There are many ills plaguing our education system as the 12th annual status on education report (ASER) tells us. Some are systemic problems while others are acute or occasional but both take a heavy toll on the learning levels of our young ones. Most of us will vouch that the learning ability of children knows no bounds then why does it not reflect in the ASER? Why year after year the learning levels keep plunging lower and lower? Any parent who sends his or her child to school expects that there will be worthwhile and visible enhancement in life skills and abilities of the child, after all, this is how we gauge the physical and mental development of a growing child. Shamefully, the report draws a pessimistic picture about the learning levels that have not shown any uptrend, on the contrary they have only gone southward.
What can be the possible cause of such a depressing and disturbing trend of many years? Does it mean that all the financial resources roughly to the tune of 60,000 crores or even higher have gone waste? I believe that it is not a matter of money that could have been spent differently to bear requisite results, on the contrary, it is a matter of much bigger importance that of questioning what we did not do to achieve the requisite success, that of lost opportunities. How better we could have taught our children that they absorbed every word that was said in the class.
Are the children better off today than they were a year ago? As a famous quote goes ‘Don’t teach children what to think, but how to think’. Let us try to make an effort in understanding what lies at the root of the current problem. We generally agree that any system is a mixed bag of achievements and failures. A new system faces some teething problems, big and small in nature. Over a period of time some of these problems may have been addressed and ironed out so that a better and clear picture emerges. If this is the scenario then there is some hope and light at the end of a tunnel.
But when the system develops a huge inertia, shows reluctance and does not intend to plug the loopholes, it begins to hurt the interests of a person, a family, a city, a state and a country. Much graver questions like the capability and intent of those in leadership position also need to be addressed. When we do not do enough to address the intractable and complex problems of bringing the desired change or show our reluctance to welcome change, then the malaise becomes endemic and widespread. This situation hurts everyone as well as the country. The problems that are systemic are those for which deeper thought would have to be applied to get rid of them.
What can we do to correct the situation for good? Addressing the issues starts with recognizing the problems without prejudice and frank admission of problems. The top two challenges worth highlighting are that of teacher quality & training and teaching outdated syllabic. There is a conspicuous absence of continuous training and retraining of teachers and lack of modern teaching techniques. IN this scenario the teachers remain less effective with the result that it does not foster proper understanding among students. The other challenge is that, to some extent, the school text books carry updated knowledge as these have not been revised in the last many years. How can we propel our children towards a brighter future if the knowledge imparted to them is historic and dated?
Another challenge that I foresee is that our education system does not encourage and foster experiential learning among students which is very essential for achieving better learning outcomes and lifelong excellence. On the contrary, we encourage rote learning and students’ capacity to mug up pages after pages. A testing system or pattern that encourages students to think and apply their acumen rather than reproducing text will definitely play a crucial role in developing new skills and enhancing existing ones.
Another lacuna is the non-availability of right academic inputs for the desired outcomes. Did anyone think before launching the entrance tests of the likes of NTSE, JEE Advanced, JEE Main and IAS, NDA, CDS, Bank PO, CLAT etc. how will the students prepare for these exams? Where is the support system for the students who wish to take these exams? Where will they get academic inputs so that they succeed in these exams? Do school and college curricula provide support and prepare its students for these exams? Clearly, the answer is a big ‘No’. This is how new things are introduced and the market finds its own solutions. Over the period of time, a number of coaching institutes have come about that have taken the onus of fulfilling the needs of the aspirants of these exams. It seems certain that Mercedes must run on dusty & pebbled roads before good roads are built for its majestic run.
Controlling fee structure and finances of private schools, stifles innovation and initiative and does very little to attract talented individuals. There are a lot many talented individuals those are highly educated and full of vigor who can breathe a new life in our education system and motivate students immeasurably. Let us not bind the schools financially that could have employed talented individuals at better remuneration. The students of today demand more from teachers and once they get the desired inputs only then will they remain motivated and satisfied leading to better persistence numbers. A fast track B Ed. could be a good solution as well as the need of the hour to absorb such amateur teachers.
An important parameter that has a direct bearing upon learning outcomes of students is the teacher-student ratio. In most government schools the scenario is abysmal. We have heard of unhealthy ratios of 1:200 or even more. How would a teacher find time to personally supervise all the students under his / her care and prepare a personalized learning plan for each one of them?
Moreover, most teachers are overburdened with administrative work or mundane and unrelated activities while leaving little time in which to plan and innovate, think new ways of introducing and explaining a topic or a concept. In such a situation, a teacher enters a class with little or no preparation thus failing to bring excellence in their lectures that could inspire students.
A child is a mountain of innovation and fresh thoughts & ideas. Over the years our system rather than encouraging and enhancing this trait, kills their free thinking to make it conform to the set moulds and patterns that suffocates creativity and lateral thinking. The creativity can only flourish if we continually challenge our children to exceed their own current capabilities. Are our teachers ready to play a bigger than life role in the lives of the students?