Why our education system lacks autonomy and quality control?
I’ve been ranting about our education system for quite some time now. It has, as my fellow members of the YC’s editorial board would say, become my USP. Even so, they don’t really allow me to write about it. Mean colleagues you know. Anyway. Often when I propagate my feelings about the education system to like- and unlike-minded people, people misjudge me and consider that I am against the idea of learning. Why do people confuse learning and education? Those of who you do, let me set you straight. Education is one form of learning. It is the most common form of “gaining knowledge”, as they say. It has however turned into a business that indulges in the process of giving people knowledge. At a lot of places, this business is just a sham and it is barely knowledge that the “customers” gain at the end of the day. And what is learning, you ask? Learning is the art of acquiring knowledge. It may be via education. Or it may be via experience. Or maybe via practice. Or it may be via something else. So next time when you find me preaching about our sucky education system, bear in mind: I am not against learning. I am against this business of education.
A raging question that has been on my mind lately is: why our education system, especially our higher education, has no quality control? It may sound funny at first, but if products and services and platforms and etcetera can have quality control, why shouldn’t education have mechanisms that control its quality? Sure, there are bodies of the Government that enforce certain rules and regulations on state-run and self-financed institutions both, but how often are these regulations followed and implemented in their true sense? Prima facie, the only thing today that the government seems to do about higher education is – manage quota. Increase quota every year, and then let media houses poke fun at you when the seats go unfilled. Self-financed institutes pressurise the governmental bodies to do things that would benefit them commercially, and most of the times the government obliges.
One of the pressing points I always talk about is how our engineering education sucks. That is more so because I am myself going through the turmoil of being an engineering undergrad. Particularly, I hate the idea of making engineers study basics of other branches every now and again. In my six semesters and three years with engineering, I have studied close to 37 courses of which at least 15 courses don’t hold any significance if I go and pursue a career in Information Technology. Duh, now, how obvious it is that after picking I.T., I will pursue a career it I.T?! Yes, I may take up a completely different stream and then pursue a coolish career, but if I pursue a career based on my engineering knowledge (read:degree), I will of course pursue that in I.T! So what is the point of half of those subjects? It is like I have wasted half of my three years for nothing. And yeah I have.
A wise professor from a reputed college once told me: “look, our engineering system is a load based system. More subjects = more jobs = more employment = better numbers for the country”. At first I couldn’t believe my ears but that is truly one of the reasons why we have to study so many subjects, at least in engineering. It makes complete sense no matter how nonsensical that is. And some institutes use this idea just for the sake of managing load better (i.e. making best use of all the teachers they have), not for better numbers. This could also be prevelent in streams other than engineering – something that I am not aware about.
Okay, you are conventional, and you consider yourself wise, and you will say all these subjects matter blah blah blah blah blah. Stanford University (yea, that cool one that produces one of the best computer science graduates in the world!) You know they don’t teach crap. Neither is their first year for all stream the same. Out of the 17 courses for any CS major, 12 courses belong to or are pertaining to CS. At least 3 out of the remaining 5 are math subjects. Fair enough. At least they know how much proportion basics must be given.
So, if Stanford can afford to get on with business and start teaching the important fundamentals of computer science to a Computer Science Major, why can’t our institutes? The bigger problem that occurs by the time of graduation is that the students are not really thorough with the basics of their own branch but they are knowledgeable about basics of other branches. How is that going to help, at all? Take my class for example. I am in third year and I am damn sure more than 70% of my class mates would struggle to explain the function of memory or processor clearly if asked. And they are going to become I.T. engineers in less than a year. Very well.
Furthermore, while quality of subjects must be the first point in the quality control checklist, it isn’t the only point in the checklist. A lot of other issues like more proportion towards practical application than theory, better system of evaluation, quality of teachers, quality of primary and secondary level of schooling etc. continue to exist at every level in the country. To add to that and to console my fellow engineering undergrad friends who study in sub-standard engineering colleges: issues like poor canteen food, lack of drinking water, toilets that look and stink like gutters, etc. cause serious heartbreaks every passing day to more than a million hearts. Each of these issues is worthy of a book.
So why is there no quality control in the education? Maybe there is. Maybe because the education is controlled by so many bodies of the government, the quality control gets messed up. If that reason is correct, I ask: why our education system is not autonomous? Why there is so much bureaucracy involved in our education system?
Let’s look at the bureaucracy levels involved: First, there is your college and chances are it is a self-finance institute. There are your trustees who will, more often than not, keep commercial interests of the institute above interests of the student. If you’re lucky, you may end up with a sane Principal who fights for you and ensure that students are given equal priority as money; if you are very lucky, your trustees maybe supportive enough and must be doing all the goody-goody things trying to make your college look the best. But the fact is majority of us are not lucky at all, so you see the problem? Now, your college’s management is in turn answerable to the university and are required to follow a certain code and a set of rules and regulations jointly laid down by the university in accordance with the norms of the AICTE – that is the body of the Union Ministry of Human Resources Development. And the university, although an autonomous body on paper, has to be answerable to the state government – usually to the Chief Minister via the State Education Minister via the state education department via whatever department of the education department your stream falls under. You may be a little in luck if your university is private and deemed; but not so much if your university is state run.
Because so many bodies are trying to govern the education, there will obviously be conflicts – conflicts of thoughts, conflicts of interests, conflicts of laws, etc. Who suffers? Us! The students suffer. Another tipping point that I hate about our system is: because the government is governing our education, not only ministers but IAS officers have a lot of role to play in deciding and implementing laws and regulations. And that sucks! Now, I am not against IAS officers – they’re one of the most learned people of our country, they’re well qualified and their position deserves the power that they possess.
What I find funny about our IAS system is that the IAS officers who govern departments are usually not very well versed with the department’s core principle itself! An academician, for instance, would definitely be more qualified to run the education system rather than an IAS officer, right? And an academician surely would run it better than an IAS officer, right? I always wonder how cool would it be if the UPSC categorised various departments of our country’s administration and then while offering the IAS exam, it made examinees choose a couple of administrative departments they’d like to join and work with, and then, have their exam based on that? Applicants could choose 2-3 departments so that the load can be managed effectively. Thus, an IAS pass-out interested in Education may be appointed accordingly; whereas a pass-out interested in Science and Technology may be appointed accordingly.
Okay… I am drifting away from the topic. No matter how funny I find the IAS system, it is still not as broken as our higher education system.
So the point here is… while it’s okay for IAS officers to govern majority of the departments, some of the departments of the government machinery MUST have specialised heads running them. Nobody understands education better than an academician so why not let a group of academicians run the system? Let the best academicians form a body – a constitutional body – that is independent of the government. Let the body frame laws for universities and each university and all institutes (private or government) must follow them. This constitutional body can have its presence in each state by presence of a committee and the state committee will be required to enforce the laws laid by the central body in each university and colleges, state-run or deemed, of that particular state. Everything that pertains to imparting education must be governed and moderated by this body. Even exams – or whatever evaluation system they put into place.
Our constitutional bodies are awesome, I have to say. They are one of the finest things about our country’s governance. The Election Commission? Super awesome! The CAG? Super, super awesome! So why not develop a Commission for Governance of Education? If the involvement of the government is taken away, and if a central body is formed to control the education system, the country can be blessed with a far better system of education. For instance, load-based system that makes us study so many useless subjects is only because government tries to gain benefits out of the system. If we took away the government from the equation, a lot of issues will solve automatically. Where there is government, there is politics, and it is very dangerous to let politics linger around the education system.
With India being one of the youngest countries in the world, our education system will define the future of the country. And it needs reforms, lots of them. Some might say “itna toh hota hai na India mein, doosre developing countries dekho…”. True, I agree. But things aren’t right till they are right. So while our education is better than that in a lot of other developing countries, it is not the best, and it certainly is miles behind when we compare it with the systems of the western world – that western world to which every other Indian wants to compare every other stat of India.
To conclude, like I always say, giving the right to education won’t work unless you give the right education.