Skewed student-teacher ratio: An impediment

Skewed student-teacher ratio: An impediment

It is not possible for a teacher to deliver lesson, give homework, check homework and at the same time asses the learning of all the students

Education is considered as the backbone of the modern economy. The quality of education imparted and gained through various platforms and institutions has been a deciding factor in the way economies have grown. In the current scenario, the quality of education is strongly linked to the technological might of the country, which in turn decides the standing of the country on the world platform. Consider the example of the United States of America: she is considered, if not the only, among the top leader countries of the world. One of the main reasons is the massive technological strength and continuous advance of such technologies with time, resulting in her becoming a huge economy. The availability of resources in a country is not the only factor that decides the economic strength of that country, it is the technology available to harness those resources in an efficient way that decides the real worth of a country—her economic, political and social standing. India has also been doing well recently in terms of space technology and has earned significant praise from all over the world, the way it has successfully launched different satellites into space. This has the potential of bringing a lot of revenue as India opens up this service to other nations. On the contrary there are many countries who are resource-rich but still struggling a lot and not economically well-off. These countries are often dependent on imported technologies and, many a time, are exploited in the name of economic upliftment of its people. It is pertinent to mention that technologies do not knock our doors all of a sudden but are a result of dedicated and persistent struggle of the people of a country, especially the educated ones, and the policy makers. If we look at the technologically advanced countries we will find the advanced countries have a strong and well organised educational sector especially the primary educational sector. Nonetheless, institutions of higher education also do play a great role in the advancement of a nation in multiple directions. However, it is the standard of education at school level, especially primary level, that lays the foundation of scientific temperament and innovation among students. It is at this level that creativity among children is induced or allowed to flourish. The extent to which creativity is allowed to nourish in a young mind decides the span of technological advancements to a great extent; these advancements are an implication of creativity combined with hard work, dedication and devotion. It is, however, also possible that creativity sadly gets killed at this stage. I recently attended a talk by Prof. H.C. Verma, one of the renowned physicists of India, at Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar. He gave an excellent example of how creativity can get killed at primary level of schooling. He talked about the assignment given to the child of one of his colleagues at her school. The assignment had questions, somewhat like this: 

1. The postmaster carries _______. 2. The doctor carries________. 3. Your father carries_________. 

While she did her homework, she answered “laptop” for question number 3. “Her father was an IIT professor and what else could he carry, most of the times, other than a laptop!”. Cutting the story short, the school teacher wrote the answers for those students who hadn’t/ couldn’t answer all the questions or wrote incorrect answers. For question 3 she wrote ‘umbrella’. The child who had written ‘laptop’ erased it and replaced it with ‘umbrella’! It doesn’t need an explanation of how creativity got killed and the real learning got impeded. One of the reasons for such things happening in schools is the skewed student teacher ratio. Given the time slot for a particular class and the large number of students, it is not possible for a teacher to deliver their lesson, give homework, and then check all the homework of all the students and at the same time asses their learning. While in some schools the recommended student teacher ratio is up to the mark and the teachers are able to do justice with their job, in other schools it is pathetic. In remote and tribal areas, we can witness a teacher-student ratio so low that there are two or three teachers for a whole primary school, sometimes even a single teacher managing the whole school. How can they do justice or how can we expect them to do justice? This grossly affects the students at a stage where their foundation for contributing to technological advance at a later epoch of their life should have been laid and built strongly. This kind of skewness, with some schools lacking adequate number of teachers, while others having more number of teachers than required doesn’t just affect the quality of education but has other severe repercussions as well. 

With inadequate individual attention available to students from the teachers, the students are not groomed properly especially the ones for whom there is insignificant parental support because of some of them not being educated enough to guide their children. Encumbered by the duties of life, many a times, even the educated parents are not able to give passable attention to their wards. This inattention to students because of skewed ratio, among other factors, could also be a possible reason for the booming of coaching institutions even for non-competitive regular studies. Private coaching as a consequence of inattention to a few, over years, has become vogue for everyone to follow irrespective of whether it is really needed or not. The adverse effects of private coaching in terms of additional burden on young minds, and the way they rob away childhood from a child need not be explained here and are evident. 

Coming to the other repercussions of skewness: it results in economic disparity and growing divide between the rich and poor. While the well-off can send their children to good schools, which have adequate student-teacher ratio, it is not possible for the poor, especially of remote areas, to send their kids to such schools and have to feel contended with nearly available government schools lacking adequate student teacher ratio. Private schools, most of the times being profit oriented, may not find it feasible to establish themselves in remote corners. I do not claim here that private institutions are better than government schools; we have good and not so good schools in both sectors, but the government schools are always more affordable than private ones. With a lack of quality education available to the poor people, their kids often drop out from school or even if they continue they lack the quality of educational skills necessary for them to compete with the students of good schools. This makes the poor continue to suffer from the vagaries of life and gives them less opportunity to come out of the quagmire of poverty. Also, it is not just the tribal and remote areas that suffer from unfavourable skewed student teacher ratio but there are also many schools in other areas that suffer from similar problems. 

Less number of teachers is not just a problem in terms of quality of education not provided but is also a burden for the school heads to manage whole school affairs with low staff levels. The government should take concrete steps to address this issue of skewness. One of the immediately possible solution is the rationalization of staff. The government should take a stock of the situation prevalent in all the government schools of the valley and take remedial measures in terms of transfer of staff wherever possible. This doesn’t require any additional budgetary requirements unlike new recruitment. Long term strategy would be to recruit more teachers and allocate them to schools in a way keeping the skewed student teacher ratio in mind. This will result in strengthening of the students’ minds at the foundational level and later on will result in development of scientific temperament, innovativeness and vigour. Further, availability of adequate staff will help the school develop not just in terms of the quality of education it provides to its students (in a conventional sense) but also in terms of the multitude of contributions that diversely thinking faculty can incorporate and benefit the students of accordingly.

Author is a PhD student of Chemical Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar.