UP's education system requires overhaul
Uttar Pradesh's education system is in complete shambles owing to its systematic derailment by the previous Samajwadi Party government for political gains. Between 2012 and 2017, when the party led by Akhilesh Yadav held the reins of power, the state had nearly turned academically bankrupt and deep cracks appeared in the edifice of the education system. Massive corruption and fraud had plagued the Education Department during the five-year period. Many of its officials were engaged in illegal acts such as misappropriation of grants and funds meant for schools and colleges, facilitating mass cheating and copying at examination centres and holding back salaries of temporary teachers. The state government openly flouted established rules in the selection of teachers and principals for schools and colleges and favoured few private educational institutions over others.
Under the Samajwadi Party rule in the state, education was not considered a tool of empowerment for the society but rather viewed as an opportunity for its supporters to make money. The misrule had a long-term and damaging impact on the state's education system, particularly the government-run institutions.
As the educational infrastructure crumbled, a drastic fall in the quality of teaching followed leading to disappointing learning levels of children, increased absenteeism among teachers and students, delay in supply of school books, growth of cheating mafia which operated with political support in connivance with Education Department officials and mushrooming of dubious coaching centres and private educational institutes across the state. The state witnessed an increase in the percentage of children that remained out of school and also saw the growing dominance of private schools.
According to the findings in the Annual Status of Education Report 2016 by the ASER Centre, an autonomous assessment, survey, evaluation, and research unit within the Pratham network, the fraction of out-of-school children in Uttar Pradesh increased from 4.9 per cent in 2014 to 5.3 per cent in 2016. The proportion of girls that remained out-of-school was as high as 9.9 per cent. As per Unified-DISE (District Information System for Education) 2015-16 data, in Uttar Pradesh, more than 50 per cent children went to private schools.
The shift towards private school education in the state seems to have become more pronounced since 2012. As that trend grew stronger, many private schools began hiking fees in an arbitrary manner placing a burden on the parents.
In 2015, in two separate cases, the Allahabad High Court had severely pulled up the state government for malpractices, fraud, and financial and other irregularities in the education system. In one of the orders, the Court said that the state could not be allowed to break the backbone of the school system on which the democratic polity professed to thrive. Such was the condition of government-run schools in the state that in August the same year, the High Court directed the Chief Secretary to work out modalities and ensure that all government servants sent their children to primary schools run by the basic education board.
Despite getting pulled up by the High Court, the Akhilesh Yadav government did little to change track, and the abuse of the education system continued. Rather than cleaning up the rot in the system, the focus was more on publicity seeking measures such as the distribution of free laptops. It has now come to light that his government had purchased a total of 14,81,118 laptops in 2012-13 and 2013-14 but distributed only 6,11,794 laptops among students. In a bid to appease the parents of school going children, holidays were declared at the drop of a hat and extension of summer and winter breaks became a regular feature. As a result, the number of school days shrunk considerably, and teachers and students found it difficult to cope with the syllabus.
A World Bank 2016 brief on health and education in Uttar Pradesh said that less than a third of adults in the state had completed secondary education. It pointed out that while there were some gains in schooling for the younger cohorts, learning outcomes had stagnated at unacceptably low levels. It also highlighted that enrollment in private schools was higher than in most states.
The BJP, which assumed power in the state in March this year, has already begun work to clean up the education system. In its Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra – 2017, the election manifesto released before the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, the party had listed several measures aimed at making the state a centre for excellence in education. It promised free education for all girls in the state till the graduation level and for boys till class XII, and waiver of fees till graduation level for those boys that scored above 50 per cent at class XII level. Other promises included aid to students belonging to poor families for higher education, free school books, uniform and school bag to students of poor households till class XII, setting up of world-class institutions of higher education, establishing one engineering or polytechnic college in every district, free Wi-Fi in all colleges and universities, modernisation of government schools and colleges, regulation of fees charged by private schools and focus on research and development in colleges and universities.
Committed to fulfilling the promises made in the party manifesto and cleansing the state's education system at all costs, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is wasting no time in making decisions that would benefit students in their academic pursuits. For starters, 15 public holidays to mark the birth or death anniversaries of famous personalities have been cancelled. Instead, on the birth or death anniversary of a great personality, schools and colleges will remain open and students will be taught about the personality in a special two-hour session.
The Chief Minister has also cracked down on the practice of private tuitions by government school teachers. In a bid to control the problem of absenteeism among teachers in government-run schools and colleges, the biometric attendance system is being introduced. For students, 80 per cent attendance will be mandatory for class IX and above. Officials have been directed to blacklist centres where mass copying takes place and register FIR to check cheating during examinations. The state government could take the ordinance route to regulate admissions and fees in private schools, according to media reports.
Meanwhile, a new education policy that will adequately address the flaws crippling the present system is being put in place with inputs from all stakeholders. The implementation, however, may not be easy. The government should consider setting up a dedicated team consisting of well-known educationists, NGOs, and social workers with proven track record in the education sector, and committed bureaucrats for the challenging task.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)