The arguments put forth by Edward Vickers on the role of the state in education in his article, “To teach more children well,” Mint, 20 November, are a pointer in the right direction.
It’s right to argue that private schooling is always and everywhere better than state schooling, is highly misleading.
At Educational Initiatives (EI) (www.ei-india.com), we work with a broad spectrum of top private, English-medium schools in the country, and the poorest government schools in rural and municipal areas.
Last year, EI tested some 150,000 students in top private English-medium schools and about an equal number of students in rural schools across the country. Most of our findings and data are shared openly with schools, governments and some of them are openly available on the website of EI.
What did we learn from these studies? To begin with, children do not learn with understanding, i.e., they perform better with textbook and directly asked questions, while faring poorly by applying the same concepts for directly asked questions in solving application-based or problem-solving-type questions.
Very surprisingly, children in our sample of private schools learn more by rote and very little with understanding. In an international study conducted by EI, students from some 150 schools of Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore performed below the average of students from 43 countries.
If students in private English- medium schools are learning by rote, the plight of government school students can be well imagined; it is worse—neither rote learning nor learning with understanding are being achieved there. Some children with six-eight years of exposure to schooling can do little more than write their own names.
An increase in primary education rates results in a significant spurt in the growth rate of a country’s economy in the long run. It is generally accepted that one of the reasons behind the rise of Japan and Singapore as economic powerhouses was their emphasis on education.
In today’s world, new demands are being placed on citizens, who need more skills and knowledge to be able to function in their day-to-day lives. Equipping people to deal with these demands requires a new model of education and training—a model of lifetime learning.
Most organizations require employees to learn how to solve problems, something that cannot be memorized. Actually, most learning takes place when an individual starts a new job. Currently, the pace of change is so fast that workers constantly need to acquire new skills. The foundation of these skills should be laid at the school level. Organizations cannot always depend on fresh graduates. So, firms need individuals to upgrade their own skills throughout their life.
To respond to this need, countries need to invest in a proper education infrastructure that equips people with appropriate skills. This investment will yield results in the form of competitive advantage. Though problems continue to exist with rote learning methods and excessive pressure at the school level, an educated workforce has facilitated the development of a core of a knowledge economy. So, we don’t need to throw away existing practices but start changing it bit by bit. Improving the quality of learning at school is the first step in that direction.
- Vaishali Shah
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