in our country.