Message on the wall: Erecting structures don’t make an elementary school
Consistent findings of low learning outcomes have not seen much action by the government. Ironically, the government is in kind of a race to construct more schools, facilities etc without focussing on quality.
For some years, surveys and researches have consistently flagged dismally low learning levels among school children. But the root of it – quality of teaching and learning remains unaddressed.
These findings are validated by the Annual Status of Education Report, or ASER, conducted by the NGO Pratham. The National Council of Educational Research and Training, or NCERT, conducts a similar exercise every 3 years in the form of the National Achievement Survey. Both have consistently reported low learning levels among school children. But the powers that be haven’t initiated a policy change in any state in the country to advance children’s learning.
Unfortunately, the focus of the education administrations at the Centre and state has been on increasing student attendance in schools. Consequently focusing on location of schools, buildings and amenities like toilets, teacher student ratio and their deployment- all quantifiable parameters.
Yet again quality of teaching and learning remained unattended. The Act prescribes guidelines for curriculum development and learning assessments, but changes made to this effect have had no impact on the school experience of most children.
Every time an ASER or NAS report is released there is a growing public clamour for privatisation. It is universally believed that children in private schools do better than in government-run schools. However, there is no evidence to show that private schools, with children having similar demographic features fare better.
These surveys evoke a knee-jerk reaction in most state governments where they try to look for quick fixes. These include remedial classes in the 3Rs during or after school hours, and teacher training programmes to run these remedial classes. However, sadly none of these interventions have ever been scaled up successfully.
In the last month, the group of secretaries on Education and Health: Universal Access and Quality, has recommended an increase in the Centre’s education from the current 3.8% to 6% and also recommended changes in the process of teacher recruitment, education and training.
Increased funding is definitely necessary for a higher quality of teacher education and training. Aside from money there is a bigger question that gets scanty attention by the Group of Secretaries – Is our elementary education system – designed for the economically elite – suitable for the less well-to-do and the poor, or does it add to their misery?
A lot of factors decide this – the languages of instruction which is generally different from their mother tongue, the methods of teaching, the time-frame of the curriculum, the system of testing, as they stand, are unfair to children whose parents themselves lack a decent education. They are doubly unfair to poor children who start school in Class One at age 5 or 6, effectively 2 years later than the children of the well-to-do, who have the better beginners advantage of attending a few crucial years of pre-school before they get to Class One.
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