The boast often made by supra nationalists and/ or apologists of licence-permit-quota raj which has struck strong roots and continues to hold the nation hostage, is that post-independence India has produced the worldâ€™s second largest reservoir of scientists and technicians. Though on first hearing this seems an impressive achievement, on second thought it seems absurd given the shabby, run-down condition of the nationâ€™s infrastructure â€” roads, buildings, bridges, railways, hospitals, sanitation, irrigation systems etc. I believe itâ€™s legitimate to conclude that if the countryâ€™s infrastructure is in a shambles and the Made in India tag for manufactures is a disincentive to purchase (Indiaâ€™s share of world trade is less than 0.5 percent), the education system which licensed these engineers and technicians is highly suspect.
Not so, says Dr. R. Natarajan chairman of the Delhi-based All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) which licences, supervises and accredits over 5,000 next best (excluding the IITs) institutes of engineering, management, computer science, architecture and pharmacy education which inject 450,000 trained graduates into the bloodstream of the national economy every year. According to Dr. Natarajan â€” a technocrat I greatly respect â€” the abysmal condition of the national infrastructure is the consequence of managerial and systemic failure. Proof of the basic soundness of technical education delivered in India is the remarkable success of Indian engineers and managers abroad, he says.
Be that as it may, itâ€™s quite obvious that Natarajan is not complacent about the quality of education being dispensed by the 5,000 institutions of higher education under his watch. Ever since he took charge of AICTE in November 2001 after a six year term as director of the undoubtedly world class IIT-Madras, Natarajan has been working at a furious pace to improve the monitoring, appraisal and accreditation systems of the council to raise the entire floor level of the technical education system. The systems and strategies he and his team have devised â€” within the constraints of modest annual budgets â€” to achieve this praiseworthy objective sine qua non, is the subject matter of this monthâ€™s first-of-its-kind cover story.
For educationists and the cerebral, our special report on the need for a common school system is likely to prove perhaps even more engaging. Why is the school education system patterned like Indian Railways with its first, second and third class carriages? Forty years ago the Kothari Commission trenchantly criticised the unequal school education system which perpetuates class distinctions and impedes social mobility. According to our assistant editor Summiya Yasmeen, the solution is not to level the admittedly elitist 10,000 or so world class private or independent schools downward, but a determined effort to upgrade academic standards in the huge mass of government schools at the bottom of the education pyramid. The assumption of office in New Delhi by a new, education-sensitive government offers hope that such an overdue upgradation effort will be made.
An appeal: EducationWorld is bleeding due to insufficient advertising support. Perhaps some of the myopic gentry who are recklessly throwing advertising rupees into cluttered, short shelf-life, ill-informed publications to reach messages to parents, academics and teenagers need to reappraise EducationWorld â€” Indiaâ€™s sole education newsmagazine â€” which has an estimated 400,000 readers spread over every state of the Indian Union.