Is It Time for A Rethink of the Indian Education System?

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Bharati Thakore

Despite the history of developed countries conclusively having shown that primary education is the master key that opens all doors to socio-economic development, successive governments in our country have accorded low priority and funding to public primary education. 21st century India is lumbered with the largest low-productivity workforce of the contemporary world. Aspiring Minds, a Delhi-based recruitment and skills assessment company, says that 85 percent of liberal arts graduates and 75 percent of engineering grads are unemployable in Indian and foreign multinationals — it’s hardly surprising that Indian industry and agriculture productivity line up at the bottom by global standards.


6 key points to think about

  1. Learning outcomes in government schools are pathetic, the state should focus on improving public schools and not spend their time trying to dictate norms to private schools which are infinitely superior and preferred even by the poorest of the poor.
  2. Government needs to increase budget outlay for education and only provide the funds and hire qualified education service providers and NGOs to run government schools not their kith, kin and leftist, out of date government lackies.
  3. Learning outcomes need to improved drastically in government schools (suggestions in this section)
  4. Vocational Education and Training
  5. 21st century teacher training
  6. Freedom to choose language of instruction.

In his recently published memoir Of Counsel: Challenges of Working with the Modi-Jaitley Government (2018), former chief economic adviser (CEA)  Arvind Subramanian rues that the per-hectare rice yields in India’s best agriculture states are half of China’s and one-third of the US, Japan and European countries.

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The plain truth is that the government-managed education system has failed, while privately managed schools and higher education institutions have relatively succeeded, particularly in K-12 education. All political parties have done a deplorable job of providing education. Now the time has come to separate the government’s role of financier of education from providers of education. Encouraging Private education institutions, Public Private Partnerships and NGOs as providers needs to be the way forward.

Below I outline some urgent reforms to rethink the Indian education system:


Reduced Government Regulation in Education

The government needs to focus on improving learning outcomes in their own government education institutions instead of dictating private school fee structures, principal appointments and curriculum which will be automatically controlled by the invisible hand of the free market. It is widely acknowledged that the country’s 310,000 recognised private unaided schools which educate an estimated 40 percent of the nation’s primary-secondary students, provide a much higher quality and cost-effective education compared to the country’s 1.20 million Central and state government schools. It is important to note that even with the option of free government schools, the poorest of the poor parents prefer to send their children to fee-levying English medium budget private schools where the learning outcomes are better. To prevent emptying of public schools, state governments arm-twist and try to shut down budget private schools (BPS) on grounds of poor infrastructure which government schools themselves lack extensively.

The history of the past 70 years has clearly established that the government and especially state governments have not been able to provide good enough education to this country. New models of public private partnership and professional education providers funded by government would work much better. Unfortunately the New Education Policy (NEP) 2019 committee have recommended greater instead of reduced government regulation of private education institutions.

Union Budget outlay for education has to double

Despite various high-powered education policy committees recommendations over the years having urgently recommended that the annual national expenditure on public education should be raised to 6 percent of GDP, it has averaged a mere 3.5 percent for the past 70 years. This is nowhere near sufficient to fulfil gaps like 1 million teacher vacancies in public primaries, training of millions of teachers and the infrastructural deficit in public K-12 education.

Learning outcomes need to improve


For over 10 years the globally respected Pratham Education Foundation has been publishing its Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) – which measures learning outcomes of rural and urban children in India. The latest 2018 ASER report reveals that the percentage of class V students in rural government schools who can read a class II level textbooks has declined from 53 to 44 percent. Arithmetic capabilities are even more shocking, only 40 percent of class VIII students can solve three digit by one digit division sums i.e. 60 percent of students in class VIII  cant. Learning outcomes in government schools will only improve if there is accountability, more investment, improved infrastructure, quality textbooks, well-trained teachers, banning of corporal punishment and teacher truancy in government schools.

Bolstering Vocational Education and Training

Skill India slogans apart, vocational education and training(VET) has been given low priority. Currently India has only 15000 VET institutes with an enrolment of just 3.5 million and only 3-5 percent of our workers have formal VET certification. In China there are 50,000 VET institutes with enrolment of 60 million youth and Germany has 100,000 VET centres for a small population of only 185 million. We need skilled workers, for that every school and college across India needs a VET centre attached to it offering 21st century skills in AI, ( Artificial Intelligence) IOT (Internet Of Things) and coding among many other courses of present day relevance. 

Re-hauling professional development of teachers

Teacher training needs to be urgently overhauled to equip teachers with contemporary training, mentoring, and leadership capabilities. The NEP 2019 should focus on developing new teaching schools, while simultaneously building the capacity of existing teacher training institutions and making the current D.Ed and B.Ed courses more relevant. Schools should be encouraged to experiment with alternative teacher certification courses and 20 days per year of in-service training must be made mandatory for all school teachers. Moreover private school teachers need to invest in their own upskilling and professional development if they want higher salaries and agency. Today there are excellent programmes at teachers’doorstep such as Aditya Birla Education Academy’s online teacher certification courses with University of Pennsylvania and Nottingham among others.

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Parent’s Freedom to choose language of instruction

Soon after the NEP 2019 draft was made public it caused an uproar with its recommended three-languages formula for primary-secondary school i.e learning the state language, with Hindi and English being compulsory for students. In this globalized world where young people would be moving across states and even countries, imposing the three-language policy is totally out of date. It came as no surprise that on June 3, 2019 the draft New Education Policy had to scrap the three-language formula in schools.

In keeping with the Supreme Court Judgement of May 2014, which ruled that parents have the right to choose the medium of instruction of their children, governments should offer the choice of English as a medium of instruction in government schools to low-income parents. Even the HRD ministry’s discussion note on this concedes that despite experts advocating mother tongue as the medium of instruction in primary school, there’s a “general perception that children learning through the English medium have advantage over others while entering the world of work” Moreover, there’s urgent need for the Central and state governments to liberalise rules and regulations relating to the promotion of private English-medium schools, and to train government school teachers to effectively teach English as a second language.

Bharati Thakore is the Founder and CEO of New Millennium Education Partners and has directed over 50 films on education institutions and authored the book ’21 Schools of the 21st Century’


Indian education system educating women Bharati Thakore