(Un)Common Sense: Education Wows and Woes

Posted on August 6, 2009 in Learning+

Saarthak Juneja

Almost all Indians with a sensible head on their respective shoulders cheered the Parliament passing the ‘Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2009’, which makes providing free and compulsory education to children of the age group 6-14, a legislation. Keeping in mind that only about 12 percent of Indian children who attend elementary school make it to the graduation level, it is sad that it took six years for our parliamentarians to pass the bill. And though the global average is 27 percent, we’ve made a beginning at last.

Last month itself, the Union Ministry for Human Resource Development announced its 100-day agenda which included the bill as well.

In the announcement Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal introduced some essential reforms, largely focusing on reducing the pressure on young minds. Some of the measures suggested were: replacing class X exams with internal assessment, giving an examination option to those planning to leave school; and introducing a grading system for CBSE schools for classes IX and X. The ministry also suggested public private partnership in school education, with private sector being allowed to run govt. schools.

Revamping curriculum for teacher training and establishment of an All-India Madrassa Board and making efforts to modernizing of madrassas were mentioned too.

While most of the states — anti-UPA of course— criticized the reforms on flimsy pretexts like the AIADMK and Left-ruled states showing apprehensions about losing state autonomy in education sector, which is on the Concurrent List and the Education minister of Bihar seeking a consensus. While these oppositions might be somewhat valid, they have, clearly, nothing to do with the actual problem of rescuing the students from the trauma of a faulty education system which educated only in name, while actually producing mere literates, many of whom pass examinations(and very well too) by rote memorization, rather than real understanding of their subjects.

Doing away with the class X examination is no concrete, long-term benefiting solution. It’s the bad old Indian panacea. It’s escapism. ‘Since we can’t make the Xth boards appear less fearsome, let’s banish the monster itself’ seems to be the rationale behind the recommendation. Rather, our focus should be on systemic failings. The country needs an education system that produces young adults who are capable of innovation and analytical thinking and most importantly, independent thinking i.e. doing their own thinking.

Firstly, the curriculum and curriculum-setting system needs doing up. The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) should be remodeled and the syllabus be regularly reviewed and updated according to the needs of the times and no governments. Some educationists suggest dissociating curriculum from textbooks. Textbooks needn’t be equated to syllabus, which the students tend to follow religiously. Here, the onus lies on the teachers, who can find new, innovative ways for the same.

Practicality of our curricula is another major concern. This is a ghost that haunts India’s higher education as well. ANASSCOM report estimates shortage of lakhs of programmers by 2010, and this in a country that boasts of being the IT hub. Employers often complain about the lack of employability of graduates and even post-graduates, who usually have to be trained for a few weeks before they can actually start being productive. In this case, India can seek better example in countries like Australia where graduates are generally industry-ready; and usually the universities tie-up with recruiting companies to the same end.

The new HRD minister Kapil Sibal seems more bent on removing reservations in the basic school education system rather than imposing reservations in higher education to appease sections of the vote bank, under the garb of equality. Spearheading the RTE Bill into a law is also appreciable, but teacher training system should also be taken care of. Hopefully, the report and recommendations of the committee that is to be set for the purpose will not end up like other committees —time-consuming and futile. In India, still 30 percent of the students drop out at upper primary levels and it is the teachers working at grass-roots who can make a difference.

Saarthak Juneja is a coloumnist at Youth Ki Awaaz and writes the coloumn (Un)Common Sense. Saarthak’s column, “(Un)Common Sense,” takes readers beneath news stories and into obscure and well-known corners of the news which usually go unnoticed. The column will expand Saarthak’s storytelling scope to the nation from Delhi, where he is pursuing journalism.

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