India Yet to Pull Up Its Socks Regarding Elementary Education

by September 27, 2018 0 comments

District Primary Education ProgrammeIndia has not made much headway in improving primary education outcomes despite massive funding. There is a need for a regulatory body to deal the issue head-on.

Since the time of independence till 1990, when India signed the Jomtien agreement, the overarching emphasis in the country had been on higher education. Since the 1990s, the attention of the Government(s) shifted towards school education, especially primary education. So far, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has played a significant role in reaching the target set by the Government with regards to primary education.

The credit and/or the discredit of the state of school education should go to the MHRD. As a follow up of the Jomtien in 1990, the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) was launched with the help of major funding from the World Bank which later merged with elementary schooling as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in 2000. India has definitely achieved landmark success in creating infrastructure — in terms of building and other supplies — and also increasing access, especially in remote areas; though various discrepancies have been reported in the form of more children enrolled in schools than the actual number of children in the country, as per some reports.

Various learning assessment reports have brought out disappointing status of learners’ achievements among the primary and elementary level learners. It is important to introspect as to why we have not been able to reach the desired qualitative levels in school education and perform satisfactorily in the school sector in spite of all dovetailing of funds and focus since 1990 on primary and elementary education?

We failed on assessments by national as well as international assessing agencies. The only achievement is that we built so many school buildings and arranged mid-day meals. But where is ‘learning’ in the whole exercise? We still have large drop out rate and low levels of learning.

One strongly feels that the need is to have an expert body, like the University Grants Commission (UGC), for school education. The present arrangement of the Ministry directly looking after the organisations, like the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), the Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV), the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya (JNV), makes it an administrative set-up rather than an academic one.

When compared to parallel bodies in other countries, the NCERT has neither excelled in research nor in training because it works like an extended arm of the MHRD, to feed it on all issues. Officials at the Ministry frequently change and they come from different backgrounds where they have had little exposure to education. They start by learning and experimenting and also (as de facto boss) directing experts heading these institutions on issues purely technical and professional.

A review of the performance of KVS and NVS over the years will make it apparent that the focus of these organisations changes with change-in-guard at the organisation level or at the Ministry level. In education, we cannot expect results in less than a few years. Because the boss (the Secretary, SE&L) changes every few months and the agenda and priorities of these organisations change. This has left our school sector confused and directionless.

Education comes under the Concurrent list that gives States the power to deviate from the policies of the Union Government. However, in higher education, all universities — Central as well as State — have to abide by the directives of the UGC, as it is created by an Act of Parliament. Chains and a network of schools have erupted that do not function on the accepted philosophy and objectives of schooling — this is a man-made process.

Quite often, they work only towards sending their children to engineering or medical colleges. Children, hence, lose sight of the philosophy of schooling. We have schools run by the Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Defence and others, which are monitored by railway or Army officials. The Army and the Railways officials have little understanding of schooling and they often get their whims and fancies implemented.

Similarly, we have school boards which are run by elected members or officials who cannot be considered experts in running and monitoring schools. There is no single body which coordinates the activities of school boards and at the same time has statutory powers.

A private body, created by some individuals, took upon itself to fill this gap, but it goes in and out of favour with a change of guard at the Ministry. We need a body which coordinates all school boards of the country. On important issues, boards differ and there is no way a national agenda can be decided upon. Last year, the Union Government decided not to ‘moderate’ marks in the CBSE Secondary and Senior Secondary results. A few States agreed with the proposal of the Government and a few disagreed. There was no way in which a unanimous decision could be taken. The Minister of Education of the State had the final say in a few States. Finally, the Supreme Court struck down this decision.

Politics definitely influences all walks of life but no Government or party should be allowed to completely destroy the structure permanently. To maintain continuity and also provide professional leadership, we need a permanent body like the UGC in the school sector to monitor schooling.

I wonder how the skilling agenda of the Prime Minister is assessed, successful or unsuccessful, but had the school sector been made an integral part of the skilling agenda, we would have witnessed greater, long-term change in mindset. Schools still are unaffected by this agenda. We cannot expect citizens looking at vocational areas with respect without being groomed in their early childhood in the vocations, as the Finnish schools do. The school education commission can, right from the beginning, start looking at academic and vocational education as two sides of the same coin.

More than 25 years back, a statutory body for preparing teachers — the National Council for Teacher Education ( NCTE) — was created. Still, neither the quality of teachers nor teaching has improved. The NCTE is an administrative body with little academic expertise. The principal should be in charge of a school and the teacher of the class, just as the Prime Minister, should be of the Central Cabinet and the Minister of his/her Ministry. We have put principals and teachers under more administrative control since NCTE was created. Principals and teachers need to be trusted and given control of teaching-learning rather than the NCTE and CBSE. NCTE should be monitored by a professional body and not by the MHRD, as it is now. That this arrangement has not succeeded is apparent.

Our Ministers and officials are all very experienced and intelligent people but we need to critically analyse, through previous experience and examples, if something better can be done. We had a Minister in the past who was a lawyer and who fought the case of the private schools in the court. When he was made Minister for HRD, he took drastic measures. The Ministry decided on ‘No detention’ of children till class eight and also made Secondary Board examination optional. Time has proved these decisions were erroneous and detrimental to ‘learning’.

Both decisions were reversed unanimously at the Central Advisory Board on Education. Who should be held responsible for pumping out a whole generation of children out of the schooling process? A previous Secretary of the SE&L said many times mafia in Coal Ministry is underground but in education, it is over ground and they are capable of manipulating any decision. Everyone talks against the coaching industry but no one is able to legislate on this. The total budget of the coaching industry is larger than the Government of India’s budget on education.

We need a well-designed body, named School Education Commission, to monitor schooling in our country. This body may be funding as well as a monitoring body. This should have the authority and teeth to decide on all aspects of education and training of under-18. The Government will anyways have the ultimate authority through the CABE on policy matters but day-to-day management can be left to professional bodies, like SEC. If this cannot be done by the Modi Government we cannot expect this to happen in the next few decades.

Writer: CB Sharma

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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