What Teachers Must Learn

India’s education system is terribly out of step with the times

Written by Nomesh Bolia , Sahil Aggarwal | Published:February 1, 2016 12:00 am

Education should achieve three broad objectives. First, provide skills required for professional growth. Second, provide life skills, which include soft skills, maturity, and emotional growth. Third, build a strong character for being a good human being and citizen. While it will be a mistake to say that the education system in India has completely failed to fulfil these objectives, a serious rethinking is required.

The National Curriculum Framework (NCF), the foundational document for elementary and secondary education, forms the basis for agencies like the Central Board of Secondary Education and the National Council of Educational Research and Training to develop and administer school curricula. The recommendations in the NCF can, at least partially, achieve the objectives that this article identifies. The government has further invited suggestions through the New Education Policy Group. But the existing volume of recommendations, as well as the new ones being sought, may still not deliver the reforms we need, primarily because of two sets of reasons.

First, there are systemic problems in our education machinery. India does not have enough teachers who can even understand, let alone practise, the methods being recommended by the various frameworks. According to the World Bank, the average pupil-teacher ratio at the primary level in India is 35 — this is the highest among emerging economies, and much higher when compared to the developed world. A high pupil-teacher ratio impedes the imparting of soft skills and has an adverse impact on the emotional growth of children. Finally, the heavily regulated private sector is hampered by archaic laws that discourage, and even prohibit, innovation.

The second set of reasons concerns the abundance of alternatives, which render the formal system ineffective, if not completely useless. The most glaring example is that of on-job training. The formal system is so de-linked from the industry’s requirements that practically every new entrant in the workforce has to be first skilled by the employer. The National Employability Report 2014 found that only 18 per cent of engineering graduates are employable.

India’s formal education system behaves like an industry of the colonial era. It neither recognises the current needs of students nor provides the desired infrastructure. Our children are put into a machine. It takes 12 years for a finished product. After this, many choose to remain on the shop floor for another four years and become a certified product. Few prefer to undertake an additional two years and become a special product. Even fewer remain in production for another four to five years to become super-special, luxury products.

In this information age, our education system is one of the things most reminiscent of the bygone industrial age. It was designed for a standardised workforce to fill government offices and factories. Today, for the most part, computers can handle standardisation tasks. What we now need is differentiation and innovation.

India needs extensive experiments in education. For example, we should rethink the necessity of children spending 12 years in school, compartmentalised into different classes with a nationally fixed curriculum. We need to experiment to find which is the most desirable way to develop children. Why should two kids in Class 8 study the same level of maths and history when one of them is passionate about maths and the other about history? Should they do so just because they are of the same age? The initial 12 years, when children are most capable of learning, can be better spent in learning some other skills that will help them lead a happier and more successful life. A similar rethinking is needed for pedagogy and teacher-training, laws and regulations, and emotional and integral development.

In this process, policymakers should be facilitators, not implementers. They should improve the capacity of the failing public infrastructure, provide authority to the capable institutes, and allow flexibility where the private sector is concerned. In the current situation, people achieve not because of the system but despite the system. This has to change so that we can effectively use our human resources.


The writers are, respectively, a faculty member at IIT Delhi and an alumnus of IIT Delhi. They are founding members of Vision India Foundation.

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  1. V
    Vivek Nair
    Feb 1, 2016 at 1:06 am
    Refreshing perspective. A glance at more successful educational systems around the world support the fact that we are around a hundred years behind in our approach to learning. We need more writers to shine a light on this issue so that governments (both present and future) pay close attention to this.
  2. A
    Feb 1, 2016 at 2:10 am
    Virtual cl rooms and the syllabus by really competent people can eliminate this lacuna. Students can choose the timing and in the rest some skill sets can be given to then But then the people will start shouting " Kulakkalvi Thittam " is back
  3. B
    Feb 1, 2016 at 5:17 pm
    Consution of India does not permit education to be a for profit business. The problem lies there which has killed economic sense in the activity. On one side we have multiple private sector education insutions expanding every year ( in a so called not profit line of activity ) and killing the real not for education enies. Government run schools and colleges which produced the intellects of India in the past are now lying in shambles and ruins. A lot need to be done to make education a meaningful and purposeful act in India. As rightly said by the author, training the teachers themselves need training. Extensive training is needed for the teachers in the first place.
  4. G
    G M
    Jan 31, 2016 at 9:00 pm
    The Government can teach present courses through online education and can divert the precious resources to some meaningful education which require practical and teacher's presence inevitable. This change of policy by government will provide mive support for constructive education advancement and prevent leaking of funds in m production of coursecourse like B.A., M.A. etc..
  5. R
    Feb 1, 2016 at 1:25 pm
    As long as you have suffocating govt. rules and presence in every school system, this is what your're going to get. And i'm sure the govt. is going to impose more rules. English in schools by private schools. They were criticized. Now English education is understood to be essential. If the govt. cannot get even that right, what can they get right. But unfortunately in India everything in India has a rule (and of course a bribe).
  6. N
    Nagashree V
    Mar 11, 2016 at 3:58 am
    There is this article in this app called Knappily on Google play store and app store that came a day back which perfectly captures the plight of our Indian education and teachers!A must read!
  7. N
    Nitin Potdar
    Feb 1, 2016 at 4:36 am
    Excellent piece. The le should have been 'Indian Education System - Clic case of Failure'. Lack of 'Leadership' in Education Eco-System is the basic issue. Since Independence we focussed on Industry, Agriculture and Infrastructure - Education was never our core focus. I wish we had the first five year plan on 'Education'. Its never too late!
  8. R
    Feb 5, 2016 at 3:23 pm
    India is one country where the 'Odd man is placed at the right place' and vice versa. There is nothing wrong with the education system as long it is implemented in letter and spirits which is never. First of all teaching is one such job which is undertaken by the people who do not fit elsewhere. Secondly education is controlled by the politicians, businessmen and non educationists. It has become a business. The teacher even in the village primary school is more interested in tuitions than teaching in the schools. The education never emphasised on character building. The present education policy is aimed to create more and more 'Drop Outs' as they have abolished examinations and accurate marking. If there is no examination and essment, why should the student be expected to study and remember lessons ? The syllabus also has dents. It is aimed to create LITERATES only and not genius. The very instinct of the students of 'Inquisitiveness ' and 'Quest ' are nibbed at the root. The students gain bookish knowledge but are taken away from the knowledge of the world.
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