By Jessica Bahr:
For many living in Western societies, India is synonymous with exotic culture, sights, sounds and smells. When we think of India, we think of spirituality and temples. We think of Bollywood, dancing, and women dressed in saris. We think of overpopulation, slums, and extreme poverty. We think of a country yet to fully modernise; a country very different to our own.
However, what many are unaware of is the fact that India is a country already in the midst of monumental change. A country well on its way to becoming a global economic superpower.
In 2014, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in India was worth over 2066 billion US dollars; representing 3.33 per cent of the world economy. In 2015, India’s growth rates are expected to be 7.5 per cent and will almost certainly surpass that of China- a feat previously unfathomable. India has the world’s third largest market size, is home to over a million millionaires and has doubled its share in global venture capital in recent years. The upper and middle classes in India are flourishing, with incredible developments in skills, power and information technology.
Despite this prosperity, however, progress often remains hampered by corruption and the vast majority of rural populations are impoverished, with around 170 billion people living below the poverty line and lacking access to basic essentials such as clean water, sanitation, nutrition and infrastructure.
In the education sector, India also remains far behind the world’s other powerful countries and exhibits stark contrasts between classes. Literacy rates in many rural areas are incredibly low, with many children lacking elementary levels of education.
Prishant Chauhan, Assistant Professor of Social Work at Amity University, believes that while the government is working to improve education systems, many of the issues are also rooted in culture.
“We have a lot of issues, here in India. We have a diverse population with a lot of issues. In that, education plays a very important role. India is doing a lot in education through projects; a lot of new things are coming up but there’s still a long way to go. If you look at the population in remote areas, the quality there is a big challenge for us.”
“People are also not aware of the importance of education and how it is useful for them. That’s why they are not sending their kids to schools. So I think availability is there, people are less aware though. People are not taking it seriously and this is one issue.”
The issue of both education quality and attitudes toward education is echoed by Jennifer Star, who runs the NGO Tara.ed, based on teacher training in rural and remote areas.
“I don’t think access is the problem in India these days. The problem now that India is struggling with is quality. They say there is 97% primary school enrolment. So 97% of Indian kids are able to access a school, but once they’re in the school sometimes the teacher isn’t there, or there’ll be 104 kids in the class, or there’s no resources and so they often don’t go to school or they make a choice not to go because there’s no quality education”
While this has simply been accepted as being ‘the way things are’ throughout modern history, these issues within the education sector may be set for improvement in the coming years. With the Modi government releasing India’s first education policy since 1986 and setting an aim to have 500 million Indians trained by 2022, the capacity for improvement in education may be set to be truly engaged. Successful implementation of policy paired with proper utilisation of resources has the potential to heavily assist in children in rural areas receiving adequate education and improve literacy rates around the country.
On the topic of economic prosperity assisting in reforming the education systems, Professor Chauhan is optimistic.
“Economic growth is something which is very important and if India develops then definitely things will change.
I think overall in India education is quite improving and there are some challenges, we accept that. But I think in the next five years or ten years down the line, India will be a very strong country in terms of education and there would be no person without it.”