We can fix it if we have the will to do it
By Ashvini Ranjan and Dr. Bhamy V. Shenoy
Pratham conducted for the first time a nationwide survey called ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) during 2005, to assess the learning levels of primary and upper primary school children in rural India. 6,00,000 children between the ages of 3 to 14 in 3,00,000 homes were tested. Close to 35% of children in 7 to 14 age group could not read a simple paragraph (grade 1 level difficulty) and almost 60% of children could not read a simple story (grade 2 level difficulty). This finding came as a rude shock to the educationists of the country who hitherto believed that children were learning by attending school.
During 2018, a similar survey was carried out by Pratham of a similar age group and what was even more shocking was that even after a lapse of 13 years, the basic skills of reading, writing and the ability to do a simple math had not undergone any change. The closure of schools due to Covid pandemic has further deteriorated the levels of learning. In Karnataka, the only State to be surveyed during March 2021, has recorded a further decline in children’s learning. The current situation is nothing short of a crisis and it should touch the conscience of the nation. Has it ?
The Department of Primary and Secondary Education has initiated a number of measures to stop this decline in learning. Schools have reopened and efforts are underway to get the children back into the classrooms. But sadly, the tools, practices and methodologies of teaching however remain the same. We continue to ignore measures that has the potential to bring about the desired change.
According to a 2018 report by National University Education Planning and Administration (NUEPA), primary school teachers spent only 19% of their school hours in teaching. That is only one day in a five day week. The rest of the four days were spent in non-teaching activity or teachers were just absent. Besides census, disaster relief and election related duties as mandated by legislation, teacher services are also used to make door-to-door visits to improve child enrolment to schools.
Frequent teacher training programmes, data entry after each survey and absenteeism too take a toll on time. If the teacher is required to complete the prescribed curriculum within 19% of time spent in the class, there is bound to be gaps in learning. It is unlikely that the child will have the required foundational skills. Any subsequent effort in the form of remedial education at a later stage will not sustain or at best for a short period of time. Learning levels are bound to improve if only teachers spend more time in the classroom.
Shut down single teacher schools
Out of 44,615 primary schools in Karnataka, 4,767 are single teacher schools with an average of 20 students. Given the small number of students, the infrastructure too is limited to enable any holistic learning. Furthermore, no teaching takes place in such schools when the teacher is either absent or on Government duty.
These schools need to be shut down forthwith and merged with nearest larger school with adequate number of teachers and other essential infrastructure required for learning as suggested in the National Education Policy (NEP).
Teacher, the determining factor
A teacher is the most important component in a school as demonstrated by Finland, the world’s finest education system. The teachers there are among the highest paid individuals and are held in high esteem. A committed teacher is capable of inspiring and motivating the dullest of students to develop an interest in learning.
A teacher with a passion to teach is able to overcome all hurdles and limitations in a system if given the freedom to do so. If properly compensated, it is bound to attract the best talents in the country to become teachers.
An estimated 600 IITians are currently teaching in the coaching centres in Kota, Rajasthan. Students in these coaching centres are trained to take up entrance tests for IIT and JEE, rated to be the toughest of exams in the country. This is an opportune time to develop a new world class category of teachers.
Avoid teacher transfers
A teacher to the child is the ultimate role model. More dedicated a teacher is, greater the influence they exercise on the child’s learning. This confidence and comfort feel is vital not only for learning, but also for the child’s social and emotional growth. More so at the primary level.
A disruption by way of a teacher transfer is likely to cause an emotional distress and the child’s interest in learning. Only when teachers stay in one place and become a part of the community, their productivity will increase manifold. Needless to say the presence of the teacher in the village brings about greater discipline and attention to learning.
Examinations cause stress
In an examination driven system, marks are the most important driving force. The pressure to score high marks by the student both by the school and the parents causes immense stress to students harming both physical and mental well-being. Also, rote learning is the outcome. Should we allow just one public examination to shape the destiny of students?
Today’s evaluation system assesses not the ability of students’ analytical abilities, social concern, citizenship, etc., but only memory and information. NEP has the perfect solution to overcome this problem. A Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) by the teacher is less stressful, provides the teacher an opportunity to make course correction in teaching methods. Having said that, the teacher too should be held accountable when learning levels in children decline.
Lessons of local relevance
Curriculum designed and prescribed by a Centralised authority may not have relevance to the location where the child resides. The child may not even comprehend the lesson. As a result the child resorts to memorising. A District- level Board should have the authority to formulate lesson plan to teach what is appropriate to the local conditions. Information that adds value to the child’s life and well-being. The teacher too should enjoy similar freedom to teach what is relevant to the immediate environment and what he or she feels in their wisdom the child should learn.
The authors of NEP-2020 have rendered a great service to the nation by capturing the core of what ails India’s education system. They have laid down a roadmap to follow so as to unlock the hitherto dormant potential of the youth of the country. The policy, if implemented both in letter and spirit, has the capability to take the country to greater heights and benefit from the demographic dividends that the country is bestowed with. However, to derive the maximum benefits of a good policy, the conditions have to be right at the ground level. To implement NEP-2020 without adequate preparations and a strong will to do it, we will have the same old wine though in a new bottle ! Note: Infrastructure, teacher-student ratio, the kind of textbooks the students are to study, the specialisation and expertise of the teacher both in arts subject and science will only give meaning to the NEP-2020 which seems ideally suited to the spirit of Indian nationalism and the idea of India. The break-up of years of studies into different levels under NEP by replacing PUC two years with 11 and 12 (‘high school’ is 9-10-11-12) is greatly beneficial to students to pursue higher education as per their aptitude and ability. Certain observations made in this article by the authors are worth looking into while implementing the NEP-2020.—KBG