False Dichotomies of Education : Daily Current Affairs

Date: 30/09/2022

Relevance: GS-2: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, and Human Resources.

Key Phrases: Capacity to question, Contributing constructively in society, Freedom vs discipline, Memorization vs understanding, Knowledge vs skills, Collaboration vs competition.


  • When we ask whether education should develop children’s capacity to question things in society or their capacity to contribute constructively, it is almost certain that most will say education must do both.
  • But in the practice of education, one of these objectives often gets far more important.


  • There are those educators and institutions that, in practice, are far too focused on the capacity to question, while there are others, perhaps a larger proportion, that don’t think about it at all.
  • Young people who have only learnt to question and not contribute are dysfunctional. On the other hand, those who are educated to be unquestioning contributors can hardly improve the world.
  • These are two extremes that emphasize that education must do both in theory and in practice. There are many such complementary matters which are too often perceived to be dichotomies.
  • Good education must account for all these matters, and not make choices between them because these are false choices.

Examples of some false dichotomies of education

  1. Freedom versus discipline:
    • Too often, in the reality of school cultures, discipline and freedom are seen as opposites; either children are disciplined or they are free.
    • We know that both freedom and discipline are equally important. Not only in education, but in life.
    • But channeling freedom and discipline together towards learning is a constant struggle for educators. And so, educators often choose between the two.
    • It is easier to handle students with one rather than both. This is educationally ineffective, and potentially creates lifelong problems for students.
  2. Memorization versus understanding:
    • Rote is not useful, while we know that understanding is very important.
    • But understanding and memorization are not in conflict. Neither are practice and creativity.
    • In fact, memory plays an important role in developing conceptual understanding, as does practice in creativity.
    • An educational approach that relies on one alone cannot achieve its goals. The two must operate together.
  3. Knowledge versus skills:
    • Children are heavily burdened by the requirement to acquire knowledge in their subjects.
    • Yet, precious little is done to develop their skills and capacities to process and use that knowledge.
    • For instance, the development of an ability to communicate, or think critically, takes a back seat to soaking knowledge and content in courses.
    • This has fueled the other extreme where skill development attempts to compensate for the inadequacies of education systems.
    • However, just as education that doesn’t develop skills is not useful, development of skills without content is inadequate and usually impossible.
  4. Education for employability and employment versus a liberal education:
    • Education that does not emphasize general capacities of critical thinking, analysis and development of character undermines citizenship.
    • At the same time, education that ignores economic goals of productive livelihood too undermines the individual. The two have been unnecessarily seen as dichotomous.
    • It is a challenge to the education system and educators how to have liberal education which also equally develops capacities such that students can find gainful employment.
  5. Collaboration versus competition:
    • Not so much the formal structures of curriculum but the practices and cultures of our institutions, particularly of exams and entrance tests, present these as dichotomous.
    • From life experience we know that competition of various sorts is a reality, and without collaboration, human beings can’t function.
    • Thus, institutions must be able to foster an environment of both collaboration and competition together, much like life.
  6. The common-size-fits all versus the contextual:
    • In any education system, some matters have to be common across the system, while some must be entirely contextual.
    • This is a basic feature of any education system that serves any society. For that society to function as one unit there are common things that must be learnt.
    • But equally clearly, there are contextual matters specific to areas, places, cultures and more.
    • It is this balance between the common and the contextual that education policies must achieve, rather than serving any extreme.
    • A related matter is that of empowerment and instruction. The nature of education is such that empowering institutions and educators make it most effective.
    • However, this autonomy has to be within a common set of principles across that education system.
    • Complete autonomy on everything is as dysfunctional for societies and communities as a deeply hierarchical, tightly prescriptive approach.
  7. Love and affection for students versus a distanced professional approach:
    • Education is at its core a matter of relationships, particularly between teachers and students.
    • Devoid of nurturing and affection, this cannot be the kind of relationship that can help a child develop in all her dimensions.
    • At the same time, the teacher must have the distance to be able to play her role on the basis of what is required for the child’s education. Good parenting is not very different.

Issues in Education sector in India

  • Over the years the Indian government and institutions have been working to reform the existing education model and have been successful on many counts yet there are several issues.
  • Inadequate government Funding: India spends close to 3% of its total GDP on education according to the Economic Survey which is very less as compared to developed nations.
  • Lack of infrastructure: Schools in India are lacking basic infrastructures such as drinking water facilities, a functional common toilet and separate toilets for girls.
  • Low faculty-student ratio: Very few Indian universities are featured in the top rankings of the world primarily due to low faculty-student ratio and lack of research capacity.
  • No coherence between education and demand of Industry: Industries end up spending large amounts on providing training for employees because of this.
  • Inadequate teachers and their training: The 24:1 ratio in India is way lower than Britain's 16:1.
  • Quality of Education: The ASER reports present a very dismal picture of learning outcomes in India.

Data and statistics related to education sector in India

  • Public funding in India is around 3.1% of GDP and R&D expenditure at 0.62% of GDP.
  • Enrolment ratio is close to 100% at elementary level and retention rate is at 70.7% at elementary level.
  • 7% Schools are facing teacher's absenteeism.
  • In Higher Education Institutions, 78.6% are in the private sector. Gross Enrolment Ratio for higher education is 27.1% for 2019-20 (global average 36.7%).

Way Forward

  • Good education requires not dichotomies, but a consistent endeavor to balance and achieve complementary ends, both in theory and in practice.
  • National Education Policy 2020 is sweeping in its vision and seeks to address the entire gamut of education.
  • It acknowledges the 21st century need for mobility, flexibility, alternate pathways to learning, and self-actualization and can prove to be a game changer for India.

Source: Live-Mint 

Mains Question:

Q. Good education must account for both - the capacity to question as well as capacity to contribute constructively to society. Discuss in the context of various dichotomies present in the education sector. [250 Words].