By Vishwajeet Singh Raghav
Universities like Taxila (Swat valley, Pakistan) and Nalanda (Bihar, India), where people from across the world came to learn and disseminate knowledge, once flourished in South Asia. However, countries of the region have not given the same priority to education today.
Sri Lanka’s literacy rate is the highest in South Asia, but there is a problem with the quality aspect of education, with a large percentage of teachers not being properly trained, leading to bad results. Also, there is limited scope for higher education, with few good colleges, especially at the undergraduate level, leading to the outflow of students to other countries like the US, Australia, Canada and India to study or work.
There are two types of primary education in the Maldives; traditional schools where Dhivehi is the medium of teaching and others in which English is the medium of instruction. There is a secondary, higher secondary and a tertiary level of education, with the enrolment percentage dropping with every subsequent level. Lack of gender sensitivity is an important factor in progressively lower enrolment of students.
Efforts by Bangladesh to make primary and lower secondary education free are brilliant but not very effectively implemented so far. There is no unified state system of teaching and social divisions make it difficult for the lower classes to get access to quality education. Non-availability of teaching staff and inadequate space forces schools to run in double shifts, thus reducing teaching time.
The third king of Bhutan, known as the father of modern Bhutan, brought major educational reforms. Teachers are recruited as personnel of the royal service and get recruited as diplomats, but large gaps remain. The biggest challenge is to change the outlook of people towards education.
Major problems confronting education in Nepal include frequent natural disasters, lack of opportunity in higher education and employment which has led to a huge outflow of Nepali students to other countries like India and the US for access to higher education and better employment opportunities. Ineffective implementation of laws regarding early marriage leads to girls dropping out of schools and colleges.
India faces a similar problem like Bangladesh and lacks the quality aspect in the government-funded education system at the lower level. The Constitution of India gives the ‘Right to Primary education’ to everyone but there is a lack of quality aspect which weakens the roots that ultimately leads to an ineffective public education system and makes it difficult for people to compete with their counterparts from private institutions. The education system is very rigid and outdated and is in a dire need of change. Gender disparity in Indian society is another major problem in achieving the goal of education for all.
Pakistan is struggling in the field of public welfare, especially in the education and health sectors. Skewed gender ratios also act against girls joining schools. The country has also become a breeding ground for radicalizing the youth population.
War-torn for the past 30 years, Afghanistan’s education system is very fragile. The government has implemented compulsory education of nine years for everyone and free education till the bachelors is a constitutional right of every citizen.
Major problems the South Asian region faces relating to education are:
- Gender insensitivity and orthodoxy in beliefs;
- Lack of awareness of the importance of education and how it can be a primary driver against poverty;
- Social divides in society which make it particularly difficult for people from the lower strata of the society to pursue education;
- Inefficiency in educational institutions, especially at the basic level; this renders the very purpose of education to be ineffective. It also becomes an important reason for unemployment.
Although there are many problems but there are some success stories. States like Kerala in India have achieved almost 100% literacy and, in Delhi, the pass percentage of government schools has surpassed that of private schools. Sri Lanka and Maldives have achieved high literacy rates both by regional and international standards and can act as a motivating factor for South Asian countries to improve their education system.
Youth population is soaring in almost all countries in South Asia. It is the perfect time for the region to adopt new approaches and ideas to the education sector, as it is vital for the development of the region and would boost its growth. It will also result in creating aware and responsible citizens. On the flip side, this demographic dividend can turn into a demographic disaster if enough attention is not paid because lack of skill and education would result in large-scale unemployment.
The governments have to be more willing to work to implement the current policies and bring in the new reforms. There is also a need for the governments to identify the promising areas in their respective countries which can generate jobs and opportunities.
South Asian countries must change their focus from security concerns to other important sectors like education and health. They can work together, learn and take help from each other, leading to a cohesive South Asia, which would make the region a power to reckon with.
(The author is a graduate studentat the Symbiosis School of International Studies, Pune. He can be contacted at email@example.com)