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Reforming the higher education system

by thesquadron.in
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India is often told it needs to spend more on education. Unfortunately, there is little discussion on what kind of education it should invest in. Of late, however, there has been a lot of talk about that itself, especially on how to offset the learning gaps that have emerged due to the coronavirus pandemic-induced school closures in the last two years among students. The students, teachers, and parents need to face the fact that India is suffering from widespread learning losses, and that loss must be recovered. This, experts say, requires a new curriculum, which blends the learning lost and the new knowledge children must acquire.

You may think this will be a Herculean, if not impossible, task to achieve. However, Anurag Behar, CEO of the Azim Premji Foundation and vice-chancellor of the Azim Premji University, says this is very much doable. In an interview with Karan Thapar, Behar said that Karnataka has designed syllabi in which “the content has been reduced without compromising learning outputs.” Unfortunately, most people in India don’t know about this positive development in Karnataka since all the educational news they hear in the media are reports about hijabs and the controversy they have created.

As Class 11 students strive to make up for lost time due to the coronavirus pandemic, they also have to prepare for a new entrance exam if they want to enter one of India’s 45 centrally funded universities. While the Covid-19 pandemic raged, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has not been idle. It has come up with a Common University Entrance Test (CUET), a new mandatory exam every candidate will take to enter university. CUET will replace board exams, which tended to suffer from a common complaint of inflated grades.

CUET has just been born, and there could well be trouble when more details are known, particularly its syllabi. Once its full scope is revealed to the public, educationalists will judge whether CUET is a genuinely new exam or it suffers from the same fault almost all Indian exams suffer from. Is it going to be an exam that encourages remembering answers, or will it require lateral thinking? Recently, the front page of a newspaper was plastered with rows of small photographs of successful candidates from coaching institutes. Of course, no one is told how many have failed the exam. The coaching industry is a direct product of the memory exams applicants for government services have to sit for.

Back with UGC, it has come up with another proposal that students in their last two school years and at university should be allowed to study two subjects at the same time. The idea seems to be to encourage science students to study arts too. Again the idea is to broaden the minds of scientists who are considered weak on lateral thinking. I remember a friend who passed his first medical exams in two years and spent his third year studying theology. He got a third in theology.

India’s brightest and best children aiming for a centrally funded university are worried about recovering lost knowledge, facing a new exam, and thinking about whether they should study two syllabi. But they must also worry about a related issue: There may be no teachers to teach their subject of choice. Recently, it was discovered that in the centrally funded universities, there is a shortage of 6,481 teachers, with Delhi University topping the list at 859. There is much to discuss and much to be done in India’s higher education system.

The views expressed are personal

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