How can one strengthen primary school education in India?
A Mckinsey study on “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools” has many lessons for India.
First the report. It tells us that the United States was a world leader in educating its population…once. This lead has kept decreasing and today does not exist. Not only is there a fall in the number of capita high school graduates but also
It’s the quality of learning that is worrying educators. This chart shows us how poorly American kids fare in comparison to the world. (India figures are not available):
Why are American kids doing this badly? Well, although this report shows that children of some races (black and Latino) lag behind whites in learning by several years, and although poor children of all races lag behind those who are well-off, this pattern changes in some schools. Children do well regardless or race and economic background in some areas and some schools. This has led educationists in to confirm what they already knew: that educational attainment has a lot to do with the kind of school and the quality of teachers.
What about India?
In India there is illiteracy, yes, but it is the quality of education being imparted to millions that is in question. Primary school children in many schools across the country have been found to be lacking in basic literacy and numeric skills.
And like in the US, in India too there is a learning gap along ethnic and religious lines. As poor reading and arithmetic skills prevent children from studying up to higher levels, people are doomed to poverty even before they reach the fifth grade. Having the “stamp” of being literate is of no use to them.
Is India doing anything about this except for promises by politicians to increase the number of schools and increase enrollment levels? True, the government’s midday meal scheme has helped motivate parents to send their kids to school and there are various schemes which I have read about in different states (I do not have a list of them or how they are being implemented) but what about actually improving the quality of schools and the teachers?
In America a small experiment is on to try and improve their system. A new teacher evaluation system is in place which will reward teachers who do well by giving them high salaries, and punish those who do not, by dismissing them. However this experiment has run into a lot of criticism as many educators believe that one cannot evaluate teachers by children’s scores alone.
I do not know much about why some American kids may be resistant to learning or what is lacking in their schools, but I do have an idea about India.
While the principle of good salaries for good teachers is a sound one, this is not the critical factor. Looking at it from the money angle is a narrow approach. Well qualified teachers do tend to gravitate towards better paying private schools but it may not only be money that they are looking for. A teacher will find it difficult to do her job if she is under pressure from bureaucrats, is hampered by duties other than teaching, restricted by the lack of teaching aids, frustrated due to high absenteeism of students and their lack of interest, and feel hopeless if she cannot manage to communicate with the parents.
As I had mentioned in this post many girls and boys cannot concentrate on their studies due to the burden of work at home. I have personally taught poor children who come to school so tired that they drop off to sleep. Children who are beaten because they have not done some household chore. Children whose parents have told them that they need to contribute to the family income rather than waste time at school. In other words, poverty is the enemy. Perhaps if the government starts to pay families to keep their children in school (over and above their school expenses) it might help. I do not know if any state has a scheme like this for BPL (Below Poverty Line) families.
This is not to say that teachers of under performing children are not to blame. The system is desperate need of overhaul but I do not see the government doing anything about this. One scheme after another is well and good, but the system has to change, good teachers need to be rewarded. But as many have said of America’s experiment too, dedicated teachers cannot be bought. So you need to create the right environment in which they will thrive. By giving them freedom to operate, giving them greater responsibility, and most important…respect. This is at one end. At the other end you have to create the right environment for the children to come to school, by ensuring that the parents do not feel deprived of an earning member, by ensuring that they have one less mouth to feed. Counseling parents will also help. At times socio-cultural factors play a role in parents decisions regarding the education of their children, specially girls.
And when it comes to evaluating a teacher, there is no doubt that accountability needs to be brought into the system, after taking into account the level of difficulty in each situation. It’s necessary if India has to rise. This New York Times article explains how the economic health and the educational health of a nation are so closely intertwined.
Update (21st June): This excerpt is from today’s TOI, Ahmedabad edition about what a citizen Vinod Pandya discovered through an RTI application.
He found that 60 per cent of the 6,000 primary school teachers responsible for the foundation in education of 2.10 lakh children were not qualified. These teachers did not have a BEd degree or a simple Primary Teachers Certificates….Almost 90 per cent of the teachers were drawing a salary between Rs 500 and Rs 2,000. Some teachers were shown born in 1983 thus getting BEd degrees at the age of 12 years! These people were teaching class X students. In some schools, the principal was just a higher secondary school passs. Nearly 50 per cent teachers did not have accounts in banks, many did not have provident fund accounts. Who is responsible for this mess,” asks Pandya.
Basically what this means is that just about anyone is being hired, and paid whatever the management feels like mostly to save money or rather to pocket funds allocated for the purpose.
(Photographs are by me and copyrighted)
(Vivek Khadpekar had sent me a link to an article about the experiment in the USA to improve their system and this led me to find out more about the subject, and hence this post.)