My take on the direction in which our education system should go (partly provoked by this):
- Education at the primary level must be universal, free and funded by the government. Right now, all these are enshrined in law, but large holes remain both in quality of education, and in the number of students being educated. We must find ways to plug these holes.
- Our current system of publicly funded schools discriminates against poor people. The standard of all these schools must be raised, over time, to that of a Kendriya Vidyalaya (at the least).
- Our schools must move from their present, highly centralized paradigm to one that gets the local community involved.
- For admission into undergraduate and graduate programs, we should aim for just one pan-Indian entrance examination, offered on demand and in as many subjects as necessary.
- Higher education, whose real cost is quite high, is enjoyed by a small minority (about 6% of the relevant population). This percentage may increase, but I don't foresee college goers ever becoming a majority. Therefore, I am against subsidizing higher education. Having said that, I have no problem if the government wants to (or is compelled to) fund higher education by running a college.
- A strong, independent regulation of colleges and universities is a must. It should specify a set of essential behaviours and another of unacceptable behaviours, with a focus on mandating unconditional disclosure of a lot -- a lot! -- of information in the public domain.
- Colleges and universities, run as non-profit entities, must have complete freedom to choose their mix of programs, fees, admission criteria, and in fact, pretty much everything.
Currently, our education policies are characterized by over-centralization, rigidity, an inability to innovate, and an inability to create and nurture large (or even adequate) numbers of high quality institutions. Worse, they have run aground quite a few institutions of excellence that existed at the time of independence. Thus, they have, perversely, forced students to compete for entry into the few good places; in an ideal world, it is the universities and colleges which should be competing for good students.
We should move towards large numbers of universities of all sizes, each with its own unique mix of programs and fee-scholarship structure. Such a system will be student-centric, because stringent disclosure norms would allow students to make an informed choice, and diversity will ensure there is something for everyone. With regulators ensuring only the tiniest of entry barriers, universities will have to compete for students -- good ones in particular. The diversity and competition can be relied on to produce high quality education -- if not for all -- for a far larger number of students than at present.
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Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a happy new year.