The dilemma of ‘study hour’

Children in many Andhra schools stay in school till 7-8.30 pm daily, at the cost of holistic learning

sreelatha

Sreelatha Menon | November 22, 2016


#Education   #Schools   #Krishna district   #Andhra Pradesh   #Study Hours  
Students in a classroom attending study hour
Students in a classroom attending study hour

Rema Devi of class 6 reaches her school in Nagayalanka block in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh (AP) at around 9 in the morning. At 7 pm she continues to be in school. Her legs ache. She has been sitting in her chair reading and writing, or pretending to read and write, all day.

Scholars English Medium School, where she studies, gets over by 4.30 pm. “But many children stay back till 8 pm every day,” says principal Sunil Kumar Pattnayak.

This after-school unofficial stay in school is called the ‘study hour’. “Parents love it. They think that staying in school longer would ensure more learning for the student,” says Pattnayak who has been running the school for the past decade for children mostly from low- and middle-income families. He started his school with 35 students and today has 800. “Our fee is moderate and we don’t charge extra for the study hour,” he adds.

Though study hour is optional in this school, many schools in AP have made it compulsory and expensive, and children are sometimes detained up till 8.30 in the night.

Pattnayak mentions another school in nearby Pawanigeda block, which begins at 8 am and ends at 8.30 pm. It is part of a chain of over 300 schools in AP that boast of equipping children for IITs and medical colleges through study hour. “The school has a branch in every block and they lure our students and parents with promises of assured entry in an engineering or medical college,” he says.

Study hour is all over AP, whether it is Kurnool or Anantapur, Chittoor or Guntur. Just as something similar is common across the country, too.

For instance, most new schools opening in Guntur have been offering study hour as a perk to students. The number of students in each school range between 1,000 and 5,000.

Crossword School in the district, which prefers alternative education, has stayed away from this trend and therefore has managed to get just 240 admissions. Its founders Naga Padmaja G and her husband, MC Kesava Reddy, both ex-IITians, feel that “running the school is like being in war”.

“Parents everywhere want those extra hours. They don’t want children to come home before night. It is strange but true,” says Reddy whose nephew had to go through such a system till he completed class 12. “The reason is that they all want their children to join engineering colleges whether they have the aptitude or not. This keeps students away from other professions in science and non-science streams,” he adds.

Sushama Sharama of Anand Niketan School in Maharashtra feels it is more important to see how hours at school are spent. “Sometimes even four hours can be oppressive. If there are various activities in the school, the number of hours may not matter. One has to keep this in mind and the rights of the child.”

The question that arises here is: How many hours are too many? Is there a law or rule regarding this?

According to the National Study on Ten Year School Curriculum Implementation, 2011 by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the duration of school hours per day ranges from five to seven hours in the upper primary and secondary stage of school education across all schools in the country. The NCERT’s National Curriculum Framework (NCF) of 1975, 1988, 2000 and 2005, recommended five hours for effective instruction and one hour for morning assembly, recess and other routine activities. The report shows that the total duration of a school day in AP is six hours. It further highlights that “majority of the states are following the recommendations of NCFs but, in states like Andhra Pradesh, the school hours are longer, it may be due to more number of recess periods”.

So, on the ground, AP schools not only contradict the findings of the NCERT and go against the prescribed hours by the NCF, but also keep study hours as long as 10 hours.

Anwar Hussain who has taught in prestigious schools like Keshava Reddy School and Cattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy Residential School, defends the practice. “We use a study hour in the morning and later in the evening from 6 to 8 to help children learn what has been taught during the day. We give them worksheets and they are expected to prepare for daily tests based on what was taught the previous day. Even the dullest child starts performing. What is wrong in that?” he asks. He adds that there are many schools which punish the child if he or she does not toe the line. “Parents are happy that the school is taking responsibility for their child,” he says.

Students at Oxford Public School at Vijayawada go home daily at 7 pm as they stay back for study hour after school. A teacher from the school says that study hour is not compulsory and only 50 percent of students in a given class usually stay back. “We have extra teachers hired for this period and we prepare advance worksheets in May itself for the whole year. It certainly improves the students’ performance,” she says. Asked about other activities in the whole day, she says that each class has music, dance or sports during one period every day.

Five or six of the oldest schools in Guntur and Vijayawada are still keeping themselves out of the sweeping trends while the newer ones are offering attractions like study hour. An official from the Guntur branch of Sri Chaitanya Techno School, one of the topmost schools in Andhra Pradesh, says that study hour is a system followed to improve the student’s learning. We have classes till 6 pm and then we have study hour to help students learn better.

BM Sucharitha, an educationist who teaches at St Joseph’s College of Education for Women, opposes the practice. “I never sent my sons for study hour, and one of them is in an engineering college today,” she says. Her reasons are as follows: “You can ensure that a child sits in front of a book. But how can you ensure that he studies and learns? Besides a books-only approach will lead to distorted development of a child’s personality,” she adds.

A deeper evil

Do study hour and this kind of pressure on students to perform well ensure rights of children? Or is it a violation of human rights? Maybe it follows the Right to Free and ‘Compulsory’ Education Act literally by making bookish education compulsory. Study hour is just a manifestation of a deeper evil that students are up against. It is the pressure to do well in entrance examinations after school. You either need coaching centres or you can turn the school itself into a coaching centre in the form of study hour.

Shantha Sinha, a former chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, expresses surprise and shock on hearing about study hour. “I am totally unaware about schools being run till 7 pm. I can see the immense pressure on children to perform well and make it through EAMCET [Engineering Agricultural and Medical Common Entrance Test]. Studying for the sake of knowledge and analysis is being shortchanged to cramming mechanically like machines,” she says. Asked if it was like child labour, she says, “I wouldn’t say that... but at the same time I would think of such education as violation of child rights.” While Sinha thinks that it is a violation of child rights, does that move parents or schools?

In Guntur, most schools have a tag to lure parents for admissions who cannot see beyond engineering and medical degrees as possible careers for their children. While some schools call themselves ‘IIT concept school’, some call themselves ‘medical foundation school’ or ‘techno school’, and so on. Crossword School was forced to become a part of this due to the raging obsession with engineering degrees. It has added a tag saying that the school is ‘run by IIT alumni’. “Despite the tag, our goal is to create good human beings through a holistic education,” says Reddy.

The couple feel that they never had to go through the grilling which students today are going through. Naga Padmaja G studied in a government school in Hyderabad before she went to IIT Delhi. “Now look at us, we are not even pursuing engineering. Find your strength and interest, and develop it rather than having society decide your destiny. This is our message,” says Reddy.

Scholars English Medium School too projects itself as one that shapes students for IITs. “We have an ‘IIT class’ in the morning from 8 to 9 where all students from class 5 to 10 are specially trained for IITs [JEE],” says a teacher in the school.

With study hour being accepted blindly by parents and schools across the state and the rising obsession with engineering and medical degrees, the meaning of education has taken a big blow in these schools. Furthermore, teaching has been confined to just memorising and storing information in the brain.

The objectives of learning according to Bloom’s taxonomy (a classification of educational objectives by Benjamin Bloom, a famous educational philosopher), which education systems across the globe swear even to this day, include not just cognitive development, but psychomotor, and psychological too.

In other words, education should address the three h’s: head, hand and heart, something that Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore also believed. However, the trend in mainstream schools in AP addresses just the growth of the ‘head’.

Many questions arise from this concept of study hour. What kind of citizens would such a system of education produce? Why should the
syllabi be determined by the increasing demand for engineering and medical students? Why is the NCF, which emphasises all-round growth of the child, being violated? Or does the NCF ask for only cramming facts? Is the purpose of education only to pass entrance exams? Why are policymakers silent about the education system in the entire state which is running roughshod on the growth potential of millions of children?

Emailed queries to AP’s education secretary and the minister of education elicited no response.

 

A personal account of Pranav Reddy, who faced the ordeal of study hour 

“I studied in topmost schools in Guntur. My day used to start at 7.15 in the morning from class 5. It used to end daily at 7.30. Till class 7, we had physical activity, but that stopped completely in class 8. We had to always prepare for tests. There were daily tests and on some days there would be four tests. We would be given two hours in the morning to prepare for one test. The rest we had to study at home. So on returning home I would still be studying. In class 10, we had classes even on Sundays till 4 pm. Our classes got over at 6 pm. Our study hour was after that and it was compulsory. We students had no choice. Once my father went and spoke to the school authorities to take permission, asking them if I could stop attending study hour after school hours. But permission was not granted. We had three breaks in the whole day. One was a 10-minute break in the morning. This was followed by a 45-minute break for lunch. The third break was in the afternoon again for 10 minutes.

Now in the intermediate college I’m in, I have more time. Study hours are fewer. Our classes get over in the morning and we stay back for a few hours to study what was taught. But we still have more time to ourselves. If I had a school of my own, I would not have so many hours for studies alone. I would make activities compulsory. We would have different activities other than studies. I don’t feel this system is good. It should change.”

Menon is a freelance journalist.

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