That is a sure way to improve the quality of education – and tomorrow’s India
Dr M. Manisha | February 17, 2015
The report of the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) by Pratham Foundation confirms perhaps what we already knew instinctively; that through access to education is now near universal and dropout rates are continuously declining, the quality of education is suspect.
The report reveals that near half of the children who go to school in rural India cannot read, write or do arithmetic of three grades lower than theirs. This is more so in government schools than in private schools, though infrastructure and spending in government schools in almost all the states (except Bihar) is higher.
While one may need to closely look at the methodology of the survey and contextualise the findings, there can be little doubt about the general conclusion that the situation is alarming. It reveals in no uncertain terms the crisis that our education system faces. Unless we address this on a war-footing we will have a generation of ill-equipped young population with neither knowledge nor competence. The much talked-about demographic dividend may turn into a democratic burden.
What accounts for the poor learning outcomes in our schools and even in our colleges? The usual suspects are the inadequate spending on education, lack of infrastructure, lack of accountability, poor quality teaching, etc. In our eagerness to universalise education, we focussed on the spread of education but failed to simultaneously emphasise quality. As Madhav Chavan, chief executive and director of Pratham Foundation, said, in our country everything is input-driven but output measurement is not there.
Quality in education is a highly elusive idea and there has been no universal definition of quality. It is related to both excellence and exceptional as well as to average and minimum standard. However, a workable definition of quality in education would include learning that would be of help in bettering life, within a time-bound frame to the largest group of people. This requires a socially relevant content. In most societies the content of education is determined by the socio-political system. However, these are merely in the nature of broad outlines.
Learning culture-specific life-skills of creative and critical thinking, logic and imagination; and values are an integral part of this concept.
Unfortunately, teaching in schools fails to meet almost all of these minimal standards. The content of education is centrally determined leaving very little to local initiatives. The responsibility of contextualising and implementing to achieve the goal of bettering one’s life rests solely on the teacher.
Learning outcomes are integrally related to two things: learning goals and learning methods. What is the purpose of primary education?
Definitely it goes beyond mere learning to read, write and do basic arithmetic. The goal of learning goes even beyond learning for livelihood or survival. There is little thinking about learning objectives among the people who are at the heart of the process – teachers. It is to this end that the three R’s are directed. In the process of teaching, however, the three R’s assume greater importance than the larger goals of learning. More often than not, the teacher is focussed on finishing the task at hand. Little time and energy are devoted towards the larger goals of teaching – the learning process which relate to creative thinking, critical enquiry imagination and logic. These are dismissed as ambitious goals, irrelevant and a waste of time.
The responsibility of making the content applicable to the local environment rests solely on the teacher. The teacher, who interacts with the student on a one-on-one basis regularly, has to make the content relevant. And this has to be done in an interesting way taking into account the individual capability of the child. The task of the teacher then is not simple. Unfortunately, a generation of teachers who are themselves products of learning by rote are ill-equipped to meet this need of learner-centric education. They do not understand ‘how’ to make content relevant. The result is the usual pedagogy of memorising, and reproducing the learnt. The child then loses all interest in what is being taught and the outcome is similar to what we see in the ASER survey. The larger impact of this on economy and polity is much more than we can gauge in mere economic terms. Potential scientists, thinkers, leaders and creators are lost to mediocrity. The society is bereft of new ideas and socially relevant thought process and the winds of change are heavily guarded.
The remedy lies in investing heavily in training and retraining our teachers. A mere degree in education does not suffice in a task as difficult as this. Teachers must regularly be retrained and training must go beyond updating their knowledge base or pedagogy. Training gives teachers an opportunity of introspection. Experience shows that much of the learning happens through self-realisation, by sharing experiences with others and by exchanging notes with peers and colleagues. The focus on the objective of education needs to be emphasised in all such trainings. Difficult as this may be, this objective must be conceptualised and articulated in achievable vocabulary so that they do not sound as high-end ‘on-paper goals’. Countrywide teacher exchange programmes, teacher retraining and skill development programmes may help. Corporates regularly invest in training to improve the skills of their workforce. The education sector can take a leaf out of this experience.
The issue of teachers’ esteem also needs to be addressed in such training sessions. Almost all teachers in India, irrespective of whether they teach in high-end private schools or government schools of far-flung rural areas, suffer from low self-esteem. Their poor salaries and low social esteem have contributed to this. The usual mindset that “if you don’t get a good job, you can always teach” has much to do with the problem. Low esteem leads to lack of confidence and motivation among the community and has shown to have definite impact on the quality of teaching. Teachers’ work is not merely a job, and the perks of teaching must go beyond monetary compensation. The reverential nature of the job in the past or nobleness of the profession to which lip service is regularly paid by all does not serve to increase teachers’ morale. Instead, we could do well to invest in addressing the issues faced by them.
On the teacher rests the destiny of the nation and its people, it is high time we realise it and invest in her or else it may be the case of another missed opportunity.
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