Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Progress in Education

At the outset I would like to wish all the readers and the people around the globe a happy and joyful year 2014. The first thought, as a teacher, which came to my mind was importance of education in the life of an individual and its impact on the society irrespective of caste, region or gender.  Gurdev Rabindranath Tagore once said ` in my opinion the maximum misery which rests on the heart of the country has its sole foundation in the absence of education`. We all know it well that the role of education in the process of development and social equality is critically important. Jean Dreze and Amritya Sen have beautifully defined and explained the role of education in the chapter `centrality of education` of their book, an uncertain glory of India. They talk about its impact on quality of life, economic opportunities and employment, democratic rights of the people, tackling health problems, change in the public perception towards life, women empowerment and societal equality.
The successive regimes headed by different governments have given due importance to the power of education in India also and the literacy rate has gone up from mere 28% in 1960 to a thumping 74% in 2010 (when Britishers left the literacy rate was merely 18%). This is quite encouraging considering the diversity and size of this great nation. The education spectrum has broadened in terms of the enrollment of the kids to the elementary schools to the expansion of the higher education. The numbers of educational institutes are increasing at a rapid pace but as the size of the country is too big that appears to be insufficient. The constitution of India guarantees free and compulsory education to the children of age six to fourteen years and government has enforced an act RTE 2009 to ensure the implementation of the law.  I am reminded of a case worth mentioning here; Japan had a high literacy rate which was higher than many countries even in the eighteenth century. The focus on education was very high in the early period of Japan`s development. During the early twentieth century the budget spent on education was as high as 43% especially in towns and villages. This data proves the importance of education on the overall life of the people because Japan has been one of those countries in which the people are very competent to fight any difficult situation (The recent has been the natural calamity they faced few years back and stood up, marking the advent). Though what has been mentioned makes us happy but a lot more needs to be done and all concerned should focus their energy to address the issue of India left behind by the neighboring countries also. For example, the literacy rate in the same period as mentioned above for India has grown evidently. Bangladesh moved up from 22% in 1960 to 78% in 2010, Nepal from9% to 78% and Sri Lanka from 75% to 99%. The progress made by the East Asian countries is much more rapid and high than our own country. It is only in Pakistan which seems to be with us where the literacy has gone up from 15% to 61% in the same period.
The efforts of the government and private sector have made considerable progress in terms of the number of the children enrolled in the schools, particularly in the last few years. In some of the states like Rajasthan the enrolment of the girl children has been very encouraging and it is on the increase every year. The SSA( Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has contributed a lot). The mid day meal scheme (despite some serious issues related to its implementation) has also contributed in retaining the children in higher classes. The government introduced Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas( the fully residential co-ed schools) for the people of rural India  and that has helped a number of children to get quality education almost free of cost. From all this it is confirmed that the quantity of school going children is on the increase but the real attention to be paid now should be towards the quality of education. Though we do not have concrete information base on quality because of scarcity of authentic surveys and inspections but the general feelings seem to be that a lot more is desired in this direction. The results by the NGOs like PRATHAM gives a very dismal picture of the quality of education in reading, writing and arithmetic but not many people believe them in totality because they may not be convinced by the methods used by them while conducting the survey. I would like the reason for the people not getting convinced from the state of Rajasthan. Government of Rajasthan has a programme introduced as SAMBAL. During a particular period the officials and other departments visit government schools and try to understand how much the children do not know and the outcome of the same is reported in the newspapers. The picture depicted is so shocking that people do not want their children to go to such schools, though in reality the situation may not be so awful because the people who try to judge the quality, do not have any training to conduct such inspections. But when we read the results of the test conducted by PISA (Program of International Student Assessment), it also paints an appalling picture of the quality of our schools. Though our country does not take part in the same officially but two states,i.e; Himachal and Tamilnadu did take part and in that the ranking of our country was among the last three. Nevertheless, these two states are among the best three in India and that perhaps is the cause of concern for everybody. If the bests are in the last on international ranking then what would be the condition of other states. Let us try to know the reasons for this dismal result and what can be done to improve the quality of education in India?
The quality of the result of the school going children depends upon the quality of the schools and the quality of the schools in turn depends upon the quality of teachers. The quality of teachers’ depend upon quality of higher education and teachers’ training institutes and also the schools they had attended. This way it seems to be a circle having probably started at schools and in case of teachers joining again at schools. If the teachers are good, then the children would also perform well. The teaching is not really the first choice of most of the people and that makes things worse. One reason quoted for that is less remuneration in teaching profession. But the fact is that after the sixth pay commission their salaries are substantial and when compared with per capita GDP with other countries, their salary comes out to be much higher than even the developed countries. So the important aspect is that the teaching profession to be taken not as a mere profession but mission in the development of the country. Those who are involved in teaching must ensure that they do their best and do not consider teaching as bread earning job only. It may sound to be an ideal statement but until the teachers realize their worth, nobody else can help to earn them earn respect of the students. The society also need to realize the importance of teachers and it should not be read as a couplet from Kabir`Guru gobind dau khade kake lago panya, balihari guru aapne gobind diyo bataye`. The teacher should be the role model for the children under their charge and should conduct in the most dignified way. The teachers have tremendous influence on the children and their parents and this thing should always be remembered by them.
The school education should be reformed that we evaluate the progress of our children in the most objective manner. The creativity must be allowed to adjust and grow further while teaching and also while evaluating. The government should set benchmark for learning at different levels based on the requirement of the country in future. The standardized tests should not be replaced by something which does not given correct information about the level of the learning of the children. Evaluation which exists in our system should be filled carefully so that the teachers and children know their level of achievement and then corrective measure can be taken to improve it further. The universalization of education should be clubbed with quality and hence we must strive not only for universalization of education but universalization of quality education. The children of one school should not be allowed to be at disadvantage in comparison to the other school due to economic or social reasons. The government must ensure the same quality to all children of the state. Private schools have added to the quality of education but these have not come without serious issues to be tackled by the government. The public private partnership model should be evolved such that it helps everyone and not only chosen few. The country has done fairly well in the field of education and now we all must work upon to make it better and available to all, so that our citizens can live a happy and healthy life, because good quality education is key to that.