The multitude of reservations that a General category student must contend with to secure a college admission is putting-off to say the least. One begins to lament about the sorry state of the Indian education system, cursing the times and even the massive Indian population – the country’s favourite scapegoat. But these problems are only symptomatic of the deeper issue of the lack of focus on the part of the Indian government on the improvement of primary education facilities for underprivileged children.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009 is one of the latest attempts of the government to promote more inclusive development in the country, 80% of elementary education is provided by the government. Concomitantly, the ban on child labour and schemes like the mid-day meal programme are instances of government intervention with the objective of promoting the development and well-being of the lives of the Indian children.
But with serious issues such as a severe lack of basic infrastructure, a shortage of qualified and well trained teachers and even a lack of political will, government education falls far short of the need of the day. In such a situation, where only the privileged few gain access to higher education, the current provision for reservations in this area might be justified on the basis of the desirability of equity in a society.
An important question that arises in such a situation though, is whether or not the students who gain admission to colleges via reservations are actually capable of undergoing the rigours of their particular course or even university education in general. Since the major proportion of primary educational institutions are provided by the government in our country, the quality of government education is a crucial enabling factor in the sense that it provides the necessary background for students to participate in various fields of academics or work environments after school.
As a Delhi University student, the disheartening observations that I have made in this respect imply that these students, not considering those who went to private schools, are severely constrained by factors such as the poor quality of their previous education, their inability to effectively grasp English – the medium of instruction in most cases, relative to students of the ‘general’ category, and other social factors and attitudes that, to a certain extent, restrict interaction between students from different socio-economic backgrounds. Though there have been some improvements in the gross enrolment ratio in the government’s District Primary Education Programme, and a slow trend towards gender parity in primary education, significant improvements are still required to bring these government facilities on par with private providers of education in our country. Indicative of the low quality of government primary education is the recent study showing that class 5 students are not adept at handling basic mathematical and language questions of the class 2 level.
The policy of reserving college seats for the underprivileged, therefore, requires serious revision and it can at best act as a temporary leg-up for vulnerable sections of the society with restricted access to educational opportunities. I feel a more concrete system of providing good quality education, perhaps with private sector assistance, especially at the primary stage, would lead to faster and more definite improvements in India’s education situation, thereby minimising the need for reservations and encouraging admissions solely on the basis of academic achievement. Another factor in easing the stress of college admissions, of course, is the urgent requirement for the expansion of facilities for higher education, implying huge investments and involving long periods of time.
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