India’s learning crisis: It’s time to act

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Published: April 20, 2018 4:35:01 AM

That country is suffering from education crisis is clear. Now we need to fix the system. Better pre-service teacher training coupled with transparent and merit-based recruitments is the lasting solution

NCERT, learning crisis in india, ASER, NAS,  teacher positioning, school autonomy,  pre service teacher trainingTeacher shortages and poorly qualified teachers are both a cause and effect of poorly paid and managed teaching cadres. (PTI)

Maninder Kaur Dwivedi

January 2018 saw the release of two educational surveys—one privately sponsored and the other by the government. The non-government survey was the 12th round of ASER, conducted for the first time with secondary school-level children, as opposed to elementary level in earlier rounds. Meanwhile, NCERT released the fifth National Achievement Survey (NAS), done simultaneously for classes 3, 5 and 8. Earlier rounds of NAS were done at three-year intervals so that a cohort could be followed, as it progressed through classes 3, 5 and 8. NAS informs districts what is the average number of children who have mastered specific competencies.

While the specific headlines announcing both survey results may seem marginally different from before, the underlying message of both exercises remained the same as earlier editions—that the country faces a learning crisis. This manifests in children’s low levels of learning outcomes and inequity in education. In none of the survey findings so far is there a narrative as to how the previous exercises have been used to find solutions, to realise educational promise for reaping our demographic dividend. These assessments of varying methodologies have red flagged the issue yet again. We need to move forward from there, instead of being caught up in repetitive cycles of tweaking the methods, samples or indicators—as if the means were the end.

So who is going to fix the system we have been told repeatedly needs fixing? After all the hype has subsided, it can only be the teacher. The assessments do not capture the teacher availability or the average instruction time for any class. The results are averages over large samples, so are dip stick of health of the system. The individual teacher has to make a change in her classroom for averages to change. The teacher is the only one who interacts with the child, who has to teach at the level of the child, so as to ensure that each one moves forward in his/her learning journey. Good teachers would not have been surprised by any of the findings, they would intuitively know the students’ levels. The typical administrative reactions of more monitoring, more tests, extra classes, etc, will have limited value. Nuanced action is required.

In the short term, effective teaching time has to be ensured. Schools in most parts of the country open in April, and for Board classes it is expected that they will complete the syllabus by November. Deducting summer vacations, internal assessments, sundry holidays and activities, this leaves 25-28 weeks for active instruction. Breaking this up into hours, as per assigned subject periods, each teacher gets 120-150 hours with a class.

Given such timelines for Classes 10 and 12, the task before the teachers is difficult to say the least. It is made more challenging by the various ‘events’ and ‘abhiyans’ schools and teachers get routinely roped in to participate, as each takes time away from the limited instructional period. School autonomy and functioning should be sacrosanct, free from all events, rallies, human-chains and melas the state administration may be conducting.

In the medium term, school-wise pupil teacher ratio, including subject-wise at secondary level, should be mandatorily enforced. Ideally, assessments should be limited to such schools, till deficit of provisioning is made up in rest of the schools. It is a given that up to 80% of any educational budget in developed countries will go for teacher salaries. This should neither be a deterrent to adequate teacher provisioning nor grudged while planning budgetary outlays, for no country has built an educated skilled populace without a strong public education system.
Another medium-term intervention is making the sectoral manpower policies teacher-friendly.

Teacher shortages and poorly qualified teachers are both a cause and effect of poorly paid and managed teaching cadres. A few states have introduced better policies like transparent transfer mechanisms, which urgently need upscaling and strengthening. After adequate teacher positioning, school autonomy and teacher collaborations have demonstrated in many pilots to be the catalyst that transforms the education system. Teacher’s own collectives or networks built collaborations and institutional capacities of teachers.

There are numerous examples like in Jhunjhnu in Rajasthan or Channapatna in Ramanagaram district, Karnataka, where school teaching learning has transformed as a result of investment (which is of time and trust, less financial) in the social capital of teacher’s networks. In the long term, better pre-service teacher training coupled with transparent and merit-based recruitments is the lasting solution. There is a remarkable lack of awareness amongst youth about career paths, as the ASER team documented. They enroll in courses without knowing the prospects or progression.

If the teacher education sector is brought within the ambit of the University system, where subject knowledge is learnt along with a course in teacher education, it will improve the academic quality of new teachers, compress the period required, and also give alternative career options to the students. We need to reinvent our existing practices if results of future surveys have to change. Else, it’s only repetitive commotion, full of sound and fury, but without any upward movement in quality or spread of education; ultimately signifying nothing.

is an IAS officer. Views are personal

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