Poor academic results: Address the root cause

Dear Editor,
The dismal but expected academic results of Classes 10 and 12 exams in Arunachal Pradesh have started a blame game and, ultimately, the burden is being shifted to those who had the least to contribute to the mess – the students.
Unethically, and unsurprisingly, the young have been accused by the elders who have not played their part well. The secondary and higher secondary results, however, are a reflection of the overall poor health of the state’s education sector, starting from kindergarten, involving policymakers, school administrations, teachers, students and parents. Instead of focusing solely on the results of the mentioned standards, we need to relook holistically, covering primary to higher secondary education, because the root cause is the ‘learning gap’.
A learning gap is the difference between what a student has learnt and what they had expected to learn during a particular class. If this learning gap is left unaddressed, over time the accumulated gap in learning makes students unable to grasp further learning.
Research has revealed that one in every two children between the ages of 6 and 8 in India is going to school but is not learning. Without ‘read to learn’, we cannot expect children to attain quality education, and the promotion of children to the next grade is unproductive for the society as a whole. The effect of the learning deficit visible so far in the elementary schools is now being reflected among young adults too.
As per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)-2017, in the 14-18 age group, only 43 percent are able to do a simple division correctly, and nearly 47 percent of 14-year-olds could not read a simple sentence in English.
In Arunachal Pradesh, not even 50 percent of all children enrolled in Class 5 can read a Class 2 level textbook (ASER-2018). In Class 3, the children who were able to do at least subtraction was 33.5 percent in 2018, which marginally increased from 31.6 percent in 2016, and in Class 5, the figure increased from 18.7 percent in 2016 to 27.1 percent in 2018. In Class 8, the figure dropped from 55.5 percent in 2016 to 49.3 percent in 2018 for children able to do division consistently.
Thus, when the students are unable to read and/or understand the printed questions, expecting answers from them is unfair. Moreover, the percentage of schools with usable girls’ toilets decreased from 35.8 percent in 2016 to 28.2 percent in 2018, which reveals the pathetic condition of infrastructure of government schools and results in absenteeism and dropout of female students.
The state’s dropout rate has been higher than the national average, implying low teaching-learning activities in schools.
The need of the hour is to formulate a holistic education policy and implement it strictly along the following points:
Instead of increasing the number of schools, the existing schools should be upgraded and their capacity expanded.
Teachers are the crux of the learning processes, and their absence will hamper the future of the children. Regular and random monitoring of schools, especially in the rural and remote areas, should be conducted, and proxy attendance strictly checked.
Teachers are given almost no training or professional development support after appointment, leaving them ill-equipped for current teaching-learning requirements. The headmasters and principals have to be developed as leaders and made stakeholders in the students’ academic performance.
A centralized monthly test should be developed to assess the students’ learning achievement, besides a monthly outcome plan and outcome achievement for every school and teacher, measuring the teaching-learning activities, directly monitored by a centralized committee.
Constitute a human resource management department to ensure transparent and rational transfer/posting of teachers. Check localization of teachers’ posting and ensure regular intra-district and inter-district transfers, keeping in mind the proportionate distribution teachers.
In line with the NITI Aayog’s School Education Quality Index, the state should develop its own index to measure and monitor teaching-learning and categorize schools in terms of infrastructure and academic performance, which will help in effective policy formulation and implementation.
We need to have a special focus on nurturing our young minds, especially in government schools, where there are many first-generation learners from low-income and disadvantaged families whose home environment is typically not able to supplement school and thereby deprives them of quality learning environment in schools.
The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) was a great step towards promoting universalizing of education and accessibility to quality education. States like Himachal Pradesh have done great, but Arunachal has misdirected the very purpose of the SSA. Hundreds of teachers were appointed without sufficient financial back-up. Now can we expect quality teaching from those teachers who have not been paid in months and whose jobs remain unsecured?
Moreover, the rapid growth of private schools in both urban and rural areas in Arunachal Pradesh is not only due to the rising income level of the people but is majorly caused by the degrading teaching-learning activities in the government schools. Just blaming poor parents and children will not cure the disease. As the saying goes, A bad workman blames his tools. Let’s take the responsibility and endeavour to correct the situation.
Talung Taloh