The past couple of decades in India have witnessed a consistent surge in Public- Private Partnership (PPPs) in the arena of education; a trend triggered by the launch of the District Primary Education Programme to universalise primary education in 1994 funded by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
By Dr. Anviti Singh
Background: The past couple of decades in India have witnessed a consistent surge in Public- Private Partnership (PPPs) in the arena of education; a trend triggered by the launch of the District Primary Education Programme to universalise primary education in 1994 funded by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Since then, PPPs have strengthened and the process of marketisation and privatisation in the education sector was set in motion. Meanwhile, the central government is caught between two opposing forces; on the one hand, there is pressure to reform education systems along market lines to create an army of human resources to help capitalist forces perpetuating their hegemony over both power and capital at both domestic and international front. On the other, there are constitutional obligations to provide equality of educational opportunity to all and to serve the purpose of equity and social justice.
Policy: The National Curriculum Framework 2005 and the Right to Education Act 2009 reflect these constitutional aims. Both these policy interventions transformed the Indian school landscape in terms of infrastructure, the demographics and also introduced contemporary pedagogical practices such as constructivism, inclusion, and multilingualism amongst others. In 2017, the Framework of Learning Outcome was released, which, though situated within the broader context of the National Curriculum Framework 2005, juxtaposes it in many ways. Introducing integrated, inclusive practices, NCF 2005 aspired to bring the learner to the centre of the educational process. With an aim to inculcate critical inquiry and critical thinking, it recognises the voices of the learners as well as the teachers. Therefore, envisioning teachers as facilitators, it perceives them in the context of social interrelationships mediated through cultural, linguistic identities and provides the liberty to customise curriculum and teaching practices according to culturally responsive pedagogy. As a facilitator, the teacher helps students to amalgamate new experiences with existing ones to construct knowledge. The cultural background including the language remains at the centre stage of this knowledge construction process requiring teachers to be aware of the socio-cultural background of their students and to incorporate this in their classroom processes.
However, the neoliberal forces- the corporates, and the foundations, consider teaching as an isolated act devoid of any social mediation, seeing education largely in terms of an educated workforce and the labour market. Accordingly, education means better achievement scores on standardised high stake tests so that improved learning outcomes in terms of competencies and skills can be measured. Teachers need to implement a stipulated curriculum within a given timeframe and perform in terms of improved learning outcome of students. A person skilled in some specific techniques aligned with such curricula may employ these in classrooms to raise the learning level of students. The Learning Outcomes at Elementary Stage 2017, certainly is an end product of such discourses.
The challenge before a teacher is therefore to use a child-centric curriculum which underpins the holistic development of students, and to improve learning outcomes-focused on subject- specific skills and competencies; both these concepts just do not go together.
This comes at a time when advocacy groups using popular media have built a narrative around government schools depicting their worsening condition and tarnished their image. Almost all the narratives centre on the poor quality of teachers, substandard curriculum and inefficient ways to enact curriculum in the classrooms. Simultaneously, education is being projected as a service and not fundamental right to be ensured by the government implying that the application of market principles such as competition and deregulation is the best way to improve its quality.
The centre, as well as the states (in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar), appoint para teachers, who are not required to fulfil the elaborate criteria laid down by regulatory bodies such as the National Council of Teacher Education to appoint permanent teachers. The contract teachers get some sort of in-service training once inducted into the service. Consequently, the burden of running government schools lies with these contract teachers, who are entrusted with the responsibility of running day-to-day activities of the school including all administrative and managerial work.
Moreover, at present the demographics of government schools has undergone a drastic change, constituting predominantly of first-generation learners and students coming from disadvantaged communities unveiling an array of multilingual and multicultural dispositions. Therefore, teachers are expected to enact the curriculum in an inclusive and culturally calibrated setting, taking into account the individual needs and pace of the learners which demands the investment of time to prepare lesson plans, design activities, language game and assessment techniques tailored accordingly. The ill-trained, ill-equipped para teachers, cannot do justice to their work in such circumstances.
Overburdened with academic, administrative, and sometimes extra duties such as election and census duty, teachers are facing time constraint to teach students, as they are accountable to the bureaucracy for the dwindling level of learning outcomes of students and are subject to constant pressure to perform, as the survey of academic achievement both from government and private bodies, project low learning achievement of students. These audits substantiate the claims made by neoliberal forces regarding underperforming government schools and incapable, inefficient, ineffective teachers. Consequently, the rights of teachers are being curtailed and they are being subjected to bureaucratic scrutiny. It is the result of advocacy and campaigns of such corporates and foundations that in 2017 framework for ‘Learning Outcomes at Elementary Stage’ was released by the Government of India. The framework provides an elaborate account of curricular expectations, skills and competencies of each subject to be studied at each grade from first to eighth.
Due to the structural adjustments, the government made under the influence of neo-liberal and global market forces, the government schools are now facing financial and human resource constraints. It has led to parental abandonment of government schools and the proliferation of private schools simultaneously. As a result, enrolment in government schools declined and they either had to be closed or get merged. Again the teachers were blamed for the closure and merger of schools. Various corporate foundations with their venture capital such as Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF) (Burch & Miglani, 2018), and non-government organisations Tech Mahindra, Teach for India etc. with funds coming from corporate social responsibility, came forward to rescue government schools and are working in tandem with the government to uplift the condition of government schools. These and many more such organisations are working to enhance the capacity of teachers, to build leadership skills of principals, to sensitise teachers on inclusion and child rights and so on. The issue here is their approaches to disseminate knowledge or train teachers or teach students, most of the time, do not align with the curriculum followed in the schools, lack evidence-based research and are not scalable. The irony is, they campaign and make advocacy for the accountability of teachers, but there are not any measures and frameworks as such to audit their work, they are not accountable to anyone. These corporate foundations and NGOs, which often are mouthpiece/façade of neoliberal forces, deprive teachers of their rights by presenting themselves as an alternative and register their presence felt in all aspects of schools, ranging from enhancing the learning level of students to training of in-service teachers. The training designed by such NGOs defies the principles of learner-centred and constructivist approaches of teaching promulgated by National Curriculum Framework 2005. Even The NISHTHA1, an in-service training programme for elementary teachers, introduced by the Government of India, denied the voices and needs of teachers by not involving them in the decision-making process. Both Government and non-government organisations are focused on developing skills and competencies in both students and teachers and thus promoting the cause of market and private sector. In these circumstances, lack of academic freedom and intellectual liberty curtails teachers’ motivation to learn, innovate and update their practices. In such a situation the real challenge for teachers is to enact a curriculum rooted in learner- centred teaching practices against the backdrop of standardised achievement tests, skills, and competencies. Imagine the dilemma of teachers, entangled in the web of some stark opposing concepts, teaching practices, and goals, and trying to fulfil all the objectives at once. Oscillating between the binary of learner-centred education and standardised achievement tests, the performance of teachers, as well as students, is bound to be compromised.
(The author is former school teacher and lecturer, and is Research Associate at the Institute for Research and Development in School Education, Modern School, Barakhamba Road, New Delhi, 110001. She has worked extensively in the field of teacher education and language teaching. With PhD in Education, her research interests include Specific Learning Disabilities, Multilingualism, and Teacher Education. Views expressed are personal.)