How to improve learning outcomes
The most challenging task would be to ensure teachers believe that every child can learn, and teach children at the right level. This may sound simple, but my work with government schools and teachers has convinced me that this will not be easy to achieve.Updated: Oct 24, 2020, 19:58 IST
The recent National Sample Survey Office (75th Round) data and the learning outcomes study of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (National Achievement Survey, 2017) show that India’s children are not learning at the primary stage, and as they move to higher levels, they are struggling to cope with the curriculum. This means that children who complete eight, 10 or 12 years of schooling are not equipped with the requisite knowledge and skills — be it formal skills (reading and writing), cognitive skills, technological skills or higher-order thinking skills.
The National Achievement Survey (NAS) also reveals a decline in learning levels as children move up the ladder. This, among other reasons, could explain the high drop-out rate at the secondary level, and higher at the higher secondary level. The 2017 NAS shows that a Class 3 student can correctly answer 66% of learning outcomes assessed; this drops to about 39% by the time the child reaches Class 10.
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 rightly focuses on the learning challenge in the classrooms. However, in order to attain universal foundational literacy and numeracy, which the NEP proposes, we have to work simultaneously on three fronts: Change the structure of the curriculum and assessment so that it moves away from rote-learning; work with primary teachers intensively to enhance their capacities and pedagogic practices; and make sure there are no dysfunctional, single-teacher/ two-teacher/ teacher-less schools in the country.
Now that the first stage recommended by NEP of five years foundational learning goes up to Class 2 (three years pre-primary and two years primary), the government can seriously consider consolidating small upper primary schools into one viable school at a cluster level. Then a student will not need to travel long distances if she can attend Class 3-12 in one cluster school. There is enough qualitative evidence to show that composite secondary schools retain more children. When children have to shift schools — especially girls — the problem of transport and the safety of transport/cycling acquires a momentum of its own — pushing more children out of the school system. The next challenge is upgrading/merging schools to make each school resource-rich in library/laboratories/sports/vocational education; and ensure there is a teacher for every class and every subject.
The most challenging task would be to ensure teachers believe that every child can learn, and teach children at the right level. This may sound simple, but my work with government schools and teachers has convinced me that this will not be easy to achieve.
Teachers need greater autonomy inside the classroom and they should not be tied down to curriculum-related time-tables. At the same time, they need to unlearn rote-learning practices and teach every child to understand and internalise basic concepts in mathematics and reading with comprehension. What a teacher believes in influences her attitude towards students, the pedagogy, and how she manages time to reach out to every child. A teacher’s prejudices, biases and attitudes can be a barrier to learning.
If a teacher believes that some children cannot learn, she is most likely to ignore them and focus on others. If a teacher believes that girls cannot learn mathematics, she will communicate it to the students, and girl students may feel afraid to ask questions. .
To improve the learning levels, India has to ensure that the education system focuses on what and how much our children are learning, and how we can support, encourage, and facilitate new teaching methods.
Vimala Ramachandran is an educational researcher and retired professor of teacher management, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration The views expressed are personal
The views expressed are personal