The recently announced NAS (National Assessment Survey) 2015 refers to big gap in average learning levels of students from School Boards of various states, compared to the results available from students going through the CBSE and ICSE routes. This will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the distressing realities in the Indian school system. Note that the vast majority of children go through the state school board system and recent data is reflects the poor levels of education in the country.
The survey results corroborate the picture described in June 2016 by the Ministry of HRD sponsored Committee to revise the National Education Policy, portraying the ground conditions in school education in India in depressing detail. It is not just that levels of education and learnings are low, there is also strong evidence that these are sharply coming down in recent years. Indeed the only positive feature over the past decades has been the steady rise in literacy and basic education coverage, particularly strengthened by the RTE in the last decade. The bad news is that quality is abysmal and falling; there are huge questions about inclusivity, and lack of adequate opportunity for students coming from economically and socially deprived classes. Sharp improvement in education standards is now urgently imperative, and should be taken up as a national priority.
There are many inter-related, as well as unrelated factors which have contributed to the growing disparity in learning levels in school boards, in general across the country, compared to CBSE and ICSE. To start with, the school education system is riddled with political considerations as the prime mover of decision making, rather than issues related to raising academic standards across the board. While the RTE has addressed the question of school infrastructure, even though only partially and inadequately, implementation levels of the current law of the land is highly unsatisfactory. Recruitment, transfers and postings of teachers are prime consideration issues by educational administrators, closely involved with politicians from the state to the village level. The critical importance of teacher-training and teacher-preparation has not been recognized in many states. There is imperative need to invert the pyramid, and bring sharp focus on the primacy of the teacher, and above all the student, in the educational equation. There seems to be no recognition of this obvious need, failing which it is impossible to move forward.
The reason for inferior learning levels in science, arithmetic and English of most rural and students from economic depressed classes is not difficult to comprehend. In general, the urban student, who frequently comes from the middle class, supplements his learning through private tuitions, as well as from support from the home – these benefits are not available to a vast majority of rural and poorer students, where over-60 percent exist at subsistence levels. Despite school education being free, it is a commentary on the quality of education provided by school boards, that families who can hardly afford it prefer private schools for their children, at large economic cost.
There is no systematic awareness or recognition that the government school standards need to be drastically improved. In relation to science teaching, any survey will establish that in nearly every rural school which even nominally has a laboratory, one will find that it is usually closed, or unused, in disrepair, almost invariably with no electric connection or supply of chemicals and fuels for operations – this is a nationwide phenomenon. With regard to standards in arithmetic and mathematics, the present pedagogy and course material is primarily based on rote and memory system – which does not encourage the students to think; the need to review and upgrade pedagogy and syllabus has been repeatedly stressed and recommended, with no action on the ground.
The gap in learning of English is easily understood when one realises that in most board schools, English is taught as a language only from Class III or onwards – many private schools, even in rural areas, teach English as a subject from Class I.
RTE legally mandates education from age six. Pre-schooling is hardly prevalent in many parts of India, particularly in rural areas. The Anganwadis rightly stress health and malnutrition, but there is little attention to education. The child has rapid brain-growth between ages of 3 to 4 – this is the age that he or she should be exposed to basic arithmetic and language training. Pre-school is more common in many urban areas – witness the enormous competition for admission of affluent children to high quality metropolitan schools. It is now time that the Right to Education should be legally extended to the 4-5 age group.
These briefly summarise some very large gaps in the system, and issues which need attention. For most students who do not need to pursue higher studies, there is a need to review the examination systems at Class X and Class XII, differentiate the stream which one intends to proceed for higher education, and to provide lower assessment levels for those who want to go to vocational and self-employment streams. Technology needs to be inducted in multiple ways, in an imaginative, practical and sensible manner. The teacher and student, along with the Principal and the school have to be the top-most focus for consideration in policy making. Many states are already making significant improvements; however the Hindi belt yet to wake up in this regard.
The NAS Report is another reminder that Indian school education is in shambles. Major policy changes are imperative. Short-term palliative measures are no longer adequate. There is no evidence yet that policy makers comprehend the depth and extent of the crisis