BY OAISHIK BHATTACHARYA
Telling tales of the India education system being plagued by myriad issues of caste-based segregation and alienation often makes headlines across national dailies. Despite numerous state interventions into the education sector which makes public education free for all up to the age of 14 and higher education relatively cheap, education in India has mired in mediocrity. Countless reports accentuate the fact that a dire need for educational reform is the pressing issue of the hour and should dictate policy making.
Historically, India has made tremendous strides when it comes to educational reforms, it has managed to uplift the general populace from the quagmire of illiteracy of the early independence era to a literacy rate of 74%( as per 2011 Census).Though a lot has been achieved through a robust primary and secondary education system, yet much remains to be attained.
Various Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who had previously been beyond the pale of common society are now partly represented through the phenomenal quota system. The quota system abides in mind the generational inequality that had been doled out to these disenfranchised groups pre-independence. However, an unabated rise in private colleges as well as the government’s ever constricting fiscal reforms policy in higher education is detrimental for the Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and Other backward classes who find miniscule representation in the higher education system.
While students from the Scheduled Castes background constitute 14.9% of Total Enrollment Ratio, Schedule Tribe representation in Total Enrollment is poised at an abysmal 5.5%. Gross Enrollment Ratio in Higher education among students of backward communities like the Schedule Castes and the Schedule Tribes is well below the national average of 26.3%. Gross Enrollment Ratio in Higher Education is a summation of students within the 18-23 age group who have registered for Under graduate and Post Graduate courses. Gross Enrollment ratio for higher education among the Schedule Caste is at 23% while for Scheduled Tribes it is at an abhorrent low of 17.2%. To put these numbers in perspective if the Scheduled Castes in India had a population of 100, only 15 among them would register for school, out of which 3 would further enroll for higher studies. The disparity among the Scheduled Tribes is even more severe.
The situation has been further aggravated by the state’s limited provision for investment in Higher education. The funds furnished for higher education has seen a constant dip and there has been a stellar rise in the number of Private colleges and institutes that marketize education. Out of the 39,931 colleges enlisted in India a whopping 77.8% or more are Private Sector initiatives. Chomsky’s critic of the system of education that embellishes critical thinking by shifting a cumbersome financial burden of the cost education on young impressionable minds become all the more poignant. Coupling Chomsky’s idea with Ford’s “Factory Model of Education” Private institutes hence become “the backdoor of the school(institute) that lead(s) to the factory “
India’s raucous society that is riddled with caste hierarchy and segregation becomes a recipe for disaster as costs of education rise in Private institutes. Whereas Private Unaided Institutions coerce individuals to pay a whooping Rs 19,972 for a lowly graduate degree and for a post graduate degree the same individual must incur a fee of Rs 26,839 per year. A general graduate degree only fetches opportunities for menial employment. Average yearly expenditure pertaining to Technical and Professional courses are staggeringly high and often beyond reach for a significant amount of Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe households. Students from the aforementioned groups generally belong to low income households. These two groups comprise of almost 21% of India’s population according to 2011 Census. With a population of 20.1 crores a lump sum portion of the Schedule Castes reside in rural India and are employed in the informal sector scraping hard to make a living. Similarly, a substantial portion of Scheduled Tribes reside in villages and account for 10.5 crore of India’s population.
Similarly, dropout rates amongst these communities in higher education are well above the national average of 47.4. Also, at the All-India level representation of teachers from these communities are at a record low of 8.8% for SC’s and 2.36% amongst ST’s.
Further rise in the cost of education hence contributes to the further isolation of the SC’s and ST’s who are generationally disadvantaged when it comes to landholdings as well as on counts of affluence.
Coupled with this the State’s reluctance to invest in Higher education and a constant diminishing monetary input in funds for Higher education paints a bleak picture. Higher education has been allocated a meagre Rs 39,466.52 crore and the Department of Higher Education’s “projected demand” of Rs 58,250.9 crore was refuted. There has been a steep cut of Rs 507 crore in funds earmarked for Central Universities. The 46 Central Universities in India are institutes of eminence and repute that bolster India’s image in front of the world. The number of students from SC and ST backgrounds enrolled in higher education in Central Universities is reasonably high and hence they would be amongst those adversely affected by these measures. With a meagre enrolment of 17,051 SC students and 5900 ST students in PhD programmes across India universities, the future will be an uphill battle for these communities.
Also, a significant portion of students from the SC and ST background are not at the liberty to wait and undertake internship projects after completing their respective graduation and post graduation degrees. The cost incurred due enrolment into higher education is often taxing enough for students from these families. Hence many of them are not at the liberty to undertake internships that pay nothing or only frugal amount. This coerces them to undertake menial jobs there by creating Under Employment and de-motivates students from their community to undertake higher studies.