In a dim, windowless classroom at GMS Moradbas school in rural Haryana state in north India, 40 young girls in their dark blue uniforms crouch on the floor in four straight lines.
Each is following a monotone reading by one of their classmates from a history book about one of India’s liberation heroes. Not a computer, let alone a desk is in sight. Outside, beyond a field of yellow mustard seed and sparring goats, a new high-rise medical college rises above the mist on the edge of the town of Nuh, an hour’s drive from Gurgaon, a new city born out of India’s IT outsourcing boom.
The primary school is a striking example of the struggle to prepare the young, future urban workforce for a fast-growing economy.
Of the 77 girls enrolled in the class only 40 are present today. And students are not the only absentees. Khurshid Ahmed, the headmaster, has just nine teachers for his 450 pupils. Three of them are missing despite a system he has introduced to dock teachers’ pay for absenteeism – a penalty of about Rs400 ($8) a day.
“The buildings are good,” he says as he surveys the school compound. “But not enough teaching goes on. There are lots of ailments and if the teachers have other work they don’t come.”
India may be the world’s fastest-growing economy after China, but its primary education standards in the countryside rank alongside Papua New Guinea and crisis-torn Afghanistan and Yemen, according to some of the country’s leading development economists.
A report released late last year showed that fast-paced economic growth had not translated into improved basic educational standards among its 1.2bn people over the past 15 years.
While 95 per cent of Indian children were enrolled in school – something unimaginable 10 years ago – what happened at school was less impressive, according to the Public Report on Basic Education Revisited written by a group of economists. Some children were unable to read after three years of schooling across the Hindi-speaking northern belt of the country, only 66 per cent of children enrolled in primary classes showed up, teaching activity was “abysmally low” and “mindless” rote learning the norm.
根据由一群经济学家撰写的《基础教育公开报告》(Public Report on Basic Education Revisited)，尽管印度儿童的入学率高达95%（这在10年前是不可想象的），但学校里的状况却不那么如意。在印度北部说印地语的地区，一些儿童在接受3年的学校教育后仍不具备阅读能力，在报名入学的小学生中，只有66%上课，教学水平“低得可怕”，基本上就是“不动大脑”的死记硬背。
The result is an underpowered education system that is struggling to supply the manpower to fulfil roles in India’s rising economy. According to experts, India produces some of the best quality minds from among its top schools and Indian institutes of technology. Those outside the chosen few, however, rank among the worst.
The result, analysts for Grant Thornton, the auditor, wrote in a recent report was that India still lagged “far behind the developed economies and many other emerging economies in terms of education and training”.
The gaps within India are also extreme, says Manish Sabharwal, chairman of Bangalore-based Team Lease, India’s largest recruitment agency. His research into labour trends shows huge disparities in employment, skills development and incomes between India’s 28 states. Those with the greatest concentration of people, such as Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, offer the least opportunity, and some of the worst schooling.
印度最大的招聘公司、总部位于班加罗尔的Team Lease董事长曼尼什•萨巴瓦尔(Manish Sabharwal)表示，印度国内的差距也是极其严重。他对劳动力趋势的研究显示，印度28个邦在就业、技能发展和收入之间存在巨大差异。那些人口密度最大的地区（例如北方邦或比哈尔邦）提供的机会最少，也是教育水平最差的一些地区。
Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate, identifies education, alongside health, as a key area where India needs to close the gap with neighbouring China in terms of development progress. “The gap between the two countries is growing – rather than diminishing – in terms of values of most social indicators of living standards, such as life expectancy, infant mortality rate, mean years of schooling and the coverage of immunisation.”
Indians receive on average 4.4 years of schooling. The ratio of students to teachers in Indian primary schools is three times higher than in China. A class in Bihar, one of the poorest states, can have as many as 92 pupils.
Parents are turning to alternatives whether they are private schools of varying quality or charitable interventions.
Across the road from GMS Moradbas is a learning centre run by a charity called Iimpact that provides 17,000 girls between six and 14 with support across northern India.
The girls there are dropouts from state schools, or come from conservative families uncomfortable with their daughters being in coeducational, mainstream education.
Some of the older pupils in the Nuh learning centre are clear why the government schools let them down.
“I didn’t like the government school because there were no seats,” says Tasleema Begum, a fourth-grade student there.
But Urvashi Nair, one of the charity’s founders, says the obstacles to learning lie as much outside the classroom, in communities where, she says, literacy levels are as low as 13 per cent.
“Many of the local people didn't like the idea of giving girls opportunity. They felt threatened. They didn’t want girls going out of the house. They thought that we were there to corrupt them . . . We always think that these [obstacles] are exaggerated but they are not.”