Primary education for the nation

For India to aspire for greatness, it needs to address its Primary Education needs

For India to aspire for greatness, it needs to address its Primary Education needs
For India to aspire for greatness, it needs to address its Primary Education needs

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]I[/dropcap]f the new Human Resources Development (HRD) Minister Prakash Javadekar intends to stress upon accessibility, affordability and quality of education and accountability of teachers, he must know he has a rocky road ahead of him.

It is well known that Javadekar has indicated he will avoid controversies, but we will have to see from where and how he starts his reform process. His predecessor neglected to focus upon basic quality education at school level, and the attendant need to reduce dropout rates, improve teacher attendance, inputs et al. Infrastructure may have been improved at few places.

While access to Wi-Fi at higher education campuses and setting up IITs, IIMs to cater to the need for higher technical education is an imperative, of equal if not more importance is the need for quality primary and secondary education. Until we have a healthy education system at school level, the ingress to institutions of higher learning will invariably be affected. We need a two-pronged strategy whereby we take existing institutes (IITs, IIMs, NIT, etc.) to world class standards while opening new ones.

Priority, however, must be given to Primary education which is in a shambles. Less than half of Class V students are able to read at a Class II level or do simple math. This is a colossal failure, not of the students or their parents, but of the entire eco-system spawned over nearly seven decades of freedom, which has permitted teachers to be least bothered about the education and future of their students – and thereby of the nation – with impunity.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]L[/dropcap]et’s face it. From mid-day meals in school to toilets now, successive governments have not cared to portray quality education as an enticement for school enrolment. Education is a desideratum in itself. Great educationists like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar were so poor that they survived on one meal a day to educate themselves. The mid-day meal was offered as an inducement to parents to not send minor children to labour; now the poor themselves realise the value of education but are not getting their due because of cumulative evils plaguing the system.

Teaching standards have continued to fall as teachers, headmasters and administrators have not been held accountable for their students. A recent survey in Gurugram (right next to the national capital) found that there was just ONE teacher in each of the 41 primary and middle schools there. These teachers double up as clerks too. Things may be worse in other states and it is quite possible that schools in remote or backward areas are also manned by single teachers (maybe even ad-hoc and temporary teachers, or worse, proxy teachers).

The proxy teacher is a uniquely Indian invention. In several districts across the country, a powerful political party would appoint its workers as teachers, regardless of qualifications, and these persons would simply rake in government salaries without ever appearing in class. Doing full time politics or other business, they would appoint unemployed graduates or even high school matriculates to teach on their behalf, at a pittance. Growing rage at the grassroots may have phased this evil out, but it is not unlikely that it persists at village level in some places. A thorough nationwide reconnaissance is in order to quantify the status of school education and identify these ills.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]I[/dropcap]t is hardly surprising that though education is constitutionally guaranteed, parents who wish to genuinely educate their children are taking their wards out of government-run schools (barring the well-managed Kendriya Vidyalayas) and admitting them to private schools, where at least teacher attendance is assured. Many of these private unaided schools make sincere attempts to educate their wards, while struggling to keep afloat.

The UPA government shrugged off all responsibility to improve the system and even to provide schools to educate the poor by legislating the Right to Education (RTE) Act and forcing private schools (barring minority run institutes) to assume the burden of the State by providing free education to the poor via 25 per cent of their seats. This has burdened the infrastructure of existing schools while evading the issue of quality of learning.

The freedom to minority institutions is unwarranted, particularly as these also tend to be the best-funded institutions in the country. Their quality of teaching is also believed to be good, if not better.

Javadekar’s primary focus should be to fix the virtual breakdown of primary education and initiate a system for quality teacher training. Successive ministries have ignored the problem and focused only on college education.

Great nations have always understood the need for well-trained teachers at school level. These teachers are responsible for the development of the child’s mind, analytical ability and shaping of his/her personality.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]I[/dropcap]t is necessary to start holding teachers accountable for the learning abilities of their students. The United States – which we love to ape in unnecessary ways – holds regular nationwide objective exams which test the basic abilities of students in order to grade the teachers and schools. This seems a good model to emulate. Mid-session training programmes for teachers can follow. Compulsory retirement of absentees must also be considered.

Teacher accountability is the core of any reform process. Besides regular attendance, they must have the ability to teach. Recall that one news channel went into a classroom and found teachers spelling the days of the week as Sande Mande; clearly such teachers cannot be re-educated, they must be sacked.

The T.S.R. Subramanian Committee report on Education has identified many problems and made recommendations to fix the sector. It has noted that the appointment of unqualified and low paid contractual teachers has further bought down the quality of teaching and learning.

The ball is in the minister’s court. He must understand that India cannot have great or world class higher education if the nation’s primary education sector is in a shambles. Poor schools are behind the ever-increasing dropout rate.

The author is a freelancer, he tweets at @therijuluppal


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here