Government should facilitate education, not curb it

THE ASER report 2012 on the status of education in rural areas is a revealing document in many senses. It reveals many dismal facts about the state of education in the country.

Though, I personally don’t agree to many subjective conclusions drawn in the report, the mammoth exercise carried out by ASER, an initiative of a reputed social organization Pratham, is laudable.

A clip of ASER Report 2012 cover on status of education in rural India

A clip of ASER Report 2012 cover on status of education in rural India

It culls data from across rural India and tries to interpret them in a meaningful way. Some of its key findings are noteworthy.

  1.  Over 96% of all children in the age group 6-14 years are enrolled in school.
  2.  Nationally, the proportion of children (6-14 years) not enrolled in school has gone up from 3.3% in 2011 to 3.5% in 2012.
  3.  Private school enrollment continues to rise in almost all states, even in rural areas. The percentage of 6-14 year old children enrolled in private schools has gone up from 25.6% in 2011 to 28.3% in 2012. Since 2009, private school enrollment in rural areas has been rising at an annual rate of about 10%. If this trend continues, by 2018, 50% students in rural areas will get enrolled in private schools.
  4.  Reading levels are a cause for serious concern. More than half of all children in Std V are at least three grade levels behind where they should be.
  5.  Private inputs into children’s education, such as private schooling and private tutoring, are widespread and their influence of children’s learning outcomes is substantial.

It is gladdening to note that 96% of Indian children are going to school. That the rest 4% are not going to schools is a sad fact that needs serious attention from the government and the society.

The awareness created over the years by the government (yes, the government) and social organizations about the need to educate children is having its positive impact.

Let us all be happy about it and bring the rest 4% under its fold too.

However, anyone who lives in India and has a discerning eye would know that the progress has largely been due to increased awareness as well as the changed mindset of Indian families. Indian families take a lot of trouble, and make a lot of sacrifices, to see their children educated.

I know of poor parents who willingly spend around 30-40% of their earning on sending their children to schools and to private tuitions. They can spend even more, if they are assured that their children would get the right education. Alas, this does not happen. But, that is a different issue.

So, this progress has been largely due to Indian parents’ proclivity to see their children educated and the sacrifices made by them.

No one disputes the contribution of the government in the area of education. Government schools have been educating crores of children.

Though, government schools are criticized for lack of facilities and poor quality of education, give them the credit that is due to them.

They provide functional literacy to children in rural as well as urban areas and it is not a mean task in a country like India.

Thanks to midday meal scheme, and several other such initiatives, children are going to school and it is a happy outcome. We should hope that the facilities and quality too would improve with time.

The conclusion that enrollment in private schools is going up even in rural areas is a no-brainer. Everyone knows about it. The reason is simple.

Given a choice, most of the parents would send their wards to an English-medium school. And most of the government schools do not offer English-medium education.

Therefore, wherever, even in rural areas, a private English-medium school is available, parents prefer to send their wards to them instead of a government school.

There is a demand for English-medium schools and the government schools do not address this demand.

I, personally, don’t feel that medium of instruction makes any difference in learning.

While, mother tongue as medium of instruction remains an advantage in the junior classes, English-medium instruction comes as an advantage in the senior classes.

And children, all children, are so versatile, they can handle any language easily, provided the teacher knows the medium of instruction well.

Take it from me – if a teacher speaks good English, and if he or she actually speaks English in the classroom, his or her students too will learn to speak good English before the year ends.

And if the teacher can’t, well the children too will not.

I also don’t see reading levels as a cause for serious concern.

It would improve with time, if children keep going to schools and as facilities and teaching methodology evolve with time.

An important conclusion of the study is that private efforts and inputs and their influence on learning outcomes are substantial.

The report draws this conclusion about rural India.

I feel it is equally true for urban India. Most of children even in urban areas do well because of their parents’ and family’s role in their education.

And though private tuitions are generally looked down upon, there are many who have been helped by private tutors. Especially, if the parents are not in a position to help their children with their course work.

I am of firm opinion that the government should also encourage people and organizations to open more and more private schools, while making serious effort to improve infrastructure and facilities in its own schools .

It should regulate private schools but should not curb good efforts being made by them.

And I certainly am not in favour of government officials meddling in the affairs of private schools.

In my own native city Jamshedpur, the government education department officials instead of trying to improve the conditions in the government schools, which they are supposed to run, have been meddling in the affairs of good private schools for the last couple of years.

And the result has been disappointing. They have meddled in the admission process.

They forced a lottery-based admission process, yet did not ensure a centralized lottery system.

And the result is that 50% of children have not found a berth in any private school, while some have got admits in several schools.

The interview and written test based system was not very good earlier, perhaps. But it has turned worse now.

Every parent wants to see his or her child go to a Loyola School, a Sacred Heart Convent, a DAV School, a Rajendra Vidyalaya, a Carmel School or a DBMS School.

School children

School children

The solution is to encourage these schools to add more sections or to start a new shift or to encourage other organizations to set up more such good schools.

But the education department instead of encouraging these schools is only muzzling their efforts.

And the department offers no solution to those parents whose wards have not been lucky enough to get a berth in any private school.

They just look away and say they can’t help.

Though I agree with many of the conclusions of ASER Report 2012, I strongly disagree with its attempt to link a drop in learning levels to promulgation of RTE Act (no detention policy).

In effect, the report suggests that no-detention policy might have been a cause for a drop in learning levels.

The report states, “A child in Std 3 has to learn to do two digit subtraction, but the proportion of children in government schools who can even recognize numbers up to 100 correctly has dropped from 70% to near 50% over the last four years with the real downward turn distinctly visible after 2010, the year RTE came into force. These downward trends are also reflected in Std 5 where a child would be expected to be able to at least read a Std 2 text and solve a division sum. Private schools are relatively unaffected by this decline but a downturn is noticeable, especially in math beyond number recognition.”

It is all a load of bunkum. Do they mean to say that earlier the teachers were seriously teaching two digit subtraction, and they stopped doing that after the RTE Act was promulgated in 2010?

Anyone who thinks that children should be detained in junior classes on the grounds that they have not learned enough should not talk anything about education. Because they do not understand education and learning process.

I don’t attach much importance to such evaluations of a child’s abilities.

Did those children know counting up to 100 when they were evaluated? Then it hardly takes one hour to teach a child addition and subtraction. Did they know multiplication tables up to 10?

Then it hardly takes one hour to teach them multiplication.

And one hour to teach division.

Provided the children are happy and jumping with joy.

Did they not know even counting up to 100?

Then it hardly takes one week of repeated counting to make the child learn counting and then one week to learn multiplication tables up to 10 and then one week to learn addition and subtraction.

Children are far smarter than the people who are bent upon assessing their skills.

RTE Act has many lacunae. And some good points.

But its best provision undoubtedly is one that relates to the ‘No Detention Policy’.

It is because it removes the curse of failure from a child’s shoulders.

It is because it celebrates the joy of learning.

And also because it recognizes the fact that the child never fails in learning.

It is we who fail in telling him or what to learn and how to learn.

I am yet to see a child who does not learn counting up to 100 if you make him count up to 100 a hundred times, while he or she is jumping up and down.

I know the critics of no detention policy would latch on to this conclusion.

I only hope that ASER would remove this surmise on page 1 of their provisional report.

Rest of the report, however, is okay and noteworthy.

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