India took the momentous step to include Article 21-A – Right to Education as a primary right of every citizen, after 55 years of independence, providing free and compulsory education of all children from the ages six to 14 years. The article was included in the Constitution through the 86th Amendment Act 2002 but came into effect on April 1, 2010.
The RTE terms ‘independent or free education’ as a basic right, but the dream is yet to be achieved.
In the 73rd year of Independence, here is a look at what independent education means to some key stakeholders in the Indian education system today:
‘Focus on outcome and not just reform’
There can be a lot of reforms on paper, but one should scrutinise their outcome as well, commented chairperson of Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) Anita Karwal. “A good education system should focus on the outcomes. We should be able to prepare our children for the 21st century with skills, including critical thinking abilities, collaborative learning, creativity, good communication skills, digital literacy, environmental literacy and even citizenship,” stated Karwal.
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“The government already has several plans to reform the education system; we now need to focus on implementation,” she stressed.
‘Right to dignified jobs’
“When a citizen feels empowered to take a job of their preference based on merit, when the job system is able to assess students on their interest and talent, when one can climb the ladder of success without making compromises, then in my view, education can be called independent,” remarked Minakshi Das, former controller of exams, Odisha Board of Secondary Education.
According to West Bengal Joint Entrance Board registrar Deependu Kar, “Education is about leading people from darkness to light. So education should not be confined to a dogmatic objective, but cater to a broad spectrum, keeping in mind its deep-rooted impact in the society.”
‘Free education from colonial impact’
India’s education system still follows the British academic structure with emphasis on the colonial language English, opined educationist Bibhuti Dev, who is a visiting faculty at several universities including Sidho Kanho Birsha University, Purulia and also associated with the Asiatic Society.
“There is not much importance given to the vernacular language in India. We could not make our education system free from the colonial imposition. Books focusing on science, competitive exam preparation, etc, are not available in vernacular languages, even when competitive exams are being taken in regional languages as well,” said Dev.
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“After 73 years of independence, it’s still the students with proficiency in English who are considered to be bright, while good students from the vernacular medium hardly end up getting a good job. Till we do not free ourselves from the colonial education system, we will not be truly independent,” said Ankita Roy, an English teacher of the Narmada Co-Ed School.
‘Right to choose career and subjects’
Every hour, a student commits suicide in India due to the examination stress, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). According to Niharika Dey, English teacher at Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV, Kolkata), “The education system can be hailed as independent when it becomes stress-free and a student gets the right to choose their career and subjects on their own. The genesis of it should be at home.”
Psychiatrist, Renuka Tiwari remarked, “In this current societal structure where competition is increasing at a steep pace, one can hardly think of an independent education system. Students suicides are rising mainly due to the pressure from parents and society. We need an education system that is free from stress.”
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