The Gist of Yojana: March 2016

The Gist of Yojana: March 2016

Transforming Indian School Education: Policy Concerns and Priorities

It is more than six decades ago that India embarked on the task of transforming the elitist system of education inherited from the colonial past into one that is mass based and built on principles of equality and social justice. The task has not been an easy one. The country also had to contend with galloping population neutralising the progress made in getting children to school and ensuring quality education for all. This endeavour, stretched over more than six decades, has witnessed several significant policy measures resulting in remarkable progress as reflected in near universal enrolment of children in schools. One of the most defining moments in this journey has been the amendment of the Constitution making education a Fundamental Right and adopting the corresponding Right to Education Act by the Indian Parliament in 2009. The country has also embarked on the ambitious path of making secondary education universal and ensuring equitable access to higher education for all. These achievements and policy measures have raised new expectations for the future.

Having achieved near universal enrolment of children in elementary stage and enormous expansion of access to education at all levels the country is poised to move on major initiatives on the quality front and to ensure that children not only go to school but also receive quality education. But this demands several policy reform measures refocusing our attention and investment of resources on certain priority areas.

Traditionally, both central and state governments have been following supply based approach for locating social sector facilities, in general and for locating schools in particular. This was necessary in order to ensure full enrolment of children in schools. However, this has led to considerable amount of irrational considerations in the distribution of available resources and consequent imbalances in educational facilities. The top-down supply approach has also led to considerable non-utilisation or under utilization of facilities.

Such a policy of consolidation has to clearly move towards new framework for establishing new schools as well as combining the existing ones to create viable schools of good quality This would also demand examining alternate means of facilitating participation of children through provision of transportation and residential facilities. The need is urgent as small schools which generally get located in the fringes of villages are invariably inhabited by marginalised groups leading to further accentuation of inequities even with access to school. Therefore, question of properly equipping every school with adequate material and human resources should be determined based on local parameters such as the size and location of the school and the accessibility to neighbouring habitations. It may not be desirable to fix a national norm in this regard.

There is increasing empirical evidence to suggest that by the time children reach school-age, it might already be difficult to stop certain types of exclusions. Indeed, a large body of literature in neuroscience, psychology and cognition makes the case for early childhood interventions. In particular, it is clearly established that nutrition and cognitive stimulation early in life are critical for long-term skill development. Undernourished children have higher rates of mortality, lower cognitive and school performance, and are more likely to drop out of school. Thus, learning starts well before the formal entry of the child to the primary school. Indeed, there is a widespread conviction among educators that the benefits of pre-primary education are carried over to primary school. In particular, it is observed that teachers identify lack of academic skills as one of the most common obstacles children face when they enter school. Also, they perceive preschool education as facilitating the process of socialization and self-control necessary to make the most of classroom learning.

For many of the poor, life cycle begins and ends, one generation after another, in a small world of debt and servitude. Deprived of basic education and steeped in intergenerational debt traps, there is no escape route available from the miseries of life. Placed in such conditions people tend to react in unusual ways. One such means is the engagement of small children in remunerative labour which severely affects their education. Yet, education is the only means they look to for liberating themselves from the misery. Perhaps with the exception of some very abusive or callous parents, most parents even from the poorest families would prefer to withdraw their children from work if they can afford it. So the main approach should be to create such conditions that enable parents to send their children to school.

Teacher is the central actor to tackle the quality issue. There are several issues related to teacher that need to be addressed with appropriate policy measures. Recent Teacher Eligibility Tests have revealed that a large proportion of the teacher-aspirants do not qualify despite having requisite academic and professional degrees. This highlights the poor quality of the aspirants who seek to enter the teaching profession. While this could partially be offset by improving the preservice teacher education programmes, the real answer lies in addressing the professional needs of the practising teacher on a continuous basis. This issue cannot be tackled adequately through the occasional in-service training programmes organized under SSA or RMSA. Instead it is time to develop a proper policy on professional development of the school teacher. Such a policy should incorporate several critical elements such as subject matter upgradation and use of ICT.

The policy should also effectively link participation in professional development programmes with career prospects. A corollary of this would be to present an integrated perspective on teacher support and supervision.
The tremendous potential of ICT in recasting the quality of school education experiences is widely debated and discussed. However, policies and programmes that effectively transform the school experiences of the young learner need greater attention. We have to move beyond the current paradigm of supplying hardware and proprietary software to schools and embed JCT into all aspects of school life. It should be recognized that ICT is already part of every growing child; withholding its use in schools in an integrated fashion only creates alienation of school from the larger life space of the student. Further as a UNESCO report entitled ‘Our Creative Diversity’ points out, exclusion from technology places those concerned at a disadvantage in the coming “information society.” It creates an ever larger rift between high society, between high technology and the modernization of the elite on the one hand, and the marginalization of the majority of the population on the other. The swift pace of high-tech advances drives another wedge between youngsters. The haves will be able to communicate around the globe. The have-nots will be consigned to the rural backwater of the information society.

Learning is at the centre of all educational processes. Parents send their children, after all, expecting them to master reading and writing and acquire knowledge. It is difficult to condone poor performance of schools on this count. Poor learning levels act doubly against the interest of the marginalised groups. However, it is misleading to treat school quality as synonymous with pass percentages in public examination or placement in national league tables based on national testing. If quality with equity overcoming the problems of exclusion and discrimination is the concern, definition of school quality cannot be based on marks and grades alone which often hide underlying inequalities. Two broad sets of factors that cause inequity in quality have to be recognized and dealt with, namely, inequality of provision of quality schools and secondly inequitable practices and discrimination within Schools.

Crafting a new policy for a country as varied as India is indeed a difficult proposition. The ‘rights perspective’ as enunciated in the RTE Act set the tone for moving ahead in this difficult endeavour. implementing the principle of equal rights requires shared experiences and the narrowing of the range of inequalities. It. is necessary to think about the kinds of institutions that facilitate or hinder these goals. Continued inability to overcome gross inequalities would lead to an incomprehensibly wide range of experiences and interests in the society. A society in which the range of inequality is so extensive is one in which members share little, They cannot understand the claims and grievances of one another and they fear that recognizing the claims of those who are much different will come at their own expense. The new education policy has to envision a new world of values and ethics of learning to learn and live together. If such a policy has to be substantive and not merely rhetorical it must be based on shared values and experiences of people living in this vastly diverse cultural, linguistic, and economic context. There is, in fact, unprecedented groundswell in favour of education throughout the country that raises a sense of optimism for the future. The policy of the future has to be built on this sense hope and aspiration.

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