The latest Annual Status of Education Report, a survey that has over the years chronicled the state of basic education across India, continues to present bad tidings. Although enrolment in the 6-14 age group continues to be very high, the proportion of out-of-school children has increased, especially among girls in the age group of 11 to 14. More than half of all children in class five are at least three grade levels behind where they should be, in terms of their reading and arithmetic skills. Enrolment in private schools as well as the reliance on private tutors continues unabated.
This dismal state of affairs is in stark contrast to the faith India’s educational system continues to have in some quarters. For example, Indian private sector executives polled as part of an international survey by the multinational behemoth GE to measure innovation—whose findings were also released last week—were overwhelmingly confident that India’s universities and schools “provided a strong education model for tomorrow’s innovative leaders”.
This implies that whatever may plague India’s education system, its basic structure—in what is taught, by whom to whom and when—is beyond reproach. Few things could be farther from the truth.
The existing paradigm, where the Right to Education Act exhorts a cosmetic push to improve gross school enrolment ratios, ameliorate “stress” among children and have a greater proportion of students merely complete primary education is, in fact, one of the weakest limbs of this structure.
Then, there is the great divergence between what goes on in urban areas—where there is general disdain among post-graduates to become teachers—and the appalling corruption and lobbying to become “teachers” in village schools. In this melee, there is little or no attention on the quality of teachers churned out by the system.
While primary education has been a victim of neglect, it is time that corrective emphasis be oriented towards testing outcomes, irrespective of what method of teaching is followed. What is needed is encouragement for alternative syllabi and greater freedom to teachers to explore different ways of teaching math and science.
The only measure of success ought to be better and sharper methods of evaluation and if that means more tests or exams, then so be it.
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