Education Infrastructure

19 Jan

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in a large nation like India, you build a school and there will be enough students to make it run. With a growing and underserved young population it is estimated that 25 million additional places are required in primary education in India alone. The previous five year plan was focused on investing in infrastructure – in the hope that you build it and they will come.

Yet, the number of schools falls far short of what is required. The ones that have been built may or may not be occupied for the purpose they were built. Teachers may or may not turn up for lessons. In any case, many of their own children are sent to study in private schools according to a study conducted in Tamil Nadu and anecdotal evidence from elsewhere. Investment in infrastructure was not accompanied by stringent quality standards, nor a rigorous monitoring mechanism. Many schools thus lie underutilized, the investments wasting away.

Even in higher education, the tide has turned. While the number of youth who need to be educated for a better future rises at the rate of at least 5 million per annum (in higher and professional education), the past two years have seen a steady drop in admissions to engineering and management colleges that have failed to meet the requirements of potential students. Despite subsidized land being made available to them, many professional institutes suffer from the lack of soft infrastructure – good faculty are scarce. The student community is an excellent judge of the value they receive from a course of study and will not invest their time and money unless the returns are clear and delivered.

What has been proven in the past five years (and really, did we need this to be proved?) is that mere investment in infrastructure without a clear strategic vision and operational plan is not going to deliver results. It is also clear that we need a strong support network of organizations that create the ecosystem for this school network to perform well. And these organizations must deliver to their task.

We, in India are very fortunate in having a large number of organizations that support and create the education ecosystem. We have organizations for every job that needs to be performed – though it is unfortunate that many of them are slow to meet the requirements of their people. Education, being a regulated industry, the ministry plays a significant role. Managing myriad agencies and ensuring they deliver to their mission with honesty and care is a mammoth task. This is probably why recent changes have been moves to centralize control, rather than decentralize to local communities. Umbrella organizations have been mooted, as have centralized lists of potential vice chancellors. Each of these is a half hearted attempt at giving the various un-cordinated arms of the sector a semblance of shared purpose.

Until there is a clear strategic plan that emanates from the centre and empowers the local districts and schools and forces the network of organizations to support, facilitate and enable the education of each child it will be impossible to ensure success. The beast is too large and unwieldy to work as one unless there is a systemic alignment of the infrastructure of education

This post appeared in the Times of India blog on January 11, 2012. The link is here: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/education-infrastructure

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