“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” – an investment in primary education and health care is of utmost importance for a developing economy like India. By providing quality education to its youth at the primary level, and by ensuring adequate healthcare of its population, India will be able to strengthen its foundation – the building blocks of a better future. Both these sectors are not only important for the economy of the country but also for its social and cultural development. While both the sectors have expanded rapidly in the last decade but the quality remains pathetic on account of misguided implementation. The essay looks at the problems that face Indian primary education and healthcare systems and some possible solutions.
Primary education – why is it important?
The semblance of an education system in India was established by the British colonial state. However, its main aim was to educate the Indians enough to produce able clerks, for their commercial establishments and government offices. So the education system that they introduced in India geared only for producing clerks.
Education has the potential to be a catalyst for development, a bridge from poverty to prosperity, and from exclusion to participation. But for education to achieve these objectives, it must inspire and develop children to think creatively, reason systematically, and release their potential to shape their own future. Education can be truly transformative if it is holistic, ambitious, and inspirational in its approach. Post-independence and more than 70 years later, statistics would point that more Indian children are in school today than ever before, but the quality of public schools has sunk to low levels, as government schools have become the reserve of children at the very bottom of India’s social ladder.
·India’s literacy rate according to the 2011 Census was 72%, well below the global average of 86%. This has improved only slightly since then.
·Literacy rate - the capability of a person aged seven and above who can both read and write with understanding in any language.
·According to Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2018) survey - The students are not able to learn the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic and do not meet even elementary mathematics standards.
·While enrolment has improved sharply since 2006 for both boys and girls, not only at the primary but also in the 11-14 age group, literacy and numeracy skills remain dismally below par. The ASER survey covered 5.46 lakh children in the age group 3-16 across 596 districts. What is alarming is the decline in reading and arithmetical abilities at the Class VIII level since 2012, with government schools faring worse than private ones.
Of its 1.2 billion inhabitants, 74% are literate, making India home to the largest illiterate population in the world. A productive education system needs to focus on science, math, engineering and technology - the skills that employers look for to fill jobs. Inefficient teaching methods, such as rote learning, which focuses on memorisation as opposed to critical reasoning, are still widespread at the primary and secondary school levels. Primary education is the foremost and basic right of every child. It is the first step in making of the character of child. The role of primary education is to ensure broad based learning of the child. This includes development of social, cognitive, cultural, emotional and physical skills. What a child learns in the primary years of schooling reflects in their later years. The reasons for the poor standard of education in India are:
·poor student attendance
·inadequate teacher preparation programmes
·rote learning practices
·the modern examination system is regressive in its testing regimen which needs immediate reform
·schools are not fostering love for learning
Real education is more about wide reading, deep thinking and asking hard questions rather than simply reproducing crammed answers.
·Formal teaching needs to be supplemented by after-school tutoring, and summer camps supervised by NGOs with emphasis on non-conventional innovative pedagogies
·The Right to Education Act has been quite successful in achieving 3 broad objectives: higher enrolment, lower dropout and completion of mandatory basic education
·We need to transform curriculum and teaching practices to focus less on rote learning or straightforward calculation and more on relevant skills, like communication, reasoning ability, problem-solving and reasoning ability, and critical and independent thinking
·India needs to invest in teaching and teachers – good teachers will produce better students
·Adequate resources, higher standards for teachers and the flushing out of corruption must all be part of a reform package that seeks to make Indian education the nation’s top priority.
Primary healthcare in India
“Healthcare should be a human right and not a commodity for sale” – WHO defines primary health care as a whole-of-society approach to health and well-being centred on the needs and preferences of individuals, families and communities. It addresses the broader determinants of health and focuses on the comprehensive and interrelated aspects of physical, mental and social health and wellbeing. It provides care for health needs throughout the lifespan, not just for a set of specific diseases. Primary health care ensures people receive comprehensive care - ranging from promotion and prevention to treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care - as close as feasible to people’s everyday environment. Stronger primary health care is essential to achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and universal health coverage. WHO recognises the central role of primary health care for achieving health and well-being for all, at all ages.
Patient to doctor ratio in India, especially rural India is a concern, even today. The Lancet reports that even though the number of health facilities in rural areas has shown an upward trend getting enough doctors to work in villages still remains a formidable challenge for India. The sole answer to the problem at hand lies in attracting more MBBS doctors into villages, primarily with better working conditions, adequate infrastructure, and increased salaries. The medical education in India has evolved to serve a very small privileged section of the society and along with the natural science essentials, it has carried with it the cultural accretions of the West. To serve the country’s health requirements is one of the prime objectives of medical education.
·India’s 2017 National Health Policy commits the government to investing a major proportion of resources to PHC. The main mechanism to achieve this are the 1,50,000 Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs), which are intended to become the main points of contact for communities within the public health system.
·These centres will provide comprehensive health care, covering around 70% of out-patient care, including non-communicable diseases and maternal and child health services. These centres will also provide free essential drugs and diagnostic services as well as referral access to secondary and tertiary health care.
·The government has made efforts to achieve universal health coverage through is initiative, the Ayushman Bharat programme. Launched in 2018, the programme includes the health insurance component, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojna (PM-JAY), etc.
The goal has to be two-fold:
·that of creating a competent primary-care physician
·and one that is oriented to ‘health and community’ rather than ‘disease and hospital’.
·Unless the motivation of our medical workforce is aligned with our healthcare needs, no measure shall succeed in effecting a solution to our problem. We need a medical curriculum that is adequately oriented to primary care and community health, and a healthcare system and policy environment that gives them their due.
Health, well-being and education are the building blocks of any nation’s progress. Ensuring adequate measures to help every citizen achieve and have access to these basic minimum rights should be any nation’s priority. When the youth – the future – is trained and taken care of, a country is bound to achieve success. India’s neglect and lack of implementation of policies in these sectors has contributed to its backwardness. With policies oriented towards these areas and its healthy and timely execution, India can achieve better results.
(Sources: who.org / indianexpress.com / thehindu.com)