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Wednesday, 20 September 2017 00:00
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India's education has a problem, but can Rwanda be better?


Most Indians, including those in government, would be the first to admit the country’s education system has serious flaws. Which is why, despite the country’s large work force, industry is constantly complaining about not being able to find people with good enough education/skills. It is also why graduates don’t get what they feel are commensurate salaries and why, as a result, there are so many empty seats in engineering and management colleges nowadays—according to TeamLease Services’s head Manish Sabharwal, more than 30% of seats are empty in most colleges. This is also why the government is trying to push education reforms aimed at giving colleges/universities more autonomy to fashion courses and hire teachers; it is also looking at ways to bring in more competition in higher education by allowing foreign universities—as compared to China, the number of universities with good global rankings is poor and falling. And with most employers complaining of the poor levels of skilling, the government is looking at how to realign India’s skilling set-up with what employers need—changes in the Apprentices Act were also contemplated keeping this is mind since, eventually, this will improve skill levels. The fact that, every year, the ASER study shows children are hardly learning in primary classes, in turn, has resulted in a demand for a greater involvement of private schools.

Given this, it is hardly surprising that India’s ranking in the World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index (HCI) is so much lower than China’s—India is ranked 101 vs China’s 62. The ranking, however, looks seriously flawed when you see a Botswana (91) and a Rwanda (71) ranked higher than India. If the quality of India’s work-force was so poor, it is difficult to see how India’s growth would be as high as it is today. Indeed, HCI ranks the quality of India’s overall education system higher than China’s (27th vs 40th in overall terms and 37th vs 44th for primary schools) but India’s overall rank is so much lower. Much of this, undoubtedly, is due to India’s lower worker participation rate (52.5% vs 70.7% for China) but the primary-school ranking is seriously at odds with what ASER puts out each year.

In other words, it would be unwise to accept everything the HCI says at face value. Even so, there are enough pointers as to where improvements can be made. The fact that India’s rank for primary-education-enrolment is 77th despite near universal enrolment in junior school means the dropout rates are very high in even primary schools. The low ranking (76th vs China’s 5th rank) for secondary-school enrolment also indicates the same thing—India simply has to work harder at retention levels which, in all probability, will also mean a lot of effort has to be paid to fixing the quality of teaching in schools. And greater autonomy, of course, has to be matched by the use of standardised tests—like the SAT—across the country.


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