Education is one of the most powerful and effective instruments for reducing poverty and inequality because it has beneficial effects on both, the health and incomes of individuals as well as of society. Since independence, but especially since the 1964 Kothari Commission, the Indian government has taken many initiatives to strengthen and improve the education system. While these have contributed to improving access to education quite substantially, the overall results have been disappointing in terms of outcomes, both at the school level and in higher education.
A less-than-exhaustive set of issues concerning the education sector includes low levels of public spending; challenges in access to education for ethnic minorities and girls/women; quality; poor administration and management; and inadequate concern towards education at the state level and often at the national level as well.
India will soon have the world’s youngest population and there is a desperate need to increase public spending on education. This is also because over the years, public education has weakened, and the education sector has been increasingly taken over by the private sector. Studies show that even parents from low-income families prefer to send their children to private schools. The same scenario is found in college education where nearly 70% of all students are enrolled at private institutions. In fact, India has never been able to achieve the Kothari Commission’s recommended 6% spend of GDP on its education. The growth and good health of the private sector has come at the expense of poorer and more vulnerable social groups.
According to the Gender Gap Report 2017, which considers education as one of the key determining parameters, India was ranked 112 out of 144 countries on educational attainment for gender parity index. Overall, only 40% of Indian adolescents attend secondary schools (Grade 10-12). Only 1 out of 10 young people have access to higher education. India’s spending on education is the lowest among the BRICS nations.
What does the poor state of education mean for India in the 21st century? There is growing concern that India will slip behind in the knowledge sector in relation to other developing countries if it does not suitably address the deficiencies in the education sector. There is no doubt that Indians are doing well in the knowledge sector but India is not. The path to becoming a great power – which India aspires to – is by strengthening the education sector.
Given the current dismal state of education, Difficult Dialogues 2019 will focus on what can be done to rescue India’s education sector and set it on the path of excellence.
The conference will bring together civil society, media, academic experts, activists, and people working at community level (in, education, gender equality, labour, law) with government and non-governmental organisations. We aim to start a dialogue on how education as a tool can be used to develop and deploy the talent and to bring equality and justice in the society.