It goes without saying that the fine health of schools and colleges is indispensable, but the efficiency of other statutory, non-academic and social institutions—such as prisons, police and marriage—is equally crucial, writes Education Post’s Tanay Kumar.
Bolivia, a country in central South America, has recently launched a new program for its prisoners—Books Behind Bars. The law allows inmates to become eligible for early release if they read books and pass some tests based on those books. After all, jails the world over are officially termed as “penitentiaries,” or sudharagrah in Hindi. They’re supposed to give convicted criminals a chance to repent and rehabilitate.
Shahid Azmi, a former inmate of Delhi’s Tihar Jail, whose life story inspired the National Award winning 2013 movie Shahid, studied law during his time behind bars. He eventually became a lawyer who helped secure the release of more than 40 falsely accused prisoners across India.
Tihar authorities say they do have libraries but it is “not mandatory” for inmates to use them. “We only follow one policy while looking at the overall behavior of inmates. This includes their passion to read or learn,” a jail official tells Education Post.
The point is, if prisons can inspire and help inmates complete their educational journey, it seems hard to believe that Indian educational, administrative and social institutions are still lagging. It’s not much a matter of debate that this sluggishness has already cost India enough.
Most would imagine that the word “institution” only applies to schools and colleges, but that’s not true. The University Grants Commission (UGC), All India Council for Technical Education and similar statutory bodies working under the Ministry of Education are all administrative institutions for education. And sluggishness transcends to other executive bodies of the country—many crucial decisions that need urgent implementation keep rotating in files from desk to desk.
Recently, the UGC passed a law that an online degree from a recognized college or university will be treated in parity with the degrees offered online. Founded in 2003, the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) was formed by seven prestigious IITs to offer technical education to the youth. But it wasn’t until 2014 that the NPTEL started giving online certificates.
Had the UGC moved quickly on this decision, India’s employment rate could have been far better today. As of last year, the employment rate among Indian youth (15-24 years) stood at a disappointing 10.4%, according to the Consumer Pyramid Household Survey of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.
A legislative “institution” in itself, the Delhi Government has issued a circular to incorporate a Student Advisory Board (SAB) in its schools. The circular states that the SAB will comprise of two students each from grades 7, 8, 9, and 11. These students will be taken from 20 shortlisted schools. The SAB is supposed to let the government be in direct communication with senior secondary and higher secondary students to solve their existing or future problems.
Another government institution of India, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) plans to create more than 10,000 clubs that aim to introduce the concept of standardization and quality at an early age for students by March 2023.
In another pragmatic decision, the UGC has released a new order called “Professors of Practice,” paving the way for higher educational institutes to hire industry experts, constituting 10% of their faculty strength. The best part about this move— these industry experts with years of practical work experience don’t need to hold any formal degree to teach. Passed for the well-being of educational institutions that are still stuck in a time warp, this UGC decision could well bridge the existing academia-industry gap.
Now for a minute, let’s leave aside statutory or academic institutions. Let’s talk about marriage, another intangible institution across the globe. The efficiency and well-being of this institution must never be forgotten.
For example, Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said in a televised speech in 1983 that it was stupid that the majority of Singapore men were adamant about marrying women with lesser education than themselves. Yew, widely considered one of the transformational leaders of the 20th century, lamented that only 38% of his countrymen were married to graduate women while more than half of the graduate women were struggling to find a husband.
To fight this irrational prejudice, Yew released statistics on Singapore’s national examinations which revealed that all brilliant students who figured in the top 10% were born of both graduate parents. Needless to say, Yew faced a wave of criticism and protests for this speech, with Singaporeans alleging that he was derogating graduate women by saying they need a husband to survive. All he wanted was a “bright and intelligent generation.”
When it comes to India, the age-old dowry system, where the daughter is considered paraya dhan (alien money) takes the cake. It was a major reason a vast majority Indian women in the 20th century never completed their education. Parents would save money that could be used to educate the girl child so that they could pay dowry when she got married.
Why look so far back? Even today, husbands or their families start getting jittery if the wife wants to work. They talk about the woman’s safety, and this is where the well-being of another statutory institution comes into play—the police.
Recommendations for police reforms have been eating dust since 2006, when the Supreme Court had directed all central and state governments to imply those reforms “immediately.” Police “autonomy”— not absolute independence—would help the wellbeing of numerous institutions, be it academic or non-academic.
A well-known 1994 Hollywood movie called The Shawshank Redemption shows how a banker, falsely implicated in the murder of his wife and her lover, creates a library in the jail he is serving time, and in the process helps several inmates complete their high school education via distance learning.
Although Tihar and most other prisons have libraries, a mandatory scheme like Bolivia’s Books Behind Bars is required for the well-being of the Indian penitentiary system and its inmates. All said, the fine health of schools and colleges is indispensable, but the efficiency of other statutory, non-academic and social institutions is equally crucial.