Policy is the statement by the regulatory body or ministry of the government for use by all and sundry. It should be implementable, checkable and devoid of the need to revise frequently. In the absence of strict monitoring mechanisms, even the best of polices would lie dormant.
It should direct the education system for the good of the citizens and the country. It should discourage profit making by those who provide funds. Of course, reasonable profit making will not hurt anyone. It should define inclusivity targets for each level of education. If reservations are to be given their place, the politicians should lay down timeframes when reservations would stop. The policy must remain non-parochial and it should not be influenced by sectorial beliefs.
Education policy will become unwieldy if it attempts to go into the nitty-gritty of the content design, infrastructure, processes of admissions or examinations, the teaching methods or the selection of teachers. For these activities, executive bodies already exist in the country. In the past, political leaders and the executives have been accused of corruption in the recruitment of teachers, their placements, or for allotment of land for educational institutes; this speaks volumes of disinterest in the purpose of education.
In particular, the policy should lay down rules of engagement for the corporate who undertake educational ventures; what should be regulated and what kept to the discretion of the institutes.
The Core Issues in Policy
The fundamental issue in education is how to manage the large volumes for primary education, and how to fund the expensive infrastructure required for the higher education.
Doctrines and Targets – Educating is as much a political consideration as it is socio-economic. Every major change in political regime requires a relook at the education policy, particularly with two aspects in mind; inclusivity percentage and economic options such as manufacturing, agriculture or service sector.
Funding Methodology – Universal Primary Education requires mammoth funding since it must meet the conditions of inclusivity. Securing funding for this level is more difficult than for the higher levels because corporate does not see any returns from these undertakings. Charitable institutions are sporadic and temporary, and long-term dependence on them is unlikely. The policy should therefore elaborate on the rules of engagement, particularly for subsidies, taxation etc, so that funding for primary education can become win-win situation for all.
Belief System –If the government promotes itself as a secular state then it must ensure that the religious schools are restricted from tuning the young minds towards fundamentalism. A balanced view is required on the modern ethics, morality and law keeping in mind the attitudes of the modern youth. What must be encouraged and what not, must be laid down lucidly.
Polarisation – is a menace in our society, but if is allowed to influence the education curriculum or syllabuses it will bring in degradation in character for generations. Primarily these factors are religion, language, region and reservations.
Teachers – Primary education needs numerous teachers; able, noble and motivated. The policy must make provisions for recruitment of adequate teachers, with satisfactory compensations and reasonable timings for them. The role of women in teaching should not be oblivious to their role, commitments and responsibilities as mothers for their own children.
Computers and Internet – Although there is general proliferation of computers and internet in the society, there is still a large scope in deploying these technologies for education. In fact, there is no uniformity in how computers and internet are deployed in different schools, colleges and universities. Things are left to the fancy of individuals who show some knowledge of the subject. Conservative or fearful approach to information technology will hamper the optimisation that we could achieve in resource utilisation of teachers, facilities, and other aspects that require funding. The catch is that the knowledge imparted through these devices should be authentic, well paced, creative and not addictive. It should reduce the student’s burden on time, travel and expenses.
Meetings and Conclaves
The process of policymaking is important as well. Who makes these policies, what processes are followed for this exercise. The forums and conclaves, one could call them meetings, seminars or anything else, are generally attended by a lop-sided gathering. In official meetings, one sees the presence of corporate. In commercial seminars, business partners are present. The representation from administrators and teachers is generally scanty. The press is always present.
Participants of these high-level meetings are unaware of the grass root level issues and difficulties therefore their priorities are skewed. In one such meeting for primary education, a representative of the tribal area asked the logic for attaching proofs of residences for the tribal students in different forms, when such a document is not available in general. Another representative demanded the answer for charging the computers with electricity in remote villages where it was not available for days. And decision makers, were planning to introduce more automation in education at the remote schools!
Those attending such meetings have personal axes to grind, mangers looking for ease of implementation, intellectuals wanting to promote a certain subject, businesspersons looking at profit making avenues and regulator too thinking about joint ventures with the corporate. Speakers overstress a particular aspect as if their experience is more relevant and their recommendation just the perfect fit. The official seminars suffer from the authoritative attitude of those in the chair and hours are wasted for recording minutes of the meetings. Seminars, if commercial, have no standard method of submitting findings and proposals to the authorities. Imagine if hundreds of such conferences are conducted with hundreds of viewpoints, how a policy can be drafted.
The Direction of Meetings
In policy meetings, four issues are generally discussed, content, infrastructure, teachers and methods. Executive thinking of the government focuses on increasing the number of schools, conducting training on teaching methods, formulating innovative syllabi and improving the system of admissions and examinations as the props to good education. They are dead right. It is just that these are details not guidelines. The crux of the educational challenge is not merely dealing with the numbers or techniques, but the question whether our system is able to deliver to the society, individuals with the required traits of character and the ability to perform professionally.