Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Reforms Needed Most in Education Sector

Reforms to Governance in Education Imminent

Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada apologized to his Parliament for coming late by fifteen minutes and the reason adduced by him was that he had to drop his child in a government school on an intense rainy day with traffic snarls coming in the way in Ontario. President Obama’s daughter and his private secretary’s son study in the same school and sit side by side. There is no discrimination among the children of different classes of people in these parts of the world.
In India, we had an education system where the primary schools in villages and towns and high schools were all in the fold of government or Panchayat or Zilla Parishad (the old name District Boards)- the local bodies. But during the last three decades, private schools have come up at their places of choice, many a time with the munificence of the local politicians. The fees for admission in the name of quality started touching the roof and took the shape of donations. This has spread to the higher and technical education as well.

Public Schools, with the support of government came up. Most public servants and politicians started taking pride in putting their wards in such public schools using their influence. In several public schools it is not uncommon to find somebody from the education department in their Boards. The spouses of some of the civil servants get plum teacher posts in such schools. On the other hand, if these politicians and civil servants had sent their children to the government schools, they would have certainly ensured that enough budget releases for the improvement of infrastructure in schools. The uncared for attitude of bureaucrats and politicians is solely responsible for the dilapidated primary and high school buildings owned by the government and the related infrastructure.

Teachers of appropriate qualifications and interest became a rarity due to poor pay scales initially in this sector compared to the other sectors notwithstanding the primacy of this sector.  By the time the scales started improving, the quality of teachers and teaching deteriorated beyond repair. Qualification took precedence over quality and interest in profession. Dedicated teachers despite annual awards for best teachers announced by the Government have become a rare breed. Respect for teachers started declining with a few incidents of teachers beating up children, committing atrocities on the girls etc have been repeatedly surfacing and such incidents were unheard of in the past.

Teachers in the past, say up to 1960s at all levels viewed their profession as sacred and never participated in strikes and dharnas. They attached high values to their profession and concentrated on imparting noble values to the students. The tragedy in those days was that some of them suffered in penury until some of their students came to their rescue. Now, when the sailing is good, values have vanished. In fact, it should go to the credit of late Shri P. V. Narasimha Rao, when he was Minster of Human Resources, he introduced Navodaya Schools with good intentions, largely based on our traditional Gurukul. But his experiment was allowed to suffer at the hands of politicians and bureaucrats and the reforms, so called, concentrated on school drop-out reduction, that has become a number game, mid-day meal programme to ‘incentivise’ the poor to reach only the ill-equipped government schools – and the incentive ended up in badly cooked and badly delivered food resulting in a few kids sacrificing at the altar of mischief of the cooking ‘teachers’. 

Still, there is scope for resurrection. First, recognise this problem: find solution where the problem lies. Second, allocate liberal budgets for immediate improvement to the government school infrastructure. If the Government is prepared to be  transparent, there is enough interest in NRIs to adopt some schools for certain components in the infrastructure provided it is willing to create a learning environment; cancel registration of all schools that do not have play grounds and libraries;  change the curriculum in the primary and secondary schools to include games, library reading, project work and internship from ninth class for taking up social service and award marks for such assignments as part of the grades and more importantly, have some illustrious leaders autobiographies of freedom fighters like Madan Mohan Malaviya, Lok Manya Balagangadhara Tilak, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Mahatma Gandhi, Ambedkar,  Lal Bahadur Shastri to site a few. Include a few chapters from the Glimpses of World History of Pandit Nehru in every standard from the 8th onwards. Teachings of Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Poems from Gitanjali of Rabindranath Tagore, should be part of cultural readings for all children right up to the College level. In each of the regional languages there is great wealth and morals that should essentially be part of learning from the childhood. The current day child has the sharpness and speed like none before. They are unfortunately being turned into scoring machines and this is happening sadly only in India.

Where is the need for transferring teachers? What is needed is proper assessment and involvement of parents in achieving the desired levels of excellence. Responsible teaching, responsive administration and unburdening the child of cart load of books but enabling him with knowledge load, flexible timings, audit and accountability, are the need of the hour. Competitively the young nation is losing its verve.   If we make available education free for all girl children up to XII standard there need be no specific reservations. The entire society would look up and grow culturally.

I visited the education system in Canada and was amazed to find that education up to secondary school higher grade is free. Children get report cards on their performance monthly and the report card contains details about how they fared in curriculum, character, punctuality, reading habits, project work (every student from the 4th standard has to do project work in different fields), arts and crafts, games and sports, dance, drama etc., and where the student needs to improve and how they have come to such assessment. They are counseled right from the 8th standard onwards as to how to help the parents at home, the suffering in the communities, how important it is to provide charity in one’s own affordable range etc. They are taught skills in cooking, carpentry, metal works as part of their project work and this is part of the curriculum. From the 10th standard, they can enrol for internship to take up any voluntary service.  The elementary schools provide admission to the children of households in the distance of 5km. For a cluster of 3-5 elementary schools there is one middle school. No child can be denied admission without valid reason. There are no admission costs for any permanent citizen. School buses would be available at concessionary fares for children staying beyond 1k.m in elementary schools and for middle school children to those staying beyond 2.7km from the school. Once in a week, a mid-day pizza or burger is provided on nominal payment. All the schools have play grounds, gym and library.

In each school a break of 45 minutes is provided at 11.30a.m (the school starts at 9a.m) for children to play as they wish in the playground. The school closes at 2.30-3.30p.m. The schools work for five days in a week. Once in a year the middle school children are taken on excursion after obtaining parent’s written consent. All children have free health check-up and insurance. Why will not children develop in such environment? When do we in India get this happy environment for education of our children?

Governance of higher and technical education is a different ball game and needs different treatment.