School Education

Distressing, needs reform

By Dr Oishee Mukherjee

The recently released UNESCO report monitoring education has pointed out that 2.8 million children are out of school, 11 million out of lower secondary school and 47 million out of upper secondary school. Moreover, the fact that a quarter of the nation’s children not completing lower secondary education and 266 million adults and 33 million young people unable to read and write is indeed distressing for a large country like India with reasonably high economic growth.
Obviously, what has been reiterated again and again is the relatively low spend on education – around 3.8 per cent of GDP – contributing to the current state of affairs. Added to this is the lack of commitment and sincerity of teachers as also lack of monitoring of welfare schemes relating to education. In fact, education infrastructure in most rural areas is quite deplorable. The lack of single sex toilets, water, healthy classrooms, etc. may be attributed as the major reasons for children unwilling to go to schools.
In the urban sector, recent reports of shabby treatment of children in elite private schools have necessitated the need to re-examine the state of school education in the country which, by all accounts, has been quite poor. School education is, no doubt, a crucial issue and the problems are being highlighted in the media from time to time. The issues involved include standards of teaching, discipline in schools, relevance of curriculum and the treatment meted out to children. As is revealed from various surveys, while standards have deteriorated, primarily due to the negligence of teachers, new laws deter teachers from physically beating their wards to discipline them.
The primary point that is of concern is the quality of teachers and their sincerity in teaching. The report States that in India, estimates differed among studies. “A representative panel of 1,297 villages found almost 24% of rural teachers were absent during unannounced school visits in 2010. Another study of 619 schools in six States found 18.5% of teachers absent: 9% on leave, 7% on official duties and 2.5% on unauthorised absence.”.
It has to be admitted that teaching standards are quite poor in most government schools across the country though the performance of the southern States is a little better. The reason for this is not far to seek. The report notes: Effective policy responses are complicated by the many factors influencing teacher absenteeism, e.g. distance to school, pupil/teacher ratio and poor working conditions.”
The report provides and insight into private tuition, which is on the rise. This “can increase students’ academic burden and stress….while remedial or individualised help may benefit students, the time and money allocated to tutoring can undermine student well-being and strain household budgets,” cautions the report.
The craze for private tuitions has been increasing with every passing year. Even parents think that without private tuition, his child will not be able to do well in examinations. For a few years we have been seeing that students studying in Class II or III need private tutors.
The second reason for deterioration in standards is the lack of discipline in schools. While teachers are afraid of taking disciplinary action against their students, the latter do not take care about preparing their homework. Moreover, with some States having decided to stop the pass-fail system up to Class VIII, most students take little interest in studies.
The urgency of passing out with good marks is present among a small section of students. The entry of politics in schools has further deteriorated the climate. Discipline is missing in schools and specially among male students studying in upper classes. One is reminded of the saying – “spare the rod and spoil the child” – but this is not implemented now due to legal stipulations.
There is a debate among educationists whether sparing the rod is required while others believe that strictness is necessary to ensure that students study, do their homework and are attentive to teachers. On the other hand, the lack of love and affection for children has made them defiant and disrespectful towards teachers, specially those who do not take interest in teaching. Communicating is an art and unless teachers are aware of this, they would not be able to enter the children’s mind and obviously would not be effective.
The third factor is the curriculum, specially those of the State boards. This is outdated and not revised reflecting the issues and concerns of the day. Those at the State level do not think it necessary to revise the syllabus. In some States, environmental studies was earlier being taught as a subject but for the last three years or so, this has been done away with.
Apart from the above factors, there is lack of sincerity towards school education. Whether there is lack of focus on developing and maintaining proper infrastructure in schools, curriculum development is too not revised periodically. The budgetary allotment towards this end is not sufficient enough as a result of which the infrastructure in rural areas is quite poor.
One may mention here reports that have surfaced in the media regarding non-functional toilets or girls’ toilets not having water. Also water logging in front of schools make it inconvenient for students, specially younger ones, to enter schools during the rainy season. It is understood that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, a pet project of the Prime Minister, may resolve this issue of setting up toilets in all schools.
The problems affecting school education are varied and it is indeed quite difficult to resolve these in the immediate future. But some action can definitely be taken to improve the quality and standards of education. The foremost thing that is necessary is strict monitoring of teachers in all government schools that is normally done in missionary institutions.
For this, the government may induct retired government officers to strictly monitor the performance of teachers and their attitude towards children – whether they are at the primary level or those studying from Class IX to Class XII. A very small honorarium may be given for this work and these officials should report, say quarterly, directly to the District Magistrate
They could also point out the problems being faced by the schools in the block and take measures to ensure that at least some of these are addressed, if not immediately but in the near future. Since they are retired people, they could also create some pressure to ensure that the demands of the schools are addressed.
Better education is crucial for narrowing inequality gap as also for the country’s long term growth scenario. The story of the demographic dividend can go completely wrong unless we undertake reforms in school education on an urgent footing. While resources are no doubt necessary for upgrading primary education, there is need for sincere monitoring at the district and block levels which are unfortunately very poor or non-existent. If 100 million children do not learn the basic skills of reading and arithmetic, it is unlikely that India will grow into a mature economy or a democracy. —INFA