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QUALITY LOST

In a country like India, the making of education policy is a difficult and onerous task. It involves striking the right balance between quality and quantity — the excellence of the education being imparted and the number of people receiving the benefits of that education. In the early years of the republic, Jawaharlal Nehru, in keeping with his vision of creating strong and efficient manufacturing units, decided to build centres of excellence in the fields of technology and management. This produced the first clutch of the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Management, and led to the further development of the Indian Statistical Institute. In the early 1970s, S. Nurul Hasan, as the education minister under Indira Gandhi, took this vision forward by sponsoring research institutes in the social and the fundamental sciences. Some of these institutes and some of the IIMs and IITs — in spite of the fact that the pursuit of excellence has a remarkably brief life in almost all educational institutions in India — have continued to maintain their standards, and the ISI is, even today, considered among the best in its own field. The Nehruvian vision in education and its achievements are not something to cavil at.

In recent years, there has been a drift away from that vision. Manmohan Singh, till date the prime minister with the best educational qualifications, believed that the quality of education in India could be enhanced by establishing more IITs across the country. He did not pause to ponder where the quality faculty would come from to deliver quality instruction. Mr Singh’s successor, Narendra Modi, who promises a rupture from the past, seems, in this regard, to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor. In his address to the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha — a speech meant to be a vision statement of the new government — the president announced that every state in India would have IITs and IIMs. It is being assumed that an increase in quantity will by itself lead to an improvement in quality. The assumption has no basis. In fact, the exact opposite might very well be true. Mr Modi needed to think differently — for example, how best to improve the research output of all the existing IITs to bring it to the global standards that the one in Kanpur meets. Mr Modi has not ventured in this direction. On education, the new prime minister is yet to articulate a vision. More of the same cannot be a vision. It is the path of ennui and anomie.