By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, September 4, 2021: “Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu Gurur Devo Maheshwarah Guru Saakshaata Parabrahma Tasmai Shri Guruve Namah”. This auspicious mantra is recited and chanted on Teacher’s Day and Guru Purnima across the country. This Sanskrit lyric is a prayer to the teacher or Guru who helps us in solving all the troubles that we encounter in the path of learning and wellness. Since Guru leads to a path of light, we bow to that Guru.

Reverence for the teachers is manifest all through one’s life. Every year on September 5, Teachers’ Day is celebrated. The day also marks the birth anniversary of former President of India Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. “Teachers should be the best minds in the country.” Radhakrishnan had said.

The teacher is central to good education – at its very core while education is the process between the teacher and the student. If education has to improve, teaching has to improve – there is no way around this. There are 9.68 million (in 2019-20) school teachers in India. The private sector comprises the major share of teacher education institutions in the country, with the government’s share being less than 10 percent.

Ironically, the quality of academic support, both pre-service and in-service, provided to teachers to-day leaves much to be desired due to poor inputs, lack of resources, and a series of professional constraints. Teaching has become mostly uninteresting leading to poor classroom processes and little learning. The country’s investment in teacher development and managerial capabilities of education functionaries are insignificant

Equity in and quality of education remains a challenge resulting in poor learning outcomes and an overall loss of confidence in the public education system. Several government programmes intended to improve quality have been implemented, but most have not really translated into a changed reality for our students.

Though education has been brought to the forefront of the national agenda, there are no specific, detailed time-bound provisions for improving infrastructure in schools. The New Education Policy (NEP) draft document had clearly stated that: “All schools will also be provided with computers and internet connectivity for pedagogical purposes, infrastructure and materials to support differently-abled students, safe drinking water on the school premises, functioning toilets with running water, separate for girls and boys, and basic hand washing facilities by 2022.”

NEP, dubbed as historic and first omnibus policy was issued in July last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic and it is indeed surprising that it does not acknowledge the existence of such a crisis, nor does it suggest concrete steps to address it.

The outbreak of corona virus pandemic has made a huge impact on various aspects of human life around the world. It has not only affected health but has also virtually demolished economic edifice and changed other important areas of life, most crucially education. Most of the Governments around the world had to close educational institutions in a bid to contain the spread of the deadly virus making it the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries.

In India too, the government as a part of the nationwide lockdown has closed all educational institutions, as it’s better to be safe than sorry. Most probably, schools and colleges remained closed last year and even to-day, majority of the educational institutions are shut due to an increasing number of COVID-19 cases. Learners ranging from school going children to postgraduate students are severely affected. The UNESCO estimates that about 32 crore students are affected in India, including those in schools and colleges.

One-third of our population is of school-going age (3-18 years). Keeping 250-plus million children away from school has impacted learning severely, and will have a long-term socio-economic impact. In fact, the ongoing pandemic has offered an opportunity to rethink the deep-rooted classroom mode of education and underscored the significance of online learning. It has been a great leveller as it has enabled various stakeholders to collaborate and assess the gaps and shortcomings in the conventional model. There is an urgent need for sweeping reforms in the education system.  Our constitution seeks free and compulsory education for all children up to 6-14 years, but the promise of providing education to all is still an doubtful goal till date.

In all the budgets from 2016 to 2019, the budget percentage was in the range of 3 to 4.6 percent. However, according to the government think tank Niti Aayog, India should increase the education expenditure to nearly 6 per cent of the GDP over the next two years. In 2020-2021, the Modi government spent only 3.2 per cent of GDP on education, down from 4.14 per cent in 2014-2015 down by 25 per cent.

As per the latest ‘World Talent ranking report’ by Institute for Management Development (IMD) – a business education school based in Switzerland, total public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP ranks at 35th, expenditure per student – as well as both measures of the quality of education (pupil-teacher ratio in primary and secondary school) – rank at 62nd in the list of 104 countries.

Education is the most important means of raising the people’s standard of living, according to Dr B R Ambedkar, the Chief Architect of Indian Constitution. His slogan was “educate, unite, struggle”. Similarly, Nelson Mandela, former South Africa president said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

The Modi government should leave no stone unturned to take up the challenge and ensure inclusive education in the country as education is the first step for Indians to gain the knowledge, critical thinking, empowerment and skills they need to make this world a better place.

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