Many have forgotten the bad news that was delivered about a year back when three reports – the international PISA report, the Wipro-EI Quality Education Study and ASER 2011 – painted a sad picture of the learning scenario in India. The first report ranked our Class 10 children 73rd in the world out of 74 countries. The second said that students in our top private schools were learning more poorly in 2010 than 2006. And the 3rd shared that there was a decline in rural education in the previous year.
ASER has released its report for 2012 and the bad news continues – student learning levels have fallen in reading and Maths, the exodus to private schools continues (in spite of many benefits including monetary provided in government schools). Some aspects of the ASER results may need to be validated by more rigorous studies (for example, it is unlikely that the number of Class 5 students who can do two-digit subtraction problems could have declined from 58.8% to 49.1% in just 2011-12). However, the larger message is almost definitely correct and can be verified by stepping out into any municipal school in the state.
This is a collective problem – indeed a shame – and we need to collectively address this issue. Gujarat has many strengths – we have found the focus on education including on outcomes and strengthening government schools among the best in the country. But that is little consolation and a lot needs to be done.
Shift focus to outcomes from inputs: We need to recognise that the success of a school system lies in what students are learning and able to do, not just in the number of children enroll or teachers present. The board exams need to be reformed to test for true understanding so that this focus percolates to the primary classes as well.
Re-examine RTE: Many educationists believe there are serious problems with RTE as it turns the clock back by defining quality in terms of inputs ( infrastructure, numbers of teachers, etc) and does not focus on learning at all. Concepts like Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation are espoused, but practical reality and difficulties aren't recognised.
Build institutional capacity: It may appear that students are not learning to read and do subtraction because teachers do not teach them well, but this is at most a part of the reason. Helping first generation learners develop these skills requires special methods and skills and these need to be systematically researched and disseminated through dedicated Science of Learning institutes, Centres for Reading Research, etc.
Reading initiatives: The government launched the ‘reading festival’ (Vanchan Parv) in September last year for about 45 days. In a modified and focused form, this and other reading-focussed initiatives need to be a year-long affair.
Use technology: Many initiatives are needed, an example is biometric attendance to ensure teachers and students are there in school (teaching time is much lower in our country). Other technology, for example, reading tests and tools on tablets, need to be developed, piloted and scaled up.
Strengthen government schools but also explore PPP: While the primary focus should clearly be on government schools, Public-Private-Partnerships in education (based on encouraging private partners who are able to demonstrate learning improvements) are also critical. These will allow innovation while challenging the entire system to improve.
Gujarat has a vision of leading India and the world in many spheres. In the recent Vibrant Gujarat Summit, there was a lot of focus on social infrastructure like education. These are positive steps and everyone’s responsibility to work towards. The ASER 2012 report reminds us of this fact. The writer is managing director, Educational Initiatives