The correlation between education and social Issues cannot be overemphasized ever and yet the correlation is not entirely black and white. To explain this, let’s first get into defining both these very important words.
To put it simplistically, a social Issue can be defined as a hurdle or challenge within society that makes it difficult for people to achieve their full potential. This could range across many areas; few examples of global social issues could be poverty, malnutrition, unequal opportunity, unsanitary living conditions and so and so forth. Education, on the other hand, can be defined in many ways. Some define it as the act of teaching and training people, others position it as the art of inculcating moral values, positive thinking, attitude of helping and giving to society. Combine both the definitions and one cannot but see the obvious correlation that without education, the challenges posed through social issues cannot be resolved.
One of the home truths we live with is that education in India has traditionally been under the purview of the government and private institutions. Private Institutions who deliver education services through, however, are expected to do so as a non–profits organisation as the Indian education system is based on the theory that the fundamental purpose of an educational institution is to educate and not to profit out of it and that education access is a right and not to be commercialised like other market products and services. The government of India in the year 2019-20 allocated Rs 6.4 lakh crore or close to US$ 88 billion of public funds for education, per the Economic Survey. About 60% of this is towards school education and the rest towards higher education.
Another home truth that we must know about is that one of the social issues in India is around the problems of sanitation and waste management leading to poor living conditions among many. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched to solve this issue and the main aim of the project is to create sanitation facilities for all and make India a cleaner country to live in by ensuring hygiene across the country. Budgetary allocations towards this is nearly Rs 12,000 crore every financial year and to date the government has already spent Rs 67,000 crore towards this initiative to keep India clean.
If we look at the above two home truths in context, we will soon see a strong correlation in the two. Would India have needed to have a dedicated mission towards Swachh Bharat in the first place? Could we have had a country which over the years post-Independence have had a certain equality amongst all when it came to basic living conditions, hygiene and sanitation? Could we not have had a country with less divide between the haves and the have nots? The single most critical factor that could have unturned the challenges of this particular social issue would have been better education. Could we thus have repackaged the delivery of education to make it more sustainable, entail better learning outcomes and ensure that every child is actually getting basic education that sets him or her apart from the rest when it comes to even preventing social issues that plague this country? Could we have simply saved the Rs 67,000 crore spent on Swachh Bharat if we had an improved education system? This is perhaps some food for thought for everyone.
Today, India through more than 1.5 million schools caters to providing education to more than 270 million students and yet we continue to over the years fight challenges leading to early school drop outs, low enrolments, limited application to today’s and future relevance in industry, lack of jobs; each of which further leading to frustration, increasing economic and emotional disparity and giving rise to and sustaining social issues. Failure to drive innovation, continual repetition of the older paradigm educational programmes to new generations of children who are more exposed to the global changes and limited education delivery strategies to cater to tomorrow’s requirements will only further jeopardize this nation’s reputation as contributor to eradication of social issues through development efforts. If we do not quickly link the gaps that exist in the education delivery process to the many social issues like the one mentioned above, we are at risk of swiftly shifting India’s ‘demographic dividend’ to a ‘demographic disaster’.
The Big Paradigm Shift
Of the many world leaders who have spoken on and for education, two that stood out for me are M K Gandhi’s quote, ‘Education should be so revolutionised as to answer the wants of the poorest villager’ and Nelson Mandela’s famous quote, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world’ – If social issues are to be truly addressed, education reforms are needed at a much faster pace. While the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has to an extent addressed some of the fundamental changes that are needed in the methodology of pedagogy delivery, much more needs to be done to make the process effective on ground. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimates the total financial requirement for India to reach its sustainable Development Goals by the year 2030 at US$ 2,258 billion. For this goal to be met, the deployment towards education will have to go up manifold. Preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s India and for Industry 4.0 requires near transformation of existing schools, government and independent sector alike. Significant investments are needed for setting up thousands of new age innovative schools that shall become models of change.
A shift is required in the following areas on an emergency basis:
- RTE or Right to Education should transition to RTQE or Right to Quality Education
- Given the rise in private school demand in the country, there has to be significant changes in regulations to promote more private institutions to enter into the education delivery space and invest with a long term visibility in mind.
- A change needs to be brought into to enable education to be positioned as a value service so that the beneficiaries ie. parents and students have the choice of getting the best value for the money spent. This cannot happen till we move to a platform of competitiveness, an area that cannot be achieved if we continue to position education services as a not for profit platform. Competition would lead to ever-increasing quality standards and also drive out of the market those operators unable to provide the service parents want.
- Education models must be created so as to bring in a hybrid model of delivery. Sops must be provided and budgetary allocations must factor in wider access to digital devices and the Internet bandwidth customised for education delivery to the last mile child.
- The government must leverage its infrastructure and put it to more efficient use through stronger and more public-private partnership (PPP) models in the education delivery space.
In conclusion, education and social issues are two sides of the same coin. These can never be separated. If the government is serious about reducing the social issues and challenges that exist in the country, a key need would be to bridge the economic and emotional divide amongst its citizens and this can only begin with quality and relevant education to every single child above the age of 3. This can best be achieved if the government takes a conscious decision to separate governance from execution and encourages more PPP models to enable execution and hones its ante to set goals and govern their execution.
(Mr. Vinesh Menon, the author of this article is the CEO-Education, Skilling & Consulting Services, Ampersand Group – The views expressed are personal)