One of the requirements of articulating policy issues these days is the use of slightly forced acronyms. So here’s one: PEST (potential education sector troubles). The government is looking constructive in some areas, like infrastructure and labour. But in education, the early signs are ominous. Admittedly, education has suffered from decades of regulatory malfunction. But rather than course correction, the government seems to be regressing, setting up an already troubled sector for potential storms.
Let us just look at four areas to start with. The first is pedagogy. The UPSC row is a warning. The row is not just about language; it is rather a congealed expression of a broader education crisis. The scandal is not that English is marginally favoured. The scandal is that even those who have had years of education in the subject feel ill-equipped to take on a basic test, and rightly feel cheated. The scandal is not that the UPSC will not draw on the skills of vernacular students; it is that the way most students have been educated will deprive them of opportunities in so many professions that they think of the UPSC as a life or death issue. The scandal is not that the UPSC is trying to test certain comprehension skills; it is that schools stopped testing for those ages ago. The language crisis is equally a creation of our school curriculum, which progressively tested all languages in a way that under-emphasised analytical skills. Even apart from the UPSC, there are instances of pressure that either led to huge modifications in grading standards in universities, or changed the character of entrance exams.
Whether these are justified or not is a separate matter. Even the UPSC itself is an example of an ends and means mismatch in Indian education. It is irrational to select everyone from revenue officers to police officers to diplomats through the same selection process.
A vast majority of students, in public as well as private universities, are pedagogically cheated. That is what the UPSC crisis is really about. Our current thinking is incapable of addressing this crisis. It will require innovative thinking at many levels. But this pedagogical crisis will soon turn into a political one in various forms.
It is in this context that the second potential storm becomes more significant. The UGC has been on a slash and burn exercise since this government took office. The manner in which it handled the Delhi University four-year undergraduate programme issue has frozen innovation. Even reputed institutions like the Indian Institute of Science continued…