Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXIX No. 4, June 1-15, 2019
Two recent news items sum up the state of school education. Is the news that India has thrice the number of schools (15 lakhs) as that of China (5 lakhs) and that Tamil Nadu is rated high on school education reason enough for smug contentment? The answer is in the Performance Grading Index (PGI) Study by the Department of School Education & Literacy, Ministry of Human Resource Development – a resounding no. Installation of physical facilities is not enough till schools are able to equip youth with skills needed to join the economic mainstream.
The PGI Study is significant on more than one count. First, it evaluates the education system in each State of the Union to generate competition and exchange ideas on good practices. Secondly, it has shifted the States’ focus to the actual delivery of services and its quality. PGI helps States to identify weaknesses from among seventy indicators (practices) for corrective action.
The Report, in effect, says that putting up buildings and appointing teachers are not enough to make good school education. These are indeed basic and important but not enough. Making them work and deliver the expected benefits is the last mile of the marathon.
In the PGI study, States are graded in groups instead of ranking them. Comparison of the rank of a given State from year to year can be misleading because its rank depends on the performance of competitors. A good improvement by a State, for instance, may be shown as having a lower rank because a competing State did even better. Another limitation in the ranking method is that even a single point shows up as a different level of achievement.
PGI measures five domain indicators which are Learning Outcomes, Access, Infrastructure, Equity (among schedule castes, scheduled tribes, urban, rural and gender), and Governance. Performance under each indicator is compared with a scientifically determined benchmark. Of these, Learning Outcomes and Governance are of concern. The other three relate to infrastructure.
Overall, for the country, Governance registers the lowest score of 53 per cent, indicating that in the post-investment phase monitoring and enforcement is weak and that methodologies are ineffective. Against one thousand points, graded into groups at 50-point intervals, the best group of States (Union Territory of Chandigarh, Gujarat and Kerala) itself is only in the 801-850 range indicative of the gap between the best achieved and the best achievable. It is significant that Kerala does well not only on school education but also in health services (in another study) suggesting that irrespective of the political colour of the ruling entity, performance is good perhaps due to the high literacy in this State. Literacy equips public with a strong and intelligent voice to demand and get good quality of public services.
On the state of infrastructure and access, it is not surprising that Tamil Nadu scores well and remains at the top or among the best five. Whether it produced the desired benefit is reflected in the score for Learning Outcomes. Tamil Nadu comes out poorly with its rank in the middle of a league table of 36 competitors. As regards Governance, Tamil Nadu is ranked number six out of a field of 36, but considering that overall performance of all states is mediocre, the sixth rank is no distinction.
With the same syllabus and teaching methods privately managed institutions deliver an output of better standard. It seems that the poor quality of outgoing students from government managed schools is less due to want of facilities or funds. Studies have identified poor quality of teachers due to corrupt practices in recruitment compounded by low accountability as problems – resulting in an environment that makes it easy for inefficient teachers to get away with high absenteeism and low commitment.
There is, however, one challenge faced by Government school teachers that does not apply to private schools. Children of poorer sections seeking free education in government schools do not have the advantage of educated parents. So the basic material to be trained is of a different order. The one-size-fits-all grouping of children by classes for all subjects makes teaching difficult to children of varying aptitudes and learning abilities. Drop-out rates rise as children move up mechanically from one class to the next, finding the irrelevance and boredom of the standardised syllabus insufferable. They need a different teaching approach to address their disadvantage, aptitude and learning speed. An experienced teacher of fisher folk’s first generation of school going children says that these children do show special aptitude for arithmetic. Without being so aware they are also in command of a large number of English words in their ordinary usage. Experts have suggested an innovative method of teaching them in homogenous groups based on learning ability and interest. There is not much to show that this method has been implemented with perseverance, by retraining teachers to the new approach and demonstrating how it makes teaching and learning more enjoyable.
Studies show that fifth class students cannot pass even class II level tests according to the Annual Status of Education Reports (ASER). School education, especially in government schools, seems to have fallen into a circular trap. Poor teachers produce poor students and poor graduates coming out of institutions make poor teachers. Breaking this circuit requires corruption-free teacher selection, appropriate teaching methodology, teacher re-training programmes to handle special needs of children from poorer sections of society, teacher accountability and relevance of learning content to the job market. The Right to Education would degenerate into ritual compliance if the system cannot prepare children to become good citizens and cannot give them the skills to become economically self-reliant. A sound educational system is the converter of demography’s economic potential to reality.
The Tamil Nadu government has been allocating a consistent share of resources to school education and in 2019-20 Budget it was Rs. 28,578 crores at 1.7 per cent of GSDP with no room to raise it to a norm of 3 per cent due to fiscal constraint. Teachers are well paid by current standards. There is no reason why qualified, trained and committed candidates cannot be engaged if the system ensures impartial selection free of corruption.