India 101

To keep up with its own growth, India will need to take swift action on its education system.

India is currently the world’s fastest-growing major economy, now surpassing China’s fabled GDP growth. But to keep pace, the country will need to overhaul its education system, which is in a “horrifying state,” reports Quartz India.

In the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, some college teachers reportedly lack basic knowledge of their discipline. For example, an economics professor did not know what an “audit” was, or that “IMF” stands for International Monetary Fund. In one 12th grade class in the neighbouring state of Bihar, a top student thought “political science” had to do with cooking.

A recent study by the Human Resource Development ministry found that the curriculum does not encourage creativity, innovation, critical thinking or independent problem solving. Education is based on rote learning and students gain little practical knowledge. Basic arithmetic skills still elude students, even in higher classes. 

The country is home to the largest illiterate population in the world: 282.6 million illiterates over the age of seven in 2011. (Note, however, that India’s total population is 1,251,695,584, according to World Factbook — the second highest population in the world.) Although more children in the six-to-13 age group now go to school, enrolment rates in the upper primary levels (sixth and seventh grade) are very low.

Surprisingly, the country boasts the second-largest higher education system in the world, although the gross enrolment ratio remains low, at 23.6% in 2014-15. That said, higher education has entered a stage of massification.

With his country’s GDP presently growing at a yearly rate of 7.6%, prime minister Narendra Modi hopes to turn India into a manufacturing powerhouse, counting on the fact that, by 2050, 1.1 billion of its citizens will be of working age. But the poor quality of the education system might prove a drag on his effort.