Reforming basic education for the underprivileged.
By Priti Adani
Improving the standards of basic education is the need of the hour—it is the foundation on which the future of India’s children will depend. However, despite a steady growth in literacy rates, our education standards lag woefully due to policy changes. Findings from the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in 2018 show that half of Indian schoolchildren lack the basic ability to read complete sentences not just from their own level but even those three levels below. What’s worse, less than one-third can do basic arithmetic. It’s unfortunate basic reading and numeracy skills are missing from a large number of such children even after years of attending school; India’s underprivileged children continue to be deprived of good quality education, a fundamental right.
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A new learning curve
The abysmal standards in schooling and lack of access to education are most certainly linked with poverty and the societal disadvantages it brings. Yet a lack of resources cannot and should not hinder the early development of a child. History has shown that many of India’s brightest minds came from impoverished backgrounds and yet they broke free from the shackles of poverty to get ahead in life. Education played a key role in their thinking and eventual success, both on a personal and public level.
So, what needs to be done? At the heart of any education reform is the school. Children spend a substantial part of their day here, outside their homes. Our schools must, therefore, be envisioned as vibrant and encouraging environments where children are encouraged to read, to learn and to play. Once this is achieved, parents will be more than happy to send their children to school, rather than utilise them for household chores, farming or trade.
Teachers are the other vital component of this ecosystem. Over the decades, in the absence of a robust rewards and penalty system, the interest of primary school teachers in teaching has generally been laidback. When this is combined with faulty teaching design and pedagogy rooted in top-down and rote learning, the results are hardly surprising. One silver lining is that the Right to Education (RTE) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have been changing this dismal picture, one policy at a time. But there’s so much we need to do.
Small steps to powerful change
Training and motivating teachers to engage with students at various levels through debate and discussion can deliver far more impact than conventional methods of one-way instruction. It’s also important to ensure an all-round focus on children’s development; for this, schools need to support their nutritional requirements and ensure their physical and mental well-being, as well. Access to quality education, free or subsidised, is a must if we are serious about equal opportunities for all.
A holistic approach to education can only serve our nation’s goal of nurturing its youthful talent and energy in line with its future skilling needs. When they have the skills to think and make better meaning of the world around them, children are empowered in the true sense. All this can happen when we build an education system that doesn’t merely train people for jobs but makes them well-rounded human beings. It’ll require a variety of approaches on ground, many of which already form part of on-going interventions by non-profits and corporate CSR organisations.
Finally, any educational reform must be aligned to the ground realities, yet purposefully tap into the creative potential lurking within every child, regardless of his/her social and economic background. It is only in the knowledge, talent and innovativeness of our children that we can realise the promise of education as a transformative force for nation building.
The author is chairperson, Adani Foundation