Most children may have reached school, but that does not take away from the fact that they are not learning enough. Several surveys have already castigated the Indian government's school system, while the poor loudly demand a better education. Even though school infrastructure has considerably improved with the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, classroom processes remain unchanged. The recently released Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) confirms this deduction. According to the report that has been compiled by the NGO Pratham, only three out of every 10 Class 3 students can read a Class 1 textbook. Worse still, only half the students in government schools can correctly recognise numbers between one and 100. We must ask some key questions here: what is making our children fail? More importantly, how can we get them to learn?
There are several instances which prove that children do not fail because of some inherent weakness. Anna Hazare's Ralegaon Siddhi school has made champions of dropouts, children from Abhujmar tribes have mastered learning in Ramakrishna Mission schools and girls from impoverished slums are continually outshining their male counterparts in Sister Cyril's Kolkata experiment. The problem clearly does not lie with children, it lies with schools.
Children often reach school with only a comprehension of local dialect, and here they are unfortunately introduced to teachers who are neither able to understand their social context nor the gravity of their needs. As a result, the student is never able to master a new language entirely. The burden of non-comprehension grows everyday and even subjects such as mathematics and science consequently suffer.
Facilitating learning need not be so difficult for local teachers. The Shiksha Kumaris of Rajasthan, who hadn't graduated beyond Class 9-10, make perfect examples of teachers who have been able to be outstanding despite the confines of a limited education. Their training was organised in a manner that allowed them to master every chapter. Nothing was assumed. There were several practice sessions. The presumption was that everything needs practice. It seems antithetical that regular teachers' training often works on the assumption that the teacher already possesses the requisite knowledge, making them high on theories of learning but very low on practice.
Mere examination reforms prove to be largely unhelpful in the longer run if they have no impact on classroom processes. A copy of Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) need not just be an avoidable 300-page source book for teachers. The evaluation system ought to be in a format that allows even a non-literate parent or guardian some understanding because only an engagement with the child's home environment can lead to the centrality of the school being more holistically restored.
For a child to eventually learn, there are several steps that we must take - governance reforms in recruitment, cadre management, greater transparency, timely salary payments, effective grievance redressal systems, a timely assessing of pupil's progress, these are just a few of the issues that need to be raised and addressed. The Right to Education (RTE) Act is helping provide a legal framework and is enabling resource mobilisation. If this were combined with some of the aforementioned interventions, dramatic changes in learning are possible. Learning, after all, is not rocket science. It is possible for students to imbibe and teachers to facilitate.
Amarjeet Sinha is a civil servant
The views expressed by the author are personal