Fixing education — let Sibal’s kids study with ours…

… and the quality of teaching and learning will improve overnight


Prasanna Mohanty | January 18, 2012

Pratham’s report on the state of education in rural India is both predictable and shocking.

Predictable because it repeats the same set of findings year-after-year – (a) school enrollment remains over 90 percent but (b) quality of learning, both reading and mathematical abilities, continues to be pathetically low and declining, (c) attendance of students and teachers also continues to decline while (d) enrollment in private schools is rapidly increasing (reached 25 percent mark in 2011).

These findings are shocking nevertheless, because they show the efforts of the past 10 years – the NDA regime’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the UPA regime’s Right to Education – have gone down the drain.

If one were to go beyond the variations in details Pratham churns out, its findings can be summed to say that the state of education in government-run schools is dismal and that more and more people even in rural India are rushing to the private schools.

This is the kind of findings that would gladden the heart of planning commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who thinks the solution to every problem in India is privatisation. And also those who run education shops.

Pratham’s findings don’t offer much. In spite of the fact that it has been saying essentially the same thing since 2005, this non-government agency has not delved deeper to find out why the scene is so dismal or suggest what can be done to get out of it. This is not to suggest that Pratham’s exercise is not useful. It is, but only to a limited extent.

The government’s response to the findings follows a pattern all too familiar. Every year, after the findings are released to the public, the union government blames the states and the states, in turn, blame the union. That is the end of the story.

This year, it should be different for one reason. There have been two more shocking revelations that strengthen Pratham’s findings. In June 2011, organisation for economic cooperation and development (OECD) said in a report that India might have done well in enrollment and attendance of students in schools but the “average levels of educational attainment and basic skill acquisition, including reading and writing, remain low by international standards.”

Then in December 2011, OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an internationally standardised assessment system that tests 15-year-olds in reading, mathematical science and science literacy, ranked India at the bottom, just ahead of Kyrgyzstan among 74 nations. Small countries like Finland and South Korea figured at the top, as usual.

Finland’s has been a success story worth emulating. Its education system was in shambles until it began scripting a remarkable turn-around story in 1970s. Education became a public-funded affair and common to all kids, irrespective of their economic or political clouts. That meant the sons of Mukesh Ambani and his drivers went to the same school if they happened to live in the same neighbourhood.

We may have ignored the band of academics and civil society activists ranting about a “common schooling” for all so far. But it is worth trying. Let’s have Kapil Sibal’s kids studying with ours and see if Pratham reprints the annual report.




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