Learning numbers

There are more children in schools now. How about educating them?


Jasleen Kaur | January 18, 2011

Human resource development minister Kapil Sibal is a man on the mission. Apart from bringing a change in the state of education, he also aims to increase enrolment of children in schools. And it seems it is already working. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2010, prepared by the NGO Pratham and published last week, shows an increase in school enrolment figures. But it also highlights the stark reality that there is hardly any improvement in the quality of education.
The report says that half the children in class five cannot even read class two text. And more than 30 percent of class one student cannot recognise numbers between 1 and 9. So, apart from an increased enrolment, there has not been much change in the education sector, especially at the rural level.
And how can there be, where the government schools lack infrastructure and qualified teachers? RTE commissioner Kiran Bhatty says the whole system needs an overhaul. “People have this mindset that the job of a government school teacher is quite easy. There is no accountability unlike in a public school,” she says.
Thanks to the initiatives like the mid-day meal scheme, the government may be successful in getting more children into schools. But their increased numbers in the classrooms does not necessarily mean more learning. If the child cannot follow what is being taught in the classroom, the enrolment figures are of no use.
The Right to Education Act says that all children will automatically progress from grade I through VIII without detention for any cause. But, as the Pratham report points out, is there any way to ensure quality education for children, to ensure that they have learnt their lessons well before going to the next grade?
No wonder, people who want a better future for their children are turning away from the government- or municipality-run, subsidised schools. A top authority in the field of education admitted in an off-the-record conversation that even lower middle-class parents want to send their children to a private school (known as ‘public school’) though they cannot afford it.
So, here is the next mission for Sibal: adding quality to quantity by taking steps to ensure meaningful learning.



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