Education is essential for economic and social development. It is viewed as the most effective means to eradicate poverty. It even counters the widening inequality in the society by promoting employment, improved-earnings and health across the social classes. All this cumulatively leads to social cohesion. Of course, there is a great ‘if’ behind all these averments: if only education is accessible to everyone.
With the passing of RTE Act, government thought that it had addressed this issue squarely, for it offered a framework for making education available to children freely, at least for eight years, across the nation. No doubt, the spending on schools rose by about 80% in 2011-15. The literacy rate has also risen from 52% in 1991 to 74% in 2011. Midday meal programme is said to have helped children go to school regularly.
That said, it must also be noted that the education in the government run schools remained a big disgrace. A survey conducted by National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) makes certain disturbing revelations: 42,000 schools that are run by the government in the country have no buildings; 26% of the schools are run in rented buildings; 10% of the schools, i.e., more than 100,000 schools, are run in single-room structures. Among them, 90% are located in rural India. About 81,000 schools do not have even blackboards.
Besides the lack of physical infrastructure what is more disturbing is: quality of education that these schools offer. Sometime back, Economist observed that “half of its [our] nine-year-olds cannot do a sum as simple as eight plus nine. Half of ten-year-old Indians cannot read a paragraph meant for seven-year-olds.” Much of this is, obviously, owing to poor competency, or the ethical standards of the teachers manning these schools. Secondly, the automatic promotion of pupils from one class to the other has made the job of teachers that easier: they need not ensure that their pupil understood the lessons that they were supposed to teach. Ironically, within the government schools, there is a wide gap in the quality of education offered by Kendriya Vidyalayas and schools run by municipalities and by panchayats in villages. Which means, nothing much has changed on our educational front!
Amidst this disturbing scenario of our education system, the recently launched economic reforms had only heightened the need for ‘efficient’ work-force. For, efficiency alone can lead to growth in a highly competitive markets. Which means that it is only when individuals maximize their own selfish utility that the resulting competitive equilibrium can become Pareto-optimality. In this emerging milieu a certain class of parents picked up ‘outward orientation’ strategy as a means to get their wards fit for survival in the ‘knowledge economy’. For them education is no longer simply going to school. They realized that to prosper in a rapidly changing economic scenario, their wards need more than basic literacy—they need skills to think, to be problem-solvers and to be innovative and creative as they advance in life.
As a result, the high school students are today facing considerable pressure in acquiring necessary competency to write competitive examinations to gain admission to elite colleges/institutes of higher learning such as IITs, IIMs, NITs/desirable university courses, etc. Even after acquiring the requisite skills to succeed in competitive examinations, students need to further work on building up necessary skills to eventually graduate from the colleges and be ready to face the challenges of real world. It is needless to add here that it is only those with consistent good performance in the education that secure well-remunerated employment. As against this, those who perform poorly will end up with very limited economic prospects for the rest of the life.
The net result of these pressing demands is: anxious students and worried parents. To come out of this predicament, parents, who could afford, have turned towards supplementary tutoring, which is widely known as shadow education. In the recent past, shadow education has become more dense and widespread worldwide. For, it helps slow learners to catch up with their peers, while the high achievers are enabled to reach new heights. It indeed promotes personal academic development. Its contribution to human capital is, of course, substantial.
As a result, today, for thousands of children, schooling is not ending with the evening’s long bell. They are indeed straight going from there to some kind of private tutoring. Sometimes, they may undergo such tutoring within the same compound. It is also not uncommon for the government school teachers, who are incidentally, known to be indifferent to their students in the schools, offering private tutoring, that too, quite effectively, in the same school compound or at their residences or in private establishments. And students undergoing such private tutoring don’t have the luxury of weekends even.
In spite of such tight processes, all that these institutions could accomplish is: make the students cram the facts. And make them practice answering model question papers rightly and faster, perhaps. And the net result is: students do succeed in getting admission in their choicest institutes but at the cost of their ‘creativity’. And surprisingly, such private tutoring has penetrated even post-graduate courses.
Private tutoring has indeed become an enterprise by itself. A study carried out by the Pratichi Trust in 2001/02 and 2009 established by Amartya Sen revealed that the proportion of children relying on private tuition has gone up from 24% to 58% in West Bengal, but what is more alarming is: the general conviction among the parents (78%) that private tuition is “unavoidable” if it can be afforded. Shadow education appears to be more prevalent in urban centres than in rural side. And, unsurprisingly, it is the educated parents who are more opting for such private tutoring for their wards.
Shadow education, though an all-pervading phenomenon across the globe, is causing great distress to Indian parents by demanding considerable financial investment. This demand for additional investment is, unfortunately, often found to result in boys walking away with private tutoring at the cost of girl students.
No doubt, shadow education has the potential to deliver desirable results but it also has a flip side: shadow education has the potential to divide student population into haves and have-nots and thereby undermines the very potential of education as a tool to lessen the inequality in the society.
This phenomenon, obviously, warns us that our public education system needs immediate correction, else it may distort the societal dynamics.