There’s a curious ambivalence in the minds of the great majority of adults in this country towards the nation’s youth. Although a great deal of lip service is paid to their talent and potential for development, the minimum is done to enable the world’s largest child and youth population (550 million Indians are below 24 years of age) to blossom and flower. Clear proof of this ambivalence is the reluctance to raise annual investment in education from the current 3.8 percent of GDP to 6 percent — a recommendation made by the Kothari Commission way back in 1966. The consequence is that tens of thousands of India’s 1.25 million primary and secondary schools lack basic infrastructure such as proper buildings, blackboards, drinking water and lavatories — let alone luxuries such as laboratories, libraries and computers. Little wonder that half the children enrolled in primary school drop out before they make it to class VIII. It’s not that they don’t want to learn; little learning is possible in 21st century India’s over-crowded and ill-equipped classrooms plagued with chronic teacher truancy.
All of the above criticism is inapplicable to private schools and education institutions. Paradoxically, even as the overwhelming majority of the country’s 950,000 government schools are in a shambles, India also boasts a few hundred of the best private schools worldwide. The huge annual stampede for admission into private schools across the country is an indication that while the Central, state and local governments don’t have much time for quality primary-secondary education, the people of India — particularly the 300 million-strong middle class — are willing to make great financial and other sacrifices to provide high quality school education to their children. And given adequate learning facilities, opportunities and encouragement, the youth of India can attain great achievements.
Proof of this assertion was in abundance at the GlobalScholar- EducationWorld Young Achievers Awards 2008 celebration staged in Chennai on January 17. Eight finalists, shortlisted from 960 young achievers who entered or were nominated for these annual awards from around the country, paraded their talent before a specially constituted, high-powered judges panel. In a process that began last October, entries/nominations were invited in specific categories — science, maths and technology; sports; social work, and arts and music. The achievements of the young (12-25) finalists were revealing and inspiring. These young achievers comprehensively banished any reservations or cynicism entertained by the judges — such as your editor — about the capabilities and determination to excel, of generation next. To be similarly inspired and motivated by the GS-EW young achievers of 2008, you need to read this month’s cover story to transform into a champion of quality education for all.
Alas, the misfortune which has befallen K-12 education in post-independence India has not spared higher education. In our second lead feature, Delhi-based special correspondent Ajit Jha explains why Delhi University — India’s most highly rated — is ranked 274 in the authoritative THE-QS World Universities Rankings 2008, way below several Chinese, Thai, and Malaysian institutions of higher learning.