By Shweta Dandekar:
We take things like reading and writing for granted. And why shouldn’t we? It comes naturally to us thanks to years of perseverance and training. And although I am glad that I enjoy my Sundays reading a good book, I am incensed by one grim fact — You and I are outnumbered by those who cannot enjoy the same luxury because they cannot read.
I recently started tutoring our cook’s 17 year old daughter who will be giving her 10th Standard Maharashtra State Board Exams. She had failed twice before — once in the 6th Standard and then again in the 9th. In the 10th standard, Sonu could not spell simple words like ‘corner’, ‘hidden’, and ‘knife’. She did not understand the difference between ‘who’ and ‘how’ and could not form simple sentences (like, ‘I live in Pune’). I found that it was her fear of being wrong and being ridiculed by her teachers that prevented her from talking in English at all.
As the days passed by, I discovered that if the subject was explained to her through examples from her daily life or through fun teaching methods (like, stories, songs, etc.), Sonu could grasp things quicker, after which she was able to build upon those basics to comprehend more complex ideas. Also, with a little encouragement, she started trying to express herself and was able to correct the mistakes I pointed out within two weeks. Sonu represents all those who are victims of pathetic education across India.
According to a survey called ‘ASER’, conducted by Pratham, an NGO working towards a better education in India, nearly 47% of children who were in school and studying in grade 5 could not read the story text at grade 2 level of difficulty in 2006. In arithmetic, 55% of grade 5 and 25% of grade 8 children could not solve a simple division problem. Soon after, the results of tests administered by National Council of Educational Research Training (NCERT) were released — The average percentage mark for India as a whole is 50.3% in Science, 46.5% in Maths and 58.6% in language. While it is not clear how to interpret these they appear to confirm ASER’s finding of low learning levels.
So what is wrong with our education? What goes wrong once the child is enrolled into a school? As I looked for surveys regarding learning effectiveness (and not literacy) I found that there are no in-depth national surveys conducted by the government regarding this issue. Are we completely oblivious to the fact that it’s not only about getting into a school, but about a holistic education? It seems that the focus of the government is on meeting targets on enrollment, reduction in dropout rates, availability of schools, basic facilities in schools, etc. While all these factors are important, other key factors such as learning and education itself is being ignored.
If a child cannot read in the 8th grade, it raises serious doubts about the testing system in place. On what basis are children marked? What are the regulations and parameters in place to track how much has been learnt (or not learnt) by children? Who keeps track of each and every child? No matter how difficult it may seem, some degree of customization of education according to a child’s needs is required. It is quite clear from this that students are being passed for the sake of passing and graduating to the next grade.
I believe it is high time that the government started focussing on quality and not just mere statistics to prove to the world that work is being done to educate millions of children in India.
The writer is a third year student of Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (UG) and aspires to become a development journalist and later work in the education sector.