“India’s Great Problem”

The headline in the NY Times article simply says, “INDIA’S GREAT PROBLEM: Nobody Knows How to Educate Her 300,000,000 People.” It begins

For many years past, those who have known India best have recognized that one of her greatest, if not her greatest, problem was that of education.


The article goes on to quote experts who have concluded that even if the government were to decree compulsory education for everyone, and even if money did not matter, the problem is finding the teachers required. I concur with these experts that finding teachers is a challenge at least as great as finding the money and the political will to educate — or at least make literate — India’s vast population. The article also recognizes the deep-rooted conservatism and the resistance to reform in education. I could not agree more.

Here’s a bit more from the article.

There can be no question that … education in India has largely failed because … education has been made far too much a question simply of intellect . . . one of the most pressing needs of India is to foster more widely in schools and colleges, those ideas of duty and discipline, of common responsibility and civic obligation on which a sound political life depends.

It is specially welcome to find that an increasing number of prominent Indians are beginning to recognize the truth of this contention, and the importance of securing for their fellow-countrymen an educational system rightly founded.

The article concludes with a quote from Sir James Meston at Delhi referring to the apparent obstacles to progress in India’s path: “Only education will help the liberal mind and understanding heart to surmount these barriers, and prevent the majority from becoming a tyranny and the minority from chronic rebellion.”

The NY Times does highlight every now and then some issue facing contemporary India. The aforementioned NYTimes article is timely and to the point. The sad fact is that the article was timely and to the point when it was published nearly a century ago. Yes sir or madam, the date on that article is October 1918. The situations remains the same; only the numbers have changed.

In 1918, British India had 300 million illiterates. That means, within the boundaries of present day India, there must have been around 200 million illiterates in 1918. Today we have 400 million illiterates. Nearly a century has passed and the number of illiterates have doubled in absolute numbers. And consider this: the government of India has been at the job of educating its population for over 60 years.

India’s greatest problem is this: the government has been doing its best to keep the population uneducated and illiterate. Public funds for education are channeled in only such ways so that it is least capable of delivering education. Corruption and inefficiency collude to keep the funds from actually educating anyone.

India’s great problem is education. India’s greatest problem is the government.

[Hat tip: Ashok Bardhan for the NY Times link.]

2 thoughts on ““India’s Great Problem”

  1. thequark Monday March 17, 2008 / 12:27 pm

    First we need to change our view of education. 12 years of schooling in hectic stressful schooling and kids still do not know what to do in life, barely aware of the world just outside their walls.

    We can not dream for education of the 10+2+3/4 type for _each and everyone_ in the country. It is an investment which many parents will not be able to make and government as a caretaker will be inefficient to support and implement.

    BTW Atanu are their statistics available for illiterate and poor in first world countries? I have always wondered are their illiterate in US.

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