China 20 years ahead, but NEP can help India improve education quality – UN University paper
New Delhi: A study that seeks to compare primary education in India and China, which together account for around a third of the world’s population, suggests that the former lags its neighbor around 20 years behind in terms of policy measures towards quality education .
The study – a working paper published last month by the Finland-based think tank, the United Nations University’s World Institute for Economics and Development Research (UNU-WIDER) – was produced by two academics , Naveen Kumar of the University of California at San Diego and Vinitha Varghese of the University of Illinois at Chicago.
It seeks to explore the ‘key lessons’ India can learn from China, which shifted its focus from ‘quantity’ to ‘quality’ two decades before India’s new education policy took effect. national (NEP) 2020.
The authors claim that China’s adoption of “New Curriculum Reform 20 Years Ahead of India’s NEP 2020 has set China on a path of equitable development of ‘quality’ compulsory education”.
However, he adds that “NEP 2020 has components that have the potential to improve the quality, equity and efficiency of the education system”.
India’s “late achievement”
In the 1950s, according to the study, India and China were almost on par in terms of their approach to education – focusing on higher education, especially science and technology.
However, according to the study, in the 1960s, China prioritized the fight against illiteracy while India continued to emphasize higher education in science and technology. India introduced free and compulsory education in the form of the right to education (RTE) in 2009, decades after China, the study notes.
As a result, between 1961 and 1981, China’s literacy rate rose to 68% vs. 43%, while India reached 41% vs. 28% over the same period.
India’s emphasis on higher education has come at the expense of “combating mass illiteracy”, the study said, adding that this problem was further exacerbated by “the inequality of access to education”.
The gaps between the literacy rates of the two countries have since narrowed. According to the World Bank, in 2018 India had a literacy rate of 74% while China’s was 97%..
The UNU-WIDER study notes that most of the improvement in literacy in India has occurred in the past few years, while China has had an advantage over the past thirty years.
“China has been close to 100% since the early 1990s and India has gone from a literacy rate of 62% (of the 15-24 age group) in 1990 to 92 % in 2018. The difference in gains made in youth literacy rates comes down to the fact that India is lagging behind in the primary education policy game,” he says.
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Approaches to primary education
The next key difference between these countries, according to the study, is their approach to primary education.
In the 1970s, the working paper says, China made education compulsory for all and as a result its school enrollment rates soared. In 1985, China’s gross enrollment rate—the ratio of the number of children in school to the number of children in an age group corresponding to the grade level—reached 100%.
China’s push for primary school enrollment showed progress in the 1990s, when its secondary school enrollment rate rose. In India, the increase in secondary school enrollment only occurred after the early 2000s, according to the study.
Since the 1990s, an average 25-year-old Chinese has consistently had nearly two more years of schooling than an Indian, the study notes.
China’s investments in quality
In 2001, China began revamping its education policy to focus on quality education rather than exam-based rote learning, the latter system facing a backlash from parents of students at as enrollment grew, the authors note.
Under its new education policy, the Chinese government has invested in infrastructure, changed its curriculum, reduced its emphasis on exam-based learning, and provided incentives for education in rural areas.
Although India has invested in free compulsory education, midday meals, building separate toilets for girls and boys, increasing the number of schools, etc., the approach, according to the authors, mainly consisted in dealing with quantitative measures.
“India’s race to increase school access and infrastructure at the expense of efforts to improve the quality of education has led to a widening gap between India and China in quality, equity and efficiency,” the study says.
This has led to “increasing isolation of children from less privileged social classes” and school children with “poor learning outcomes” in public and private schools, he adds.
The path to follow
The authors believe that India’s NEP has the potential to bring about reforms. From Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), reforms in teacher recruitment and training to standardized testing (measuring learning outcomes using a common benchmark across grades 3, 5 and 8), the NEP can provide the quality boost that the Indian education system needs, say the authors.
But the authors made some policy suggestions — adding more workers to every preschool and changing the way teachers are recruited, trained and rewarded. They also recommend that there are measures to ensure that standardized test results are free from data manipulation.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
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