What would it take?

Recently, I had a tiff with someone who just did not agree with my views about the Right to Education Act 2009. I wrote to this gentleman and asked him to list down all the things that he felt were not so great about the RTE and I would sincerely make an attempt to answer each point. This was born out of my own self interest as I’m currently working a paper on the same subject, so having different perspectives (sometimes even if they are to the south of normal) help me develop my thought process on subject better. The response I got from this gentleman was a bit of a downer. It said : RTE cannot be implemented. Period.

I thought to myself, this country has had way too many people who whine and belt out complaints peppered with “this doesn’t work” and “that will not work”.  We have had an excess of armchair philosophers in the last sixty years. Today as a country we are seeking solutions  not endless arguments and opinions on the issue at hand. While opinions and debates are essential to arrive at a solution, too often than should be, the search for a solution takes a backseat. I was a little disappointed with this gentleman but I left the discussion at that. A well-reasoned argument (even if goes against your opinion) would have merited a response, a rant (however brief) doesn’t deserve one. Anyway, it got me thinking and rest of this post is an extension to this initial discussion or rather non-discussion.

So, What are the solutions for India’s education system? How can we make it better? What would it take to bring a paradigm shift in our approach to Education?

What would it really take to revolutionize the Indian education system?

Apart from promoting the culture of rote learning, one of the major issues with our education system is the lack of quality teachers. The greatest emphasis, I personally feel needs to be placed on getting high-quality people into teaching first, then focus should be widened on better assessment techniques and implementation of the RTE policy that will uphold all schools to standard norms.

1. Improve the quality of Teachers : The quality of a country’s education system cannot exceed the quality of it’s educators. Widely known and accepted fact, yet such little is done about it. When I say quality, I mean the quality of candidates entering the system and quality of training imparted to them while in-service.

  • Incentive for the teachers :  There is no incentive system anywhere across India to motivate teachers to perform better. Teacher’s professional growth/incentive should be a single function of student achievement data. There is a gross lack of accountability for teachers on how the students perform.
  • Improve the status of teaching as a profession in India : Top performing countries in education across the globe recruit their teachers from the top 5-10% of their best universities (Singapore, Finland), here if you can’t make anything out of your life, you become a teacher. [I’m aware of this because of my stint as a teacher in a low-income school for two years]. There is an element of low self-esteem associated with a teachers job in India so we’re obviously unable to attract our best people into this profession.
  • Teacher Training should be effective and consistent : The idea of in-service and pre-service training for teachers in low-income schools, government schools and affordable private schools (APS) is practically non-existent. So the idea of professional development for teachers doesn’t exist which leads to stagnancy in the profession.

2.  Adopt more holistic ways to gauge student learning (Assessments) :

  • Through my school years, marks/grades were considered to be a reflection of how ‘good/smart’ the child was and nothing has changed even today. A child is often pushed to chase marks by embracing rote learning, so naturally understanding and passion for learning take a back seat.
  • The Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) introduced by the government is a very progressive step that prescribes formative and summative assessments in lieu of the usual unit tests, half yearly exams and final exams.  Teachers are now prescribed to use innovative and continuous assessment techniques like : project work, open book tests, observing a child’s daily behavior etc. Also,since most states have given up examinations (the only assessment system that existed before) and adopted the Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system, a child can now not be failed until grade 8 – which in a way is good as it takes away a lot of pressure from learning. (but having been a teacher, I could argue both ways about this)
  • CCE is in a pilot stage in most parts of the country. Most education functionaries and teachers lack clarity about the finer details and are experimenting with effective ways to implement CCE. But I have hope that when CCE would be implemented in its true spirit, it will bring in a diffferent approach to learning and teaching both.
  • To implement effectively, teachers will have to modify their teaching instructions and adopt innovative measures like activity based learning, there by making the curriculum interesting to children.

3.  Implement and RTE effectively – monitor strictly and hold accountable all private schools, government aided schools and government under the ambit of RTE :

The major issue with our education system is educational inequity. Excellent education is not accessible to all children or lets just say excellent education is available to only those who can afford it. Our system almost promotes inequity unlike the education systems of our South East Asian counterparts Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong where the education system is centralized and almost all children go to public schools. This again is a ramification of the decentralized education system that we are aware of – 2 National Boards, 28 State boards. Unfortunately here, where a child comes from goes on to dictate who he can become. (as I’ve said many times before this)

The RTE is trying to take care of this on some levels by introducing the 25% reservation act. Hope it’s implementation is successful.

  • All government schools are already under the ambit of the Right to Education Act 2009, but we must push to monitor and hold accountable all schools across the country under the RTE policy.
  • RTE lays down standard infrastructure norms (toilets, drinking water, classrooms, library etc), prescribes and ideal teacher-student ratio of 1:30, demands a basic teacher qualification (D.ed, B. ed) and all teachers to clear the TET (Teacher eligibility test) and allows for a 25% reservation in all private schools for students from economically weaker sections.
  • If the RTE can be implemented across the country and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and it’s state counterpart State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) can monitor very strictly all schools at a  state and national level to adhere to the standards prescribed by the RTE, then one day all schools in India will be able to provide all children a quality education.

If these basics are implemented well, I feel we will take next steps towards a better education system. All this will of course will take a couple of years at least, but I’m hopeful just knowing that something as path-breaking as the RTE has now become an act in 2009 after having been a mere directive principle for so many decades.

My 0.02$ on the issue!

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Also came across this talk by Sir Ken Robinson which  talks about “Changing Education Paradigms”. It was  a revelation! Beautifully crafted – video and content both. It’s a must watch for anyonein the Education Sector, actually on second thoughts, a must watch for everyone who has been through the system.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

Why don’t we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it’s because we’ve been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies — far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity — are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. Sir Ken led the British government’s 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education, a massive inquiry into the significance of creativity in the educational system and the economy, and was knighted in 2003 for his achievements.

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One thought on “What would it take?

  1. Chaitra, What you wrote about revolutionizing the educational system in India could as easily apply to the U.S. educational system. I believe that India actually rates higher on the educational scale than the U.S. but this may depend on which areas are measured. I gather that teachers here have little/no freedom to teach creatively . Creative thinking is frowned on and they have to teach by the book. It will be a struggle for you and for teachers in general in India to have the RTE implemented, but at least you’re on the way.

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