As per the Annual Status of Education Report of 2014, around 75 percent of Indian government school students in Grade 5 are unable to read a Grade 2 level story. In contrast, just two days back, Finland officially declared its plan to become the first country in the world to get rid of all the subjects, giving way to a new revolution in the field of education. Though the demographic and administrative challenges faced by the two countries are quite distinct, but where is India going wrong?
The Congress government came with its major move, the RTE (Right to Education) Act in 2009 to legally guarantee the right to education to all without discrimination. Since then, the number of students enrolled has increased manifold but the point isn’t about enrollment anymore. It is the quality that needs to be checked. The learning levels of students in government schools are shockingly poor and the proportion of students shifting to private schools is increasing. Let us talk about the a key reform that the Modi government is trying to bring in.
Last month, a news article by Hindustan Times, revealed that the central panel is trying to revoke the No-Detention-Policy that came in 2010 as an integral part of the RTE Act. Under this policy, no student can be detained upto class 8. It came after several surveys conducted by the government and various NGOs revealed that the detention system led to increased dropouts among students, especially from economically and socially weaker sections. Consequently, the No-Detention policy was brought in to provide elementary school children a learning environment free from fear, anxiety and stress. But the policy failed in its implementation. The bigger reason for its failure was the improper implementation of CCE (Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation) which came along with this policy to assess a student’s learning through a series of curricular and extracurricular activities besides academics. It was brought into the system in order to improve the student's performance by identifying his/her learning difficulties at regular intervals, right from the beginning of the academic session and employing suitable remedial measures for enhancing their learning performance. But the awareness and implementation of CCE did not reach most of the schools, especially those under the state boards. This failure turned the policy from No-Detention to No-Assessment. As published in this article by the Hindustan Times, this has created a very negative impact. The motivation to learn and the ability to deal with competition have gone down. Sita, a student of class 5 from Gautam Budh Nagar District of Noida says that she goes to school just to get free uniforms and mid-day meal. She even goes for a two-month vacation at the time of Diwali irrespective of exam schedule. Such absence of students for months, is also a key problem faced by the government school teachers.
Therefore, revoking this policy seems to be a good move but will it have the impact that the government feels? The dropouts might increase again if the policy is revoked. Gaurav, a student of class 8 from the Gautam Budh Nagar district does not study after going home, even for exams because he needs to earn for his family. Such first generation learners from socially and economically marginalised communities need a more stress-free as well as engaging atmosphere at school to stick to schooling. Reintroducing exam-based assessment might discourage such students from coming to schools, as an easier way would be to leave school and work.
RTE Act guarantees almost everything ranging from clean drinking water to good washrooms to playground to good learning. It has been seven years since it came into being but how far has the level of education in our country improved? As per an assessment conducted by KPMG in 2016 to understand its impact, the learning levels are low, even though there is some improvement in infrastructural facilities. In fact, the infrastructural improvements haven’t reached everybody either. “If a child shows poor learning or fails the test, then it is the failure of the teacher, the school and the entire system,” said Kadiyam Srihari, the education minister of Telangana, who asked the government to continue the no-detention policy. “We have schools without power, toilet, running water, furniture or a wall in this country. Why should we punish only the child?” The RTE Act in itself is powerful but problem is with the implementation. Maybe the government needs to focus more on implementation. The stakeholders of the education system need to have a stronger role in the system.
Civic action can play an important role. Parents need to be made aware of the importance of education. Especially those parents who are illiterate need to be encouraged to take the charge of their kids’ education and, pressurize the schools and government authorities to function better. SMC (School Management Committee), a constitutional amendment aims to involve parents and teachers in a school’s development. But it is merely restricted to formal documents in most of the schools. Saajha, a not-for-profit working with SMCs and the Delhi government is an example of the kind of interventions required to make government schools more accountable through stronger civic action.
Stricter policies for teachers are urgently required. CCE, if rightly implemented can improve the learning levels of students. Teacher training campaigns can be organized by state governments to implement CCE in the schools that can help in creating a better learning atmosphere for the students.
Narendra Modi plans to overhaul education in India as per his statement in March 2016. He plans to introduce vocational courses and has suggested periodic transfer of teachers in rural areas. He has asked Niti Ayog to come up with transformative changes but until the implementation at the local level is considered, the impact will be limited. Owing to its economic and social divisions, India has multiple obstacles in its way towards a better education system, but effective participation of citizens and state governments can help us move forward.
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