Invigorating the education sector

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

It may seem a distressing comparison. But given the present not-so-comfortable state of the education sector, the observation warrants focus. It puts two types of schools side by side --- one showing 109 institutions with zero-pass in the last SSC exams. All of them are listed as being entitled to the government's monthly payment order (MPO) -- a much coveted stimulus sought by the country's educational institutions. The other type has schools with fair pass records despite not being covered by the MPO facility. A lot of these schools have teachers in their job without salary for years, in cases for two long decades.
In this messy scenario, the proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2018-19 has earmarked around 2.0 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) for the education sector. The figure comes to 11.41 per cent of the budget outlay. The enhanced allocation follows continued stagnancy in budgetary share of education in the last few years. The previously dropped institutions may now look forward to them being picked for the MPO status. Optimists awaiting a better-performing education scenario may start reading the signs of good times in the enhancement of budgetary chunk for the nationally critical sector. Reality, though, speaks otherwise.
Notwithstanding the spectacular increase in the number of the achievers of grade point average (GPA) 5 in various school-level and college-level public examinations, academics are yet to take heart. Of the stages, the one of Secondary School Certificate (SSC) is considered the most important. It has long been recognised as the initial point of entry to higher secondary and the following tertiary and more advanced stages. The dramatic rise in the number of GPA 5 achievers across the country could have made a difference in the nation's post-SSC education. But many better-scoring students passing the SSC and the next step of HSC (Higher Secondary Certificate) examinations could not prove themselves up to the mark at their respective points of entry to higher levels. To the discerning educationists, the whole exercise in the nearly feverish display of talent proved a sham. That scores of students concerned might fail to pass muster in their future educational careers finally came as a national worry. Against this backdrop, the flooding of schools and colleges with GPA 5 could not have been better defined than a nationwide bubble. The post-haste inclusion of institutions in the MPO-eligible category in phases, leaving out many deserving ones, has apparently added to the further decline in the quality of education.
Though belated, an all-important realisation finally dawned on the education policy makers and the relevant authorities. An understanding materialised that the fad of GPA-5 achievements and the generous giving away of the MPO incentive will not work magic. Ironically, the resultant toughening of exam question-papers, leading to a drop in GPA achievers, could not yield any panacea. Question leaks filled the procedural gaps with a demonic force.
Voluminous funds allocated for development of education cannot be disputed. But they should be spent wisely, with more stress on quality than on the self-deceptive quantity. The country's schools perennially suffer from a dearth of qualified teachers. But how the pompous programmes like the lately announced one of English language skill-enhancing of teachers will help, is anybody's guess. Absence of competent English instructors may jeopardise the plan. Given the fiascos in the past, success of these grandiloquent projects remains shrouded in a veil of doubts. It's high time the policy makers realised the need for radically streamlining the education sector.