I am a product of the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education. I did my undergrauation from the University of Mumbai. I realize that is was not the best education in the world, but it was not bad either. Currently, I am directly competing with students from Delhi University, where the courses are said to be more rigorous than they were in my alma mater back in Mumbai. But it somehow has enabled me to be at the same place as my Delhi counterparts. Hence the question, should there be a uniform syllabus across different universities throughout the countries? Or it is fair that universities be given ample autonomy to set their syllabi keeping the various factors that affect them in mind?
My argument is simple. Each university does not attract the best quality of students. There is a huge variation in the academic capabilities of students before they enter university and keeping the quality of the student intake in mind, the university set syllabi accordingly where the student is not forced to jump from point A to point C where she does not comprehend what is going on in the classroom at all. There has to be some sort of continuity and smoothness in the education that a person attains overtime. A more rigorous syllabus cannot be just forced to a student who does not have enough background preparation to make sense of this higher level education he is exposed to.
The counter argument is not so bad either. Students will not push limits until they are asked to. Let us say, for example that the syllabus followed at a particular university is considered to be the best countrywide. Now should all other universities adopt it as it is, students will be exposed to something they never otherwise would have been, and be forced to stretch their limits to extents they might not be aware themselves about. But, this could turn extremely advantageous or completely disastrous, maybe. I feel there are a number of factors that make sure a universal higher education system is bound to fail.
Firstly, the Government is a welfare institute. A blanket syllabus that is a best practice in a part of a country in tertiary education will work against the welfare concept. Falling pass percentages, plagued with declining student morale does not make the Government fulfil its welfare promise. Having said that, the Government is not encouraged to spread mediocrity, but maintaining a positive sentiment is also known to work wonders. Secondly, every student might not be willing enough to push her boundaries whenever there is an opportunity or an obligation to do so. The amount of hard work that a student puts in is an exogenous factor that cannot be determined while formulating such a blanket policy. Keep in mind, I am not taking into consideration the student’s capability or talent, just the amount of effort or hardwork she is willing to put in.
If at all such a blanket policy is to be adopted, it should start at the very primary level of education. There has to be one point of time where all state boards of education are prepared to implement the same kind of syllabus throughout the country. A severe amount of background work has to be done in order to implement such a policy, which might take a couple of years on its own. Then, the higher education reforms should be brought in place keeping in mind the time the students who have been subjected to uniform education reach university. Education infrastructure, teacher quality, student-teacher ratio has to be brought to a threshhold before such a policy is implemented, which is work-in-progress right now.
Looking at the positives, such a policy in the long term will help eradicating an entire brigade of maids, peons, lower level factory labour class from the labour force as no one will take up such informal sector jobs. The job market will have matured, and there will be a high level of automation due to an increase in the level of quality of education. India will be able to retain its best brains.
However, starting reforms directly in tertiary education can prove to be disastrous. I see more ill than benefits in that idea. For that, firstly primary education should become a union subject and there is only one board of education that encourages best practices. Primary education should be heavily subsidised, or possibly free. This will gain long term benefits for the economy. I see this as a crucial step for India to enter the third stage of demographic transition. But the start has to be from the very base, not top-down.