Indian Education System: What Needs To Be Changed

With over a sixth of the entire world's population, India has a lot of people. And among these people, 30% is under the age of 15. The median age is 25.1 years, making India one of the demographically youngest countries in the world. We have a competitive advantage over more "developed" countries that are slowly aging their way out towards retirement.

And as you might expect, what holds back the immense promise of India's young population is Education, or rather the lack of it.

A young population is useless unless skilled and educated. And our education system is failing miserably to rise to the challenge.

An education is what differentiates a productive member of society from one who is simply a drain on the nation's resources. Education is essential to the all round socio-cultural development of people into bona fide citizens who can join the workforce and contribute to the growth of the nation.

Belying the unfathomable importance of the education system on the future growth and prosperity of any nation is the lack of attention that is paid to keeping our education system up to modern standards and capable of producing citizens who are able to deal with the unique challenges posed by the reality of work and employment in the 21st century.

The predicament

Globally, the modern education system came into being as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution is late 18th century Europe. The advent of the steam engine and the slow transition from manual production to machines posed a very particular challenge to the workforce: it created a demand for people skilled in the sciences and technology; people with very narrow sets of specialised skills that will allow them to work in a rapidly mechanising and industrialising economy.

Fast forward a few centuries and the global landscape has changed remarkably. AI is threatening to take over almost all human involvement in traditional jobs. At the same time, a variety of new avenues of employment have opened up due to the rise of the Internet that were nigh on unimaginable even a few decades prior; who would have imagined that people would be able to get rich off of making makeup tutorials and sketch comedy from the comfort of their homes?

The situation on the homefront

Our education systems, and in India particularly, have not kept pace with these developments. The National Policy on Education that governs everything from primary education to higher learning in India was formulated in 1968 and revised in 1986, post which it has remained stagnant. Any student who has graduated from school or college in the past 20 years can easily attest to the failures of the Indian education system to adequately prepare them for life in the fast paced 21st century.

Let's start at the obvious: engineering and technical fields. India is a country globally famous for our technical expertise and IT dominance. Internally however, the quality of “engineers” (to use the term very loosely) we produce each year in abundance is abysmal. A large part of the new graduates are unemployable by most measures and by joining legacy IT firms in droves they much down the salaries for everyone else. This is probably the reason why even though Indians are at the forefront of many impressive technical feats and global IT powerhouses around the globe, India itself lags behind, ranking lowly in its ability to innovate or compete with developed nations in terms of engineering or computer science.

The field of Medicine is no better; it is no surprise that India is facing an acute shortage of doctors and medical professionals. What complicates the fact more is the rise of incompetent professionals with medical degrees who end up harming countless innocent lives. The view is equally dire in the field of Law, Journalism, and the Arts.

The way forward

If India is to leverage its young population and countless other advantages into emerging as a 21st century superpower, we have to start at the basics: Education Reform.

The entire fabric of K-12 education needs an overhaul. To begin with, parents need to realise (and are realising, perhaps, as we speak) that there are plenty of viable career opportunities outside the realm of engineering. There needs to a fundamental acceptance of this fact, which will perhaps finally result in the reduction of popularity of cram schools designed to create not well-rounded students but automatons configured to solve competitive exams and nothing further.

Education needs to shake off the influence of its roots in the 18th century and undergo a transformation that befits its importance in the 21st. For instance, focusing more on the all round development of students so that they may discover their true passion, whatever it may be, instead of encouraging rote learning of the same science subjects with next to no importance to arts, music, or dance. Improving the amount of physical education is also essential in our increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

Scientific skill development for students who have a knack for it is essential. A curriculum which relies on practical hands-on skills that are actually relevant in today's day and age will certainly go a long way in ensuring that the students of today can deftly navigate the challenges of tomorrow. Introducing computer programming at a young age is essential; as is a strong focus on learning languages and developing native level fluency (it has been long known that learning languages is one of the most effective ways of exercising the brain and improving mental acuity).

Finally, learning must not be restricted to the confines of a classroom. Students should be ranked on their activities outside the classroom as they flex their intellectual muscles in every aspect of their lives. Encouraging them to fully immerse themselves in their activity of choice in order to develop mastery in it is the best thing we as a society can do today for the citizens of tomorrow.

Choosing to see a brighter future

The challenges facing a vast and developing nation like ours are not insignificant. However, a capable education system will go a long way in ensuring that India is prepared to lead the way forward instead of being a mute follower. By making education our priority, we will, inevitably, make a better India our priority.​

Author: Subhom Mitra