An agenda for Smriti Irani: Five issues that need immediate attention

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In the backdrop of a scathing critique of her performance and style of functioning by University Grants Commission (UGC) member M.M. Ansari, minister of human resource development Smriti Irani has promised that the government will consult a wide cross-section of society when it begins work on a new education policy next year. Here are five pressing issues in the Indian education system the government needs to tackle.

Stem the school dropout rate

More children are joining school, but are dropping out at every stage. Just 20.8% of boys and 17.9% of girls go on to pursue higher education. This figure is lower for children belonging to scheduled castes (13.5%) and even lower for those from scheduled tribes (11.2%).




Lift teaching standards

Many schoolchildren are lagging behind in basic reading and arithmetic, their education compromised by the lack of good teachers, paucity of funds and inadequate infrastructure. Several metrics that measure the quality of education are dropping further. For instance, the percentage of Class III children in government schools who can subtract has fallen from 33% in 2010 to 19% in 2013.




Level the gender gap

The gap between the literacy rates of males and females is still high. That difference was 18.3 percentage points in 1951 and rose to 26.6 percentage points in 1981. In 2011, it was 16.3 percentage points—a marginal improvement on 1951.




Draw more students into higher education

As shown by gross enrolment figures earlier, only about 20% of youth pursue higher education. The drop from graduate to postgraduate is also steep: only 13.8% of those taking up some form of undergraduate course study further.




Make them more employable

A trained labour force is a prerequisite for India to achieve higher growth rates and also to generate higher incomes for workers. But colleges churn out unemployable candidates, making hiring an expensive process (due to increase in training costs) for companies, who also have to deal with a paucity of talent.






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