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Focus on schools, not IITs

The other issue is the desperate need to improve school education. Take the latest ASER (Annual Status of Education Report). It shows that the proportion of class 5 students who can read a class 2 text has declined 15 percentage points since 2005. The proportion of class 8 students who can do division has fallen 23 percentage points. This is not a new discovery. It was much in evidence as early as in 2002 (http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/1836961/report-poor-school-education-could-destroy-india). Only the pace of decay has quickened.

Hitherto, good school education has been possible either for the rich or those from ‘upwardly mobile’ families (http://www.dnaindia.com/money/report-policy-watch-education-system-promotes-non-inclusive-growth-1939390). It is critical that good school education reaches out to the poor; but without sacrificing academic standards. Remember, the biggest leveller of inequality is good quality school education.

Some of the funds for school education could easily be got by reducing the grants for higher education. The 70% unemployable graduates translate into Rs11,830 crore squandered each year (the allocation for the Department of Higher Education was Rs16,900 crore in the Budget for 2014-15).
What India, therefore, needs is not more IITs, but better schools. And school education can be improved only if the academic filters are restored on the one hand (http://www.dnaindia.com/money/report-policy-watch-stress-on-numbers-rather-than-quality-makes-education-outlays-flawed-1946086), and teachers paid better for outcome-based performance on the other.

By focusing on better standards at school, you will have less of sub-standard students getting into college, thereby improving both the teaching and the outcomes at college as well. Moreover, as any academician will tell you, no amount of good college education can cope with the damage bad schooling can cause for 10 years. The rot must be stemmed at the school level itself. Hope India’s new policymakers understand how serious the situation is.