Big Ideas for India Contest: Question 10: How do we change the functioning of the education sector?

No social sector has been harmed by the government’s action as much as education. Near complete control of the sector coupled with a disregard for the quality of education has set India back substantially in the development process. Manufacturing needs an educated workforce. Neither is India getting education, and nor are people getting the right kind of jobs.

One could argue that literacy in India is now reaching 74%. That is only happening because the bar for considering a person literate has been lowered substantially through the years. In reality, a large percentage of fifth grade kids don’t even have the skills that an educated second standard kid should have. This early deficiency ends up continuing through life.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have so-called graduates who are unable to get jobs because the skills needed by employers are missing. And yet, a parallel coaching class industry sucks away tens of thousands of crores as parents spend to get their children into the limited number of seats in engineering and medical colleges.

If there is one sector that needs a complete transformation, it is education. The question is: where do we begin? What are the set of changes that are needed to radically overhaul India’s education sector to ensure the demographic dividend?

Contest Overview.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.

10 thoughts on “Big Ideas for India Contest: Question 10: How do we change the functioning of the education sector?”

  1. I agree with you completely, we’ll essentially end up wasting the demographic dividend if we dont get education right. The following could be good first steps:

    1. Work backwards from a mega vision for India, and boil down on requirements on graduates in various sectors. DO NOT base it on jobs, this will mislead you (for example, everyone would be an IT engineer) – if you work backwards, you might realise that India needs more Civil engineers for example. Then get these numbers down to the AICTE / other respective approving authorities. This might sound complicated, but it is not. it is fairly straightforward.

    2. Get more focus on working during education – this is something that is so common elsewhere but is a rarity in India. Education in India so far has been considered a step before an employment – it need not be so.

    3. Improve focus on Maths and Science more towards applications.

  2. Focus on opening up the education sector to private players. My family in India is involved in the education “business”. I use the quote around business because the government doesn’t really encourage treating education like a business. While I still consider that profit may be a secondary objective but even introducing it as an motivating factor will lend much-needed efficiency and innovation in teaching methods and foster competition even at the small-town level. If there is anything my family has learned in the years of being in education is that, people are more than willing to pay for a better quality of education so let us not call miscellaneous fees as “donations”.

    I would however caution against focusing solely on maths and science. The U.S. is already making this mistake post-NCLB, the liberal arts education is just as important. The critical reasoning skills and qualitative methods skills is what makes us human. I would in fact argue for more diversification of education in order to offer more choices to people. This point goes hand-in-hand with my first point on privatizing education. I’ve already begun seeing alternative careers bloom in India, something that would’ve been unthinkable pre-liberalization.

  3. We need to –
    a. Permit private sector investment and involvement in education. Nothing quite works like competition and the profit motive, the market will weed out poor performers
    b. Promote school vouchers and cash transfers to the poor to pay for schooling – school choice and/or charter schools are great methods of improving access and quality to primary and high school education
    c. Look to build more universities – either completely private or with governmental support or in public / private partnership
    d. Appoint regulators who will ONLY overview curricula from a standpoint of minimums in skills or knowledge that students should have AND monitor testing efforts to see how much students are learning

    The key is to ENABLE the development of education options, not to develop them through the government.

  4. We need to have a purely numbers based approach here, we need to collect data first on where exactly the requirements are, prioritize these and then allocate energies towards that.

    I dont think we have any issue on undergraduate education right now, if anything, we might have an oversupply of these, i might be wrong here, but we need some data before we can start making these decisions

  5. Like in most areas, things will improve if the government let’s the private sector do it’s job. There is enough money that is desperate to invest in education, if only they are allowed to make profits. Education is a service industry and competition will ensure that there are no super-normal profits.
    Anyway, pointless rant. It ain’t gonna happen.

  6. For primary and secondary education, provide vouchers with higher value vouchers for a higher deprivation score. (Deprivation score idea taken from –

    For tertiary education, scrap the idea of provision of education and concentrate on certification. Define aptitude tests for various fields at various levels and conduct certification examinations for the same. Have the exam purely based on the usage of knowledge. Let the persons taking the exam use any calculators or any devices available to them in real life. Let anyone at any stage of life who wants to take these certifications be able to take them, fee fully reimbursed, if they pass and partially reimbursed, if not.

    Have free entry of private institutions.

    This will fully clear out the mess of how many institutes are needed, how much should be taught, what facilities and libraries are needed, so on and so forth. Coaching classes to enter institutes will be replaced by coaching for cracking these certification exams.

  7. Setting the right incentives is the only way to set the system right.

    – We need more schools: However, entrepreneurs have no incentives as profit making is not allowed. Further, scaling without profits is difficult. I am sure there are people who can bring out low cost good education systems that can scale up provided profits are allowed. Many politicians and real estate guys are anyways making money in education using work-arounds. However because of illegal methods used, do not scale up.

    – We need more teachers: But nobody wants to become a teacher because of low pay. On the other hand teachers cannot be paid much because that would be directly proportional to fees charged from students. What about creating a deferred payment system wherein students pay back after they start earning. Long shot.

    – Good quality of teachers: Create clear incentive structure for teachers based on the performance of the students they teach. Specially in government schools.

    – Motivate kids to come to school (Mid-day meal is a good incentive and somewhat a success) and current students to not drop out. Paying money might help. Can work done by kids in schools be commercialized to earn this money?

    – And lastly, use technology.. Had penned down some thoughts on this some time back here –

  8. 1) As already explained in the question itself, government must get out of business of providing education or even controlling it.

    2) As can be seen from all best education institutes in the world, government presence has nothing to do with quality.

    3) It must be extremely easy to start new educational institute so private players enter the field. Also government should provide autonomy to choose the curriculum to these institutes.

    4) Any student must be able to get the loan for his/her education and these loans must be given at lower than bank loan rate by the institute itself. If institute is providing right kind of education to its students, It must also believe in its student’s future and be ready to loan them at lower rate.

    5) Government must invest in infrastructure projects/health sector/create jobs/power/internet sector. As improvements in these sector is directly linked to overall education sector improvements as common man’s life is controlled by these very things.

    6) Provide high tax credits for the people with very good education which choose to enter education field after higher education.

    7) Any new technology which improves educational quality/reach should get very high incentives e.g. education apps on computer etc/ipad like devices etc.

    8) High incentives for people with good higher education who work in education sector rural/backward areas of country

    9) Get out of textbook control crap. Government has no business to be there and students must be free to get their study material from wherever they wish.

    10) In general, the way I like to imagine the country is where any student can get the best education available in it at any level without requiring money (not free but through low interest loans) and without any limitations as long as he/she show required skills/dedication.e.g. If I have skills/dedication and want to be doctor, there must simply be no road block to be one, other than my own abilities. Government must do everything possible to make this happen and provide right incentives to all the players which will have to work to make this happen. Once student is doctor , he/she will pay back the loan and done. Absolutely no dependency on economic state/caste/medium of education/region in the country etc.

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