July 04, 2020
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A Child Isn’t Just A Number

In chasing the goal of ‘education for all’, the question of quality may have finally made it to the design table

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A Child Isn’t Just A Number
Photograph by Jitender Gupta
A Child Isn’t Just A Number

Several reports over the years have flagged the issue of poor learning outcomes in most Ind­ian schools, with not even 50 per cent of middle-school students being able to read or answer Class 2 questions in maths or even languages. And this isn’t just in government-run schools.

On February 22, in a move to improve the quality of primary school education beyond mere enrolment of children, the Department of School Education and Literacy (DSEL) issued a notification that made learning outcomes intrinsic to the Right to Education (RTE) Act.

Amendments to rule 23 of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2010, lay out that schools will have to prepare “class-wise, subject-wise learning outcomes for all ele­mentary classes; and prepare guidelines for putting into practice continuous and comprehensive evaluation, to achieve the defined learning outcomes”.

“The objective is to ensure the right to quality education with the help of well-trained teachers,” says Anil Swarup, secretary, DSEL. “We have been pumping in money, but there was no yardstick so far to assess the outcomes. Now there are quantifiable measures to judge what is expected when a child passes out of class 1, 2 or 3 in Maths, English and so on, even though we don’t have exams.”

According to Swarup, this puts to test not the child but the system’s ability to impart the necessary education. On the anvil are biometric recording of teachers’ attendance by GPS-linked gadgets, a longer induction course and use of audio-visual technology in training.

Based on his visits to various states to learn from best practices in schools across the country, Swarup admits that while the government has been successful in cutting down the number of children out of school, “we have not been able to educate them”. “In some cases the learning outcomes are lower than earlier, though overall learning has improved,” he says.

“Together with improving teachers’ training, we are planning to improve the mode of teaching.”
Anil Swarup, Secretary, DSEL

The DSEL has identified four reasons for the poor quality of teachers and hence below par learning outcomes: proliferation of BEd colleges; no system to ascertain quality and aptitude of students entering BEd courses; no foolproof examination of BEd graduates entering service; no regular, structured teachers’ training.

To tackle some of these lacunae, Swarup says the ministry is proposing an examination on the lines of CAT or SAT to test the aptitude of aspiring teachers. The ministry of human resources dev­elopment is also mulling accreditation of BEd colleges for enforcing quality in teachers’ training. “Together with improving teachers’ training, we are planning to improve the mode of teaching,” says Swarup, describing how during his visit to a school in Maharashtra he came across a number of innovative modes being used as teaching tools.

And yet there are many who feel a lot remains to be done. “Without complete implementation of the RTE Act, how can you improve learning outcomes?” asks Ambarish Rai, national convener of RTE Forum, an umbrella organisation representing a large number of NGOs and educationists. “We are a bit critical of the government policy as a fragmented programme will not have the desired impact.”

A stocktaking report recently released by RTE Forum reveals that just 9.54 per cent of schools in the country are RTE-compliant. Worryingly, over 9 lakh teachers’ posts are lying vacant in government-run schools and more than 96,000 schools have only one teacher, while 7.41 lakh teachers in employment have little or no training. The large number of poor quality or untrained teachers is one of the reasons for a large number of children dropping out of schools. Though the number of dropouts has fallen considerably from 1.34 crore in 2005 to 2.6 lakh in 2014, the quality of learning has not improved.

“There are hardly 400 government-run District Institute of Educational and Training (DIET) colleges in the country and much of the teachers’ training courses are conducted by the private sector,” says Rai. Poor training is reflected in the indifferent quality of a large number of teachers.

Seeking to address some of these concerns, DSEL has stepped up engagements with NGOs engaged in literacy, education and school-related activities. Surprisingly, RTE Forum has found no place so far in the deliberations. In fact, its stocktaking exercise in March saw no participation from the ministry.

Citing the outstanding work by NGOs such as Akshay Patra in the context of mid-day meals, Akshara Foundation in evolving new methods of teaching, Educate Girls in girls’ education and Million Sparks in using technological tools, Swarup says the government is now playing a proactive role in scaling up the operations of such organisations. This is part of promoting partnership between the government and the non-governmental sector.

“I believe in public-private partnership (PPP) as I don’t think either the government or the private sector can do the needful alone,” says Swarup. “We are trying to bring together all the good work being done by the NGOs in various pockets, to see how it can be scaled up. Seven workshops—on educating the girl child, out of school children, mid-day meal or teachers’ training, among others—have been recently held with 14 sets of NGOs to understand the work they do.”

The workshops were also meant to help NGOs learn from each other. Some of them will also participate in five regional workshops to be organised in the days ahead, for helping state governments share good practices.

“It is a good beginning,” says Ashok Kamath, chairman of the Bangalore-based Akshara Foundation. “The spectrum is so wide that you will have different opinions. The ability to reach out to multiple people who have done different things on the ground and sharing that will help. Nationally, our problem is so vast that unless there is collective impact, it is not going to make significant improvement over time.” The foundation’s Akshara Ganitha, a remedial maths support programme, is being implemented in all government-run primary schools in 12 districts of Karnataka.

Experts point out that while there are pockets of excellence, the story is not so positive at the state or national level. Kamath is enthusiastic about DSEL’s outreach and keen to share and expand efforts to improve learning outcomes beyond state boundaries.

Lack of funds, though, remains a major cha­­l­lenge. “There sho­­uld have been a financial commitment along with the RTE Act,” says educationist Vinay Kantha. “But the government has ref­u­sed to spend money on primary education. Less than 4 per cent of the GDP is allocated to education, almost two-third of which comes from the education cess. The government has, in effect, reduced the funding that was being provided earlier.”

Differing from the ministry line of action to improve learning outcomes in primary schools, the RTE Forum has been pressing to widen the ambit of the Act to include schooling from ­pre-school up to high school. Educationists want the government to take the onus of providing quality infrastructure in all state-run schools on the lines of the Kendriya Vidyalayas. It is, after all, the constitutional right of every child to get good education.

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