The Annual Status of Education Report (Aser 2011) is making news in the media as it reveals that class V students are unable to read the Class II book or do simple sums. It hardly needs an Aser to depict the true picture for us. It has been there for several decades. Before health services were brutally commercialized in India, education had already fallen victim to it. The government school education infrastructure was not only insufficient but awfully poor. Schools were promised to be opened as a bribe for votes in the general elections for the ruling party. Many schools had no buildings. Teachers were never provided in adequate numbers. Whatever teachers were posted, were themselves unqualified. There were too many political and bureaucratic levels supervising them only for assertion of their authority over the teachers. Teaching was never the first option for employment. It had no resale value, like other professions of accountants or nursing staff etc. The sufferers were poor students, who could afford no more than these government schools.
The quality deteriorated after the Emergency in 1975. Previously, public life was guided by high ideals as propagated by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishanan and a galaxy of leaders of their caliber. The imposition of Emergency marks the era of decline in values in India. Its direct impact fell on school education. To create local centres of political control, the school education was transferred to the Local Self Government (LSG), meaning the Panchayats. Consequently it became the fiefdom of the local politician, who converted the teacher and other physical infrastructure of the school into his private property and employed it for personal and party gain only..
The teacher(s) was happy to engage in petty local politics, which provided him/her a comfort zone for survival rather than schooling the inquisitive minds. On one hand the government went on making scheme after scheme and augmenting the education budget, on the other the quality of teaching continued to suffer. In several states, the teachers only collected their monthly salaries and engaged their substitutes at petty wages to maintain a vigil on the inspecting officials or take attendance of the pupils. This substitute could hardly read or write. The situation is so pathetic even today that the teachers cannot provide even simple information to the pupils. Can anything be expected of such teachers? Can they be expected to equip their pupils with knowledge or skills? Aser type reports are aplenty with the government, but there is no method with them to improve the situation, in the contemporary socio-political scenario and power of corruption. The much talked about SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) is a scandal waiting to be unravelled.
As with most other government services, primary education in government run schools has also been deliberately destroyed only to benefit private schools. These private schools are run by politicians or retired teachers, solely for earning money. To make them attractive, they call them “English Medium Public School”. They sell “English” more than “Education”. They are no better in terms of imparting education than the government run schools. But they are profit making small scale ventures. That puts the genuine Public Schools (actually private schools not being financed by the government) on a somewhat higher pedestal. But everything is not satisfactory in those schools too, because good teachers hardly are available and when available, don’t stay long with the institution. They move to better paying jobs. A first rate Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Economics, English, Hindi or any other subject specialist teacher is always in demand. The private Coaching Institutes or Centres attract them with several times more pay packages. No schools, public or private, can ever match these coaching centres in matters of payments. The result is that the students of even the Public Schools have to take private coaching in these subjects. In a fiercely competitive market .In the knowledge society, only the best can survive.
The government has not yet woken up to the needs of the pupils in this scenario. The worst sufferers are the economically weaker sections of society (which are roughly 85% or near about in India considering their capacity to pay for education in an average Public School). A child deprived of quality education is a permanent cripple, who shall ever stay economically challenged in life. Its negative fallout is that failed education drives such children into a life of crime early in life, as needs have to be met. In the absence of education, it is well-nigh impossible to apply ethics while making choices while one is struggling for even bare survival. Sustainable development and growth for one section of the society and sustained decline for the other but major section of society can, perhaps, not survive together in harmony!
There is a need to devise a digital education system for sustainable education for all. It is cheaper and more productive, especially when technology is going to change the system of education by eliminating the printed book, substituting it by e-book. Uniformity of lessons, in interactive mode, will save the children from the vagaries of the teachers’ own education levels and skills. Mathematics or English, and all other subjects, can be taught in the engrossingly interesting manner through computers. Let hubs be established in the first instance, where children could pose their problems and seek solutions. The innate intelligence of the human brain is bound to spur the child to learn fast and assimilate the knowledge added by such learning.
There is nothing called difficult to students when the teachers take it upon themselves to work with them in full dedication. Such teachers handle each child individually even when they teach a group of 30-40 students in a class. They are involved with each student in learning and devise innovative methods of communicating with each pupil effectively. The different treatment given to students of different level of absorption in the same class makes it possible to work in this way. The result is success for all. Such teachers are fondly and respectfully remembered by their students throughout their life. As this breed of teachers is rare, they are valued. However, in the current job scenario, teaching is taken up by those without any passion for teaching. I would say only this: teachers in any society must be the highest paid. Do that and see the force of energy that will be unleashed. It will take India not more than two decades to reach the highest level of advancement in the world. I make this statement on the strength of observing the dedication of my own teachers in government schools. college and university. It gets further support from my own experience of a college Lecturer (Associate Professor), where I successfully experimented with teaching methodology described in the foregoing . I would perhaps not changed my profession, but for better prospects and opportunities of public service as a Civil Servant. In this I am not alone. I found more than 40% of my colleagues had been Lecturers before changing over to Civil Services (actually qualifying in the Indian Administrative Service Etc examination was “masculine” in those times).
Education at primary level in India is primitive. We are wasting money and manpower. Such education at best turns out in millions graduates who are not employable at all. We cannot rest by simply providing more funds. We have to impart professionalism to teaching. We need to raise the stature of education and the educator. The teacher should be able to feel proud of his/her profession. How? The answer lies in a counter question: how does a bureaucrat feel proud of his profession? While a teacher may be a brilliant mind, with a research bent, the bureaucrat may only be a mediocre graduate. But the careers of the two are vastly different: one feels proud and the other humble.
So in the ultimate analysis the fault is not that of the pupil, but of the denial of quality education to him/her. If we mean to provide them equal opportunities, we must move fast in the direction, starting with the suggestions made above.