By Shashank Tewari:
A strong education system is considered to be the cornerstone in any country’s growth and prosperity and over the last decade, the expansion of primary education in India has been phenomenal. According to UNESCO’s Latest Education for All Global Monitoring Report, “India has made, the largest progress in absolute terms among all the countries in the world in reducing the out of school children numbers from 20 million in 2000 to 2.3 million in 2006 and 1.7 million by latest data (2011)”. As per United Nations Millennium Development Goals 2015 report, “India is likely to achieve 100% primary education and gender disparity among children by 2015” and to achieve this, the government of India has initiated various missions such as Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and implementation of the Right to Education Act. So as an Indian, it really makes me feel proud that we have something to cheer about on the world forum. But as every coin has two sides, there is flipside to this story. Therefore, I would like to draw curtains by taking you all to a completely different journey.
Ever since I joined the social sector in imparting free and quality education to the underprivileged children in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, my initial days were full of complexities because when I visited government primary schools in order to observe the condition, I was deeply shattered as conditions prevailing in schools were pathetic and school authorities were seen to be more dependent on assistance of private NGO’s or CSR initiatives rather than on the government funds or personnel. After slowly and steadily finishing around 30 schools in the radius of 10 kilometres, I was left with a bunch of unanswered questions, but miserable part was that no one was going to fix the problem. Whenever I tried to communicate as to why this was not happening despite government orders, they said “Yahan aisey he chalta hai”. With the passage of time, I started to realize that there were serious flaws in the implementation of policies at the bottom level. Any government may formulate policies, pass bills, implement acts or amend rights but if the accountability is not there at the grass-root level, we cannot bring change and the real picture at the bottom of pyramid slowly started to crawl in front of my eyes. I would like to discuss some problems that really traumatized me during my journey.
1. Learning Level of students: It was a shocker when I saw that 5th standard students could not read and write and could not do simple two digit additions which KG students in private schools could easily do. On the other hand, during the half yearly exams, papers were written on the board by few teachers with complete solutions so that they could show good results to the higher authorities.
“Since 2000, it’s a fact that enrollment has gone up significantly but many students are only in school registers” says educationalist Vinod Raina. Education is not about only enrollments as one has to look at enrollments, attendance and dropouts together. In India, “the attendance rate is around 70% and dropout rate is 40 % at the elementary level.” Thus, these are very uncomfortable numbers and only due to these reasons, The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), ranked India on the 72nd and 73rd position (marginally above Kyrgyzstan) out of 74 countries in Reading, Literacy and Mathematics and 72nd and 74th in Science, which is clear depiction of India’s poor performance in education. In order to evade humiliation, India pulled out of the 2012 round with the Indian government attributing its action to the unfairness of the PISA testing towards Indian students. However, I don’t understand why such unfairness was done only to India among all 74 nations.
Reason behind this downfall: Students are not regular in schools, parent-teacher meetings are done only in registers and not in real, attendance registers prepared are completely fabricated, the syllabus seems to be sleeping in the registers of teacher, daily registers are not followed in every class; exam papers are written on the board with solutions so as to show inflated results and most importantly, the Right to Education Bill enacted by the government fails in guaranteeing the learning level improvement of children.
2. Infrastructure Hindrance: If we take the standard parameters covering separate toilets for (Boys and Girls), clean drinking water, well-equipped rooms with plastered walls and furnished floors, ceiling fans and tube lights, kitchens where mid-day meals are cooked, the playground and the library, then barring a few, all primary schools will be failing miserably in all verticals. The reason for the same is the fact that school authorities are not allocating sufficient funds to the school infrastructure but are more dependent on private NGOs to support their infrastructural work.
Right to Education Bill: According to RTE clause 7, the central and state government shall avail the funds for carrying out provisions but does not quantify the financial requirement, according to the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), 2005 Rupees 3,21,000 crore to 4,36,000 crore will be required for six years. This is approximately 1.1 to 1.5% of the GDP. Thus, in spite of such heavy allocation of funds, primary schools are failing abysmally on all parameters.
3. Teacher pupil ratio dismal: There is complete disproportion in the teacher student ratio. For instance, in Siraj Colony Primary School, located in Saharanpur, there are around 400 children with only 2 teachers accountable to their education and on the other hand, in Sharda Nagar Primary School, there are 40 students with 2 teachers and 1 shiksha mitra. This disparity does not restrict to the above schools as in fact there are many others which are facing the same problem. The power to appoint teachers rests with the state government and many a times, efforts are made to appoint more teachers or transfer teachers from one school to another but something or the other fails and the same situation still exists in these schools
Right to Education Bill: According to the RTE, the ratio should be 1:30. So if admitted children are 60, the number of teachers required are 2. This is a complete violation of norms and standards for a school as stated in the bill. These problems which are prevailing in our education system leave many questions unanswered. What kind of future we are giving to our next generation? Who do we blame? The education system, the society, or the government authorities?
But according to me there is a need of urgency to bring an amendment to the existing laws as stated in book Swaraj by Arvind Kejriwal: “Where power should be preserved with the common people at the grass root level in the form of Gram Sabhas in villages and Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) with complete decentralization of power.” Policies made at higher levels should incorporate the voice of the people; be well connected and in every respect implemented at the bottom levels with complete accountability. For example, the RWA should have the power to stop the salary of a teacher who is not coming to school or not following the syllabus. The RWA should appoint teachers and the principal should be held accountable to the RWA for proper allocation of funds in infrastructure. India is not distinctive in setting this kind of a model as there are other countries like the United States of America, Brazil, and Switzerland where power is enshrined to the common people in making decisions at the community level. Therefore the government should understand the serious flaws which are emerging in our education system and act accordingly otherwise it will be too late.