“Most schools in Telangana are without headmasters.”
“Over 65% schools in Maharashtra have no headmaster.”
“Over half of city schools have no headmaster: survey” (Chandigarh)
“Government primary schools: Around 400 posts for headmasters vacant” (Goa News)
“Depressed after failing in exams, teenager commits suicide in Bengaluru” (of a government school)
“Fearing failure, boy commits suicide before result declaration; secures 71 percent” (Tamil Nadu)
“Two students attempt suicide after failing Inter exams” (Andhra Pradesh)
– These are the headlines of various newspapers between 2016 and 2017.
Government and private education, both have their set of problems. But, the most significant problem plaguing both sides of the coin, since decades, in spite of the landmark initiatives such as Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and Right to Education Act of 2009, is the quality of education.
Quality is at the heart of education. It influences what students learn, how they learn and what benefits they draw from their education, says the Education For All Global Report, 2005.
UNICEF defines quality education as the one which includes family support; healthy, safe, gender-sensitive environment with adequate resources and facilities; quality content and materials; teaching approaches.
Right from the District Primary Education Programme of 1990 to the Right to Education Act of 2009, the focus of the policy has mostly been tilted towards universalising education/access to education. The report of Education For All, 2015 says that India has made remarkable strides towards ensuring education for all but lacks in quality.
According to the Education For All, Global Monitoring Report, 2012 India ranks 105th among 128 countries.
As Shashi Tharoor said in a talk organised by the University of Hyderabad, the lack of employable qualities in students make companies like Tata and Wipro to establish their own institutions.
Most of the teachers in India are posted in schools far away from their houses. In some cases, they need to walk more than 12 km to reach a school.
Often a high percentage of teacher attendance is recorded on paper in government schools. One of my relatives who works as a government teacher told me how teachers often shirk their duties and still maintain the required attendance percentage. “It’s just a matter of a signature, and then you get away!” she said. “What subject do you teach?” I asked. “Every subject. We, primary school teachers teach every subject,” she said tersely preceding a brief silence. Consequently, if one teacher goes absent, there are instances when the primary school shuts down for the day.
According to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, in 2016, there was a shortage of around 8.5 lakh primary and upper primary teachers. Shortage of teachers obliges the government to recruit contract teachers who are often not well trained.
Poor quality teacher training sometimes acts as a setback to some of the policy initiatives of the government such as the Activity-Based Learning Programme in primary schools of Tamil Nadu. Activity-based learning is a system wherein teachers devise various group activities for the primary school children.
As the primary school teachers did not have the requisite qualifications to devise the activities, the scheme did not yield good results.
The perception toward teaching as a profession also affects the talent the field attracts. Teaching is not a profession that is desired by the Indian youth. In Singapore, which tops the global education rankings in its efficacy in teaching and teacher training, the salary of the teachers is very high to ensure that teaching remains an attractive occupation.
Most of the Teacher Training Institutes in India are private-owned and are ridden with corruption. It has also been alleged that often certificates are provided to candidates who haven’t even completed the training.
One unique initiative in recent times is that the government of Telangana collaborated with the British Council to train 1000 teachers from the state in core skills for one month.
Even after 15 years of implementation of Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, which provides for the provision of infrastructure facilities in government schools, children still sit on mats or the bare floor. When asked, district education department officials say that they are not usually provided with earmarked funds for the provision of benches. As often reported in the media, NGOs, individuals, and sometimes villagers donate benches to government schools.
Thanks to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, many schools in India are getting a toilet. But the problem lies in the maintenance whether it is built by government or an NGO or a good samaritan.
In the case of Telangana, according to the annual status of education report, 2016, about 15.2% of government schools in Telangana do not have a separate toilet for girls. Though the numbers are small, the real problem lies in the maintenance of existing toilets. A newspaper report says that none of the government schools in Telangana received the funds for maintenance of toilets and the prescribed salary of toilet/workers is a meagre Rs 2000 to 3500 per month.
India has a fragmented syllabus structure or curriculum for school students, given that education is in the concurrent list. Given the diverse culture of India, it is nearly impossible to structure a pan-India common curriculum that cuts across the CBSE, ICSE, and State boards.
Union Minister for Human Resource Development, Prakash Javadekar clarified in a Lok Sabha question and Answer session that the government does not propose to introduce a common curriculum in CBSE, ICSE and state boards. Since 2012, there is a common curriculum for mathematics and science for senior secondary school. One only wishes it could be extended to primary and secondary schools that come under all the boards in the country. Germany, Singapore and Japan have already implemented this.
If the problem with public education is teacher absenteeism, extra duties ranging from surveying to managing mid-day meals; poor quality training, and inadequate resources, the problem with both private and public education systems is the pedagogy, pressure on students and rote learning methods.
Unfortunately, there are no specific and particular landmark policy initiatives focussing on the quality of education. Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, and Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya Teacher Training Programme of 2015, though focussed on improving the quality of education, yielded no noteworthy results.
Following the results of the class X examinations in 2006, the Kerala government has introduced a programme called Quality Education Programme to concentrate on the schools that fared low in the examination. With a slogan of quality education the pupils’ right, the government has provided 1 lakh rupees for about 100 schools. It also provided for teacher training and overall infrastructure of the schools. Interestingly, the programme succeeded in upping the score of the low performing schools by conducting weekly training programmes for teachers, providing volunteers, and providing basic amenities in schools.
Right not only to access, but every child has a right to quality education. According to the Global Report on Education For All, 2015, India has made remarkable progress in achieving universal access to education. The time is ripe to embrace a quality-based approach to the education policy.