As the world’s largest democracy is at the threshold of celebrating the 75th year of Independence, India has come a long way in pushing the boundaries of its education sector, helping learners achieve full human potential and developing a just and equitable society.
The Indian Constitution upholds its citizens’ Right to Education as a Fundamental Right and has provisions to ensure that the State provides education to its citizens, making it incumbent on part of the federal governments and local bodies to ensure that every child within the age group of six to 14 years gets an education in a school in the neighbourhood.
But the biggest challenge that has presented itself before the federal governments has been to ensure academic continuity for children across strata, in another year spent battling a global pandemic.
“The pandemic witnessed a massive disruption in primary and higher education across the world and India was not insulated from it. The Indian school system being the second largest in the world and the higher education system being the third-largest in the world prompted every stakeholder in the education system to reimagine ways to educate our next generation,” explains Dr Arindam Banerjee, Associate Professor and Deputy Director, Global MBA and MGB programmes, SP Jain School of Global Management, Dubai.
For providers of educational services in India, moving to an online education system across spheres had its own share of positives and negatives.
Banerjee adds, “Among the best things that could have happened as a result of the pandemic revolves around the gradual shift from the evolution of the traditional education system to the revolution of the digital space. This led to a situation of no more back-benchers, introverts and the no-participative students who suddenly felt being very much part of the digital classroom. Additionally, students availed locational accessibility and the effective utilisation of time.”
Experts further highlight at the same time, it cannot be ignored that as a country among the emerging economies, a significant section of the population lacked internet connectivity and accessibility to digital devices that widened the digital divide for underprivileged students. Not to forget, the shifting focus from the chalk-and-talk method to overreliance on technology led to the shift of physical proximity to digital socialisation.
Dr Vikas Nand Kumar Batheja, Co-Founder and Director, Capital University College says, “While the new developments are commendable, a chunk of the sector is constantly fighting challenges such as an unstable internet connection, uninterrupted power supply, lack of finance in building a robust education platform and difficulties in replicating the rapport between teachers and students. While professionals continue finding alternatives, one thing seems to be established — edtech and online learning will prevail even after the pandemic.”
India’s new education policy hailed as a ‘change-maker’
Alongside, there is a clarion call for the implementation of India’s new education policy. Defining the New Education Policy 2020 to be a ‘change-maker’, experts acknowledge that emerging from the global pandemic with a stronger education system is an ambitious vision and one that requires both financial and human resources.
They are optimistic and argue that articulating such a vision is imperative to guide the future of the country.
Veteran educationist, Annie Mathew and Principal of Gulf Model School, Dubai, underlines, “The new pedagogical structure, the multidisciplinary approach, the de-compartmentalisation of academic and vocational streams and the universal access at all levels will go a long way in putting the Indian education system at par with the best education systems in the world.”
NEET: Historic decision for expatriate communities
Moving to a recent and more local development, India decided to allocate a centre in Dubai for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Examination (NEET) 2021 entrance exam. This is being perceived as a huge step forward by the international community especially in the face of the existing travel ban.
The decision positively impacts a significant chunk of the non-resident Indian students in the UAE, ushering in respite both for NEET aspirants and their families.
The Education Ministry had earlier set up an exam centre in Kuwait for the Indian student community staying in the country, which is also a first.
Dr Rajesh Mohnot, Head of Finance Department, Ajman University, says, “With the growing number of NRIs in the GCC, it is essential to have educational facilities accessible in the region. The recent decision of the Indian government to have a NEET centre in the UAE is a welcome move. As the pandemic has affected almost all courses of human lives, contemplating and implementing this type of initiative would certainly help NRIs to continue their educational goals.”
Experts: Reservation is a double-edged sword
Meanwhile, in another milestone move, which seemingly displays unbounded optimism, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced a 27 per cent quota for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and 10 per cent reservation for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) category in the All-India Quota (AIQ) scheme for undergraduate and postgraduate medical and dental courses, hailing it as a victory for social justice.
Taking to Twitter after the ‘landmark decision', Modi stated: “This will immensely help thousands of our youth every year get better opportunities and create a new paradigm of social justice in our country.”
Dr Vikas Nand Kumar Batheja, Co-Founder and Director, Capital University College, opines, “It is promising to know that around 1,500 OBC students are likely to benefit from this new reservation policy and almost 2,500 students in the postgraduate league. On the flip side, this new policy can spur a controversy as students from other communities could believe this as a partial decision without fully considering their efforts and reducing their chances of enrolling into top medical universities.”
Reiterating similar thoughts, Dr Mohnot further says, “This decision on the ‘reservation policy in medicine’ may have been more shocking than surprising for many Indians.
While the reservation policy in jobs and education has been a long debatable issue in India, political leaders have been blamed for it on the simple appeasement ground and vote bank politics. But they always defended in the name of ‘social reforms’ and ‘social justice’. I personally see reservation in education a double-edged sword.”
He avers the continuation may have a less talented pool of medical professionals and the healthcare services may be viewed as substandard.
“If we do not have this reservation, a larger section of our society may be away from basic healthcare facilities. In my view, a more pragmatic approach would be to have more participation from the private sector in the medical and technical education sector. This will ensure talent to prevail and social justice to be served,” adds Dr Mohnot.
Dr. Behrad Elahi, MD Fellow of European Society of Cardiology and Interventional Cardiologist at Al Zahra Hospital Dubai, talks about how raising awareness on health risks and taking steps to prevent diseases can go a long way in reducing heart-related morbidities