Quality and quantity of education – starting from primary level to higher levels – have remained a challenging area in a nation like India. Therefore, no easy solution for managing this challenging area exists. The title of the article may sounds harsh, and misleading too, as it needs to be clearly understood, in the beginning itself,  that there exists no correct recipe of success in meeting realistically the challenging needs, both of quantity and quality of education, across all levels, in India.

Before commenting on this complex area, like anyone and everyone engaging in such a debate, I believe I need to justify why I can have an opinion on this. I have been working in areas of higher education for last seven years, including having worked in one of the top ranking Central Govt. Business School. I have received various feedbacks from my students, other than routine student-feedbacks that many institutes capture for faculty evaluations, where students have thanked me for having fundamental values, and for developing the key ability to ask questions, and thereby develop original thinking capabilities in them (I most humbly accept those kind words from my students!).

I also have corporate experience of eleven years with best known Indian and global firms, starting from junior management to top management levels. And academically, I am a product of IIT-System in higher education, graduation in engineering to MBA to PhD. My primary and secondary education happened in small town Government-aided schools, in vernacular medium. Moreover, I now have a son of ten-years old; and as a single-parent, I need to pay little attention on his quality of primary education.

So, assuming now, that I can have a say on this policy-making area named ‘Education’, which has become the de facto punching bag of one-and-all, let me justify why I think RTE or various other complementing policies from Federal Government in New Delhi to various States in Indian Republic to regulators/bodies/Institutes like CBSE, ICSE, State Boards, UGC, AICTE, IITs, IIMs are nothing but a sure shot model of failure (barring few isolated exceptions within few IITs/IIMs/IISc, as islands of excellence), knowing well that there exists no formula for success in such a complex area. And let me admit that I have not read the detailed RTE Act (neither I feel having read the RTE Act in details could have improved the quality of this article!).

Right now, as I started writing this article on this Sunday morning of 29th April, 2012, I have been watching a TV Panel Discussion on RTE in Rajya Sabha TV (RSTV).

Moreover, over the last many years, I have been reading various articles/opinions on this.

I will have an altogether different approach in analyzing the case, more so from my bias of management educations. In my opinion, RTE is nothing but a ‘Product’; true a complex policy-level product in the form of an act, having the status of a constitutional right too, that affects almost all of us, directly or indirectly. I will use my understanding of Operations Management, whatever little of it I know, in explaining why the product is made with a perfect recipe of failure.

–     The first point of the product deals with product design. Aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once stated that “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” With the RTE, or whatever is happening in the name of education from Primary levels to higher ones, everything in it should have been taken away, and replaced by simple, implementable words. An act should not be a great and noble statement of intention, but is should be one that is realistic and implementable. Therefore, starting with a clean-slate approach of re-engineering the policies and practices related to primary and higher educations were the need of the hour, and not ornamental, incremental, sugar-coated words or intentions alone in such an act.

We Indians have again proven that we never miss an opportunity to miss the opportunity, while revisiting our policies and practices, as is the case with this RTE Act.

In an article, Get Rid of the Crappy Stuff,  that analyzed the success of Apple after the much-documented second come-back of late Steve Jobs in Apple, it followed the simple proverbs of Einstein: everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler’ and the wisdom of the scientist further applies to RTE when he stated ‘if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough’.

–     Unfortunately, it seems that none of the policy-makers who are behind education policies of our Federal Government or its various State Agencies seems to understand the challenges of education in India well-enough. Actually, it is not so, because, I know there are policy-makers individually – be it the present Chairman of UGC or AICTE or various other reputed academicians, be in policy formulations related to higher educations or in primary/secondary levels, who may individually have an excellent understanding of the challenges; but when you have many of those (‘too many cooks spoil the broth’), you have failure.

–     This is what happens exactly with most Government policy-making committees. I remember sometime back, Government showed its good intention in having Binayak Sen in some Government Health Panel of Planning Commission (another policy-challenge for Government, and both education and healthcare form soft-infrastructure in the development of any society/nation, and both come under joint list of Federal Government and State Governments); but when I read that same fine print and realized such a health panel would have 40 members, I tweeted back to scrap the committee. Any committee, be even one with all living Nobel Prize economists on any policy-challenges on any economic issue, would be a pure waste. Fundamentally, one must not have more than four-members in any such important top-level committees; and by having too many voices, too many views, too many additions of these views in the policy-product; what we have is a failed product.

–     In primary education level, enrollment is more important than in higher educations. However, sacrificing the quality altogether would be akin to throwing the baby with the bath water. Innumerable recent local and global studies (the PISA results) have pointed out this stark picture where our standard VIII level students may be, on an average, at par with  standard III level Korean students, or IInd-Standard Shanghai students. And as many of the same students, after completing secondary educations, subsequently enroll for higher educations, it cannot be expected that our Institutes of Higher Educations, more so the vast majority of those without strong entry barriers, can have better performances, as the gap simply widens. Any faculty member of Institutes of Higher Education would be too familiar with the apparently unmanageable heterogeneity in any class room, beyond a few premier ones in India. Thereby, most faculty members engaged with higher education follow the ‘lowest common denominator approach’ in teaching such a heterogeneous class, and thereby helps in further laggard performances of our Universities/higher educational institutes in a global benchmark exercise; and at the same time by being unfair to the deserving students.

Part II of the article deals more on challenges in quality in Institutes of Higher Education in India.

Prof. Ranjit Goswami works as the Director of School of Management of RK University. Opinion expressed in this article is personal. He invites you to visit his blog, Wondering Man (or take a look at his book, Wondering Man, Money & Go(l)d). You are also invited to join him on Twitter. 

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