When my colleague’s kid got into this reputed school in the National Capital Region, he couldn’t believe his luck. It happened almost effortlessly. He applied to only a few schools and got a call from this one. Even before he could think of approaching someone influential to put in a good word, the kid had made it to the final list.
Now, after four years, he is not sure if he was really lucky. Every year, the school hikes the fee by 25% or more. With his modest journalist’s salary, he is just about managing. But he wishes it were worth the money.
At the end of the academic term last month, the school handed over the kid’s class work. Glaring grammatical and spelling errors in English and Hindi were marked correct. The kid had made the same mistakes throughout the year and the teachers dutifully overlooked the errors each time.
Perhaps, the teachers did not care. Perhaps, they did not know better. But whatever they did was criminal. We all know that early school years are when the child is a veritable sponge. What she learns in junior classes is what she carries with her all her life.
One of the major findings of the ‘Quality Education Study’ conducted by Wipro and Educational Initiatives in 2011 was that misconceptions acquired in lower classes stay with the students. It also found that learning levels in 2011 were significantly lower at the primary level than what was observed in 2006 in the same schools tested on the same questions.
Two-thirds of fourth graders could not state the length of a pencil when placed against a ruler. Nearly half the students in classes IV, VI and VIII thought the shape of a square object would change if it is tilted. Asked who among Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, was still alive, only a little over a third of class IV students got it right.
The study covered 23,000 students from 89 “reputed” private schools in the six metros, each equipped with a library, a lab and computers with internet facility. Almost all parents of these children were from the upper middle-class and 63% were graduates, post-graduates or PhDs.
The conclusion of the study was that India’s best schools were not in good shape. Their students did well in areas that required memorization and procedural skills, but were way behind the global standard when it came to understanding, conceptual clarity, thinking and application. Yet, we evaluate a school’s teaching quality by its students’ performance in board exams.
Till recently, there was no screening of teachers before they were hired. A Bachelor degree in Education was good enough. The Union Human Resource Ministry in 2011 introduced the Central Teacher Eligibility Test for all BEd graduates before they were hired in central government-run schools. When Delhi adopted the same exam for the first time for state schools, only 9% could pass.
The figure declined to 7% in the subsequent test last year.
Most private schools in Delhi and NCR, although affiliated to central education boards, do not screen teachers before hiring. But unless it is from a reputed university, most BEd degrees are a suspect. Last year, a Supreme Court-appointed committee headed by former chief justice of India JS Verma found that of the 291 teacher-training institutes it inspected in Maharashtra, only 34 were fit to continue.
While implementing the recommendations of the Verma Committee - giving regulatory powers to the National Council of Teacher Education for quality control and increasing the duration of the course -- the government, through its education boards, should also start continuous evaluation of the skills of existing teachers, even in private schools.
But a true turnaround will be difficult without the participation of vigilant parents.
Whichever school we send our kids to, we must demand a minimum standard of education. We owe more than the burden of exorbitant school fees to our little ones.