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How to turn Bihar around: It must fix its broken education system and harness the energies of its yo

Imagine the future of a state whose younger population is growing up without good quality education. One where only 32.57% population in the 16-17 years age group are enrolled in school, and only 44.07% students are transitioning from secondary to higher secondary whereas the transition rate from elementary to secondary is 84.64%. In Bihar around 1,25,00,000 youth, aged between 18-23 years, will enter the job market without good quality education.

Bihar has only 22 universities across the state, having 744 colleges. This means only 7 colleges for every lakh population with an average enrolment of 2,142 in one college, while the national average is 28 colleges per lakh population and average enrolment per college was 721 in 2015-16. Out of its total young population, only 1,78,833 students are enrolled in colleges and universities. Looking at a dropout rate of about 70% between grade 1 and grade 10, the low enrolment at college level is not surprising.

With almost all indicators showing downward trend from primary to tertiary and not being able to stand against the national average, it will not be an exaggeration to say that Bihar’s education system has completely collapsed and requires an overhaul. To put it in perspective, it might be argued that when there are aspirations around ‘demographic dividend’ by harnessing the potential of younger generations, Bihar is unfortunately gearing up for a ‘demographic disaster’.

With a total population of around 11 crore and high population growth rate, rejuvenation of Bihar’s education system should be a matter of national concern. It is interesting to note that after heavy criticism from all sections due to cheating controversies in the last few years, the state government increased budgetary allocations on education by 10.5% in 2017-18 and 25% in 2018-19.

Looking at the systemic failure on indicators such as pupil-teacher ratio; quality of teaching; infrastructure and facilities; dropouts at secondary and higher secondary level; no regular classes in schools: the state education system appears to be on life support and the government is just trying to save its face by burdening the public exchequer. On the front of managing resources, the state was unable to utilise available funds under Rasthriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, which was meant for constructing girls’ hostels, to run vocational courses and teacher training.

Here are some more alarming indicators. About 31% schools do not have libraries and even if they have libraries, children in 36.6% schools were not using the library (which adds up to about 70%). Both ASER report 2016 and DISE’s School Education in India indicated that about 92% schools did not have computers. Only 38% schools have playgrounds, only 40% have electricity. Only 53.38% schools have boundary walls and the rest are unsafe.

Bihar has 37.3% fewer teachers than it needs in elementary school, falling short by 2,78,602 teachers based on the RTE criteria. Only 55% of teachers at secondary level and 40% at higher secondary level are professionally qualified. There are schools without teachers for higher secondary, which leaves students at the mercy of private tutors. According to state education department officials, 2,400 coaching institutes are located in Patna alone.

One of the reasons why government educational institutions failed in Bihar is the rise of private tuitions and coaching institutions, which also led to entry of private schools in the late 1990s. Prior to this, children of the middle class and bureaucrats attended the same government schools, even though their condition was not so good. But now, government schools are no longer important to these classes.

The government needs to finalise a short, medium and long term strategy to turn around the system and harness the energies of its young population. Line officers and Board officials need to be trained and aligned with the strategy. Teachers need to be trained in a phase-wise manner on a continuous basis. Private tuitions by government paid staff must be stopped from primary to tertiary levels. Hundred per cent computerisation will help students in their future endeavours. Extra-curricular activities must be part of the learning process. Sports, life skills, career counselling and guidance should be promoted in schools to expose students to different career choices and for overall personality development.

Education volunteers can be mobilised and accredited to take special classes and conduct extra-curricular activities in nearby schools and colleges by giving two to three hours every week. Alumni’s and other individuals’ ‘emotional resources’ should be tapped under ‘adopt a school’ scheme. If institutionalised, these will not only supplement government’s efforts but will push the system to function and make school management committees transparent and accountable. Parent teacher meetings should be started and held quarterly. All of these can be game changers.

The government must realise that some of its sincere efforts have brought positive results in the state. Girls are on a par with boys in almost all counts in education. This became possible due to the ‘cycle scheme’ and deliberate push by the Nitish Kumar government. If the same government can build roads and achieve good electricity distribution in the state, it can also fix the education system. Education is the only proven tool that brings change within a generation and opportunities to people and to the state. But if the current situation persists, it will be hard to stave off demographic disaster.

The writer, alumnus of a government school in Bihar, is India Director of The Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University. Views are personal

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