India’s Schools Are Letting Down Their Students



The true teachers are those who help us think for ourselves

–Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

India’s education sector has expanded rapidly in the last decade but the quality of learning remains pathetic on account of unimaginative and misguided policies. The Modi government’s budget  this year was a mixed basket for the education sector, which is bogged with several serious issues aside from the overall lack of funds. The government has allocated Rs 85,000 crore (US$13.26 billion) for education, with Rs 50,000 crore for schools and the rest for higher education. This was an increase of just 8% over last year. The allocation for secondary education rose by a similar ratio, from Rs 3,900 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 4,200 crore for the 2018-19 fiscal year. India’s overall allocation to this important sector over the last decade has hovered between 3.8-4.0% of total expenditure, as against Brazil’s    5.5% of its GDP, Russia’s 4.4%, China’s 4.3% and South Africa’s 6.5%.

According to IndiaSpend, between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the number of private schools in India grew 35 per cent from 220,000 in 2010-11 to 300,000 in 2015-16. By contrast, the number of government schools in the same period grew just one per cent, from 1.03 million to 1.04 million, while the amount the government spends on education increased by just 0.2 per cent of GDP since 2010. All this, despite the introduction of the 2009 Right to Education Act, according to which all children between the ages of six and 14 should be provided free and compulsory education.

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) Education for All programme is India’s first tentative stride towards embracing universal elementary education. It is a key component of the Right to Education Act. It caters to more than 200 million children across a million habitations in the country, making it   the largest elementary education programmess in the world .it was a sensible  attempt to deliver quality and equitable education to every child but  on accent of the greater emphasis on enrollment levels and infrastructure standards , it was ineffectual in  desired  in providing an adequate focus on quality in education The RTE Act has been quite successful in achieving three broad objectives: higher enrolment, lower dropout and completion of mandatory basic education. Though India may have achieved near universalisation of primary education, enrolment and retention outside of primary education are low and attainment remains a critical gap. .According to the Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) 2017, enrolment in secondary schools almost doubled from 11 million to 22 million over the last decade but  actual learning has sharply diminishedparticularly n abilities in reading, writing and other comprehensive skills despite completing eight years of elementary education, students are not able  to apply literacy and numeracy skills to everyday tasks such as tallying weights or decoding instructions on an ORS sachets .The usual reasons are: teacher absenteeism, poor student attendance, bad infrastructure, inadequate teacher preparation programmes and rote learning practices. While these issues are valid, they do not fully explain the learning crisis apparent in our classrooms. The government hopes that private schools will take up the slack of public schools. But private schools are not affordable for poor people, who often are faced with a difficult choice between paying for private education and covering necessary expenses like food and health.

India must reorient its education policy which is very results oriented, is very system oriented, is very policy oriented. But just not too child oriented. it risks squandering the  future  of millions of children, as well as the entire country’s economic  prospects Formal teaching needs to be supplemented by in-school pull-out programmes, after-school reading classes and summer camps by voluntary organisations using innovative pedagogies. There has to be a direct teacher-development pipeline and evaluating systems for monitoring and upgrading teaching skills. There is a dearth of ideas for reform to address fundamental flaws in the system.

India’s emphasis on rote learning and its rigid examination system do not encourage creative thinking. instead of just  focusing  on results learning should also foster  intellectual, spiritual and social growth more Indian children are in school today than ever before, but the quality of public schools has sunk to abysmally low levels, as government schools have become the reserve of children at the very bottom of India’s social ladder. According to the World Development Report 2018 “Learning to Realise Education’s Promise”, India ranks second from the bottom after Malawi in a list of 12 countries where some Grade 2 students were found to be unable to read a single word from a short text. India also tops the report’s list of seven countries in which some Grade 2 students could not calculate simple two-digit subtractions.

The fragile foundation of basic education augurs a dim horizon for India’s future human capital. We must understand that education is the most potent tool for reducing the glaring inequalities in society. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014), French economist Thomas Piketty writes, “Historical experience suggests that the principal mechanism for convergence (of incomes and wealth) at the international as well as the domestic level is the diffusion of knowledge. In other words, the poor catch up with the rich to the extent that they achieve the same level of technological know-how, skill and education.”

Sadly, 53 per cent of school children in India are at least three years behind expected learning levels. According to a 2015 Brookings Institute report on primary education in India, 29 per cent of children drop out before completing five years of primary school, and 43 per cent before finishing upper primary school. High school completion, according to the report, stands at only 42 per cent.

These figures are a serious concern in a country where only 74 per cent of its 1.2 billion inhabitants are literate, making India home to the largest illiterate population in the world. We all know that a sound and productive education system needs to focus on science, math engineering and technology — the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.” Inefficient teaching methods, such as rote learning, which focuses on memorisation as opposed to critical reasoning, are still widespread at the primary and secondary school level. The rote teaching methodology has demonstrated shortcomings. Studies by the Programme for International Students Assessment, an OECD initiative, and Wipro found that students at the primary and secondary school level have fallen back in math, science and reading literacy in recent years.

Teacher salaries in government schools are relatively high in India at three times per capita income compared to China, where it is about the same as per capita income. However, we lack a culture of accountability for performance. Learning outcomes are generally better in private schools where average teacher salaries and costs per student are less. A break-up of government spending shows that only 0.8 per cent goes towards capital expenditure, while 80 per cent goes towards teachers’ salaries, leaving little to be spent on infrastructure creation. Teacher absenteeism continues to plague the system,

If India is to truly rise as a global economic power, the policymakers and education specialists must focus its efforts on developing its public schools into a world-class education system.  Catchy announcements like ‘blackboard to digital boards’ will have relevance only when we translate rhetoric into commitment and into genuine action. Goals without actionable strategies are just good intentions. The proof should come by first addressing the fundamental concerns of public education .Nelson Mandela famously said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”Adequate resources, higher standards for teachers and the flushing out of corruption must all be part of a reform package that seeks to make Indian education the nation’s top priority.

Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades .He can be reached at [email protected]


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