Education, Bureaucracy, standards and progress in India
Written by Mitra Ardron
Wednesday, 09 February 2011 00:45
I'm currently in India, spending some time at Auroville, where there is a lot of sustainability and renewable innovation. One of the questions of interest to me is how good ideas can diffuse into 'normal' rural life. Money - to be specific, the cost of sustainable technologies and the front-loading is one issue which I've talked about elsewhere, and another is the suitability of technologies to the rural situation - i.e. how maintainable is it, can it survive long periods of 40°C and 100% humidity etc.
Another issue - and one that is new to me, though I shouldn't be surprised - is the internal problem of over proscriptive, rather than results based regulation, especially where access to subsidies is concerned. To give an example: I visited a training college, some of their courses are subsidised, for example their electronics course, but in order to get the subsidy it has to follow the government syllabus that probably hasn't been revised in twenty years. So the college has to struggle between providing a relevant course, and a compliant (subsidised) course.
A former staff person of the college told me how, on another occasion, they had to buy old-fashioned drafting tables and typewriters, just to sit in a store room, because having them was a requirement for another course - even though none of the students had the slightest interest in learning how to use out-dated technology.
It seems to me that if India ever wants to develop then its bureaucrats have to learn flexibility - and not just the kind of flexibility that accompanies a handful of cash changing hands. It needs to be open to solutions that are better than those in minimum standards.
By the way ... this is not to pick on India - Australia has its own places where out-dated and protectionist standards prevent progress, for example in the area of inverters or solar hot water heaters, leading to over-priced and/or out-dated equipment being the only choices. Australia is also prone to proscriptive regulation, i.e. where it tells you how to do something, rather than the results to be achieved.
Since writing the above I've spoken to two sets of teachers here in India, one dealing with high school 10-17 and another with slightly younger kids. Both had similar reactions, i.e. that the education system - while reaching more kids - is seriously broken. As one put it - I'm forced to teach these children using rote learning, they are essentially learning to parrot material that they don't understand, in fact, they often don't even understand the words they are using never mind the concepts. They can repeat back to me exactly what I've said, but if I ask even the most basic question they can't answer. She also complained that there was little she could do because the Tamil Nadu high school curriculum effectively required her to teach this way. All that she could do was supplement the curriculum as far as possible.
Maybe it is intentional, maybe an un-creative population is one less likely to question the injustice and poverty that they live under. For example another teacher said .... their idea of creativity is that the teacher draws something on the board and the kids all copy it. Yet another vocational teacher commented on how they'd asked the kids to design a logo for a project and every single one drew a version of the school logo with minor changes to words, color or shape. He said - these kids have never had to make a decision in their life, their father told them to go to school, now he's telling them to take this course.
So far, all those I've spoken to have been western educated, (some indian ethnically, some european or australian).
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