Challenges in school reform

School education department is currently working full throttle in many areas to bring the public schooling on rails.
Challenges in school reform
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School education department is currently working full throttle in many areas to bring the public schooling on rails. There could be difference of opinion about the methods and means of reform, but there are no two opinions about its urgency. If the earlier approach in the system was 'let go' type and the general perception among masses signaled education as 'a lost battle', now a new optimism, among many, seems to be coming to fore. Whether this optimism materializes into a reality is something many people are watching with fingers crossed. Let's hope that new dawn is heralded and all that we aspire for in public education comes real before us. If planning is something that will set the tone for the reform, its realization would be a distant dream unless a concerted effort from all quarters is assured. Many writers and columnists seem to give an impression as if reform was a pushover, which could be remote controlled from drawing rooms. I, on the other hand, intend to argue for the opposite: how challenging it is to plan and execute. It is hard to grab the ball, and harder to set it rolling. To argue for this I will draw from my experience working in lab schools in private sector and in public schools, reflections from teacher education and insights from administration.

Challenges in planning: It's true that if we fail to plan we are simply planning to fail. If we set out on a new engagement we will definitely begin from the beginning, and put first things first.  But, here, in our case, we are not embarking on something new, we are already somewhere in the midst, having tried many strategies earlier, now enveloped from all sides by issues, and grappling with gigantic challenges. It's like being caught in a deep sea on a small boat with tempestuous winds leaping on us. Just imagine how much down this boatman would feel, and how much uphill it could be to wade it out of this tempest. So, it not the planning to begin a new journey, it is planning to find the right track when you seem to be already lost, and lost for many years. The former is refreshing and the later is crushing and overwhelming. In such cases it is natural to hit right, left and centre. This is not to say that you be bogged down and not seek a turnaround. This is just to take the stock of actual situation you are in. We cannot live in a fool's paradise; keep enjoying in a make-believe world, and say in idiot's parlance: 'all is well'. Therefore, planning in today's educational scenario in our State would not only require prospective vision and retrospective understanding, but coupled with it, a herculean conviction that whatever plan you draw would require a hazardous and long drawn expedition. Here, we need to emphasize that some out of box measures too are required but mostly we need to execute a bit differently what has already been tried in the past. In many other cases plans that look good on papers have hardly translated into reality, or to put it correctly, have not been executed in a manner to have their effects see the light of the day. 

Challenges in execution: I strongly believe that half the reform would be successfully through if we bridge the gap between what we project on papers with what we do on ground. This in itself is a much bigger task than even planning. As I already said that we have to do same thing but a bit differently. Like cluster concept was already there but this time around it has been taken up in a different manner, where it has been centered round a Higher Secondary School using it as a resource centre in the cluster, bridging gaps of training, monitoring, coordination and the like, which has brought positive changes in many clusters, where learning levels have shown a rise in just two months. I am personally witness to the work in MP School cluster in Srinagar where learning levels have drastically improved in the elementary schools in the cluster, thanks to hard work put in by the teachers of the cluster. Now that this innovative idea has brought new lease in many clusters, but still in many clusters not much has changed. There is a lag between idea and execution which is the biggest hurdle. You conceive the idea but as you go out to execute it, at every level going down it suffers a transmission loss, or cascading loss. This loss in certain cases is such that nothing reaches on ground and nothing changes on ground. The question is why does this happen? One reason is lack of preparedness at various levels down the line which creates resistance to the flow. Second, some overburdened lines from top to grassroots. Third is fatigue in the system that has crept in since last many years of slow motion in all areas. Forth, other difficulties that de-motivate like lack of proper infrastructure and resources.

Challenges in over-stretch: Two things have to be separated, for sure. One is academics, and second is administration. While it is one thing to know what pedagogies need to be pressed into service to bring out best in learners in a single school, but it is wholly a different thing when you have to run more than twenty thousand schools. While in single school both academics and administration get concentrated, in a multi-school system both get stretched, nay overstretched in our case. It's this over-stretch that creates gaps, both in administration and academics. In a single school it is only the educator who is required, and who does both, but in our Govt. school system both are required, and in good numbers. While we require educators to counsel us on academics, we also require finest administrators to strengthen the system, and close understanding between the two is all the more necessary. If we have only one then we must bank on educators who know administration fully well. We may take steps in administrative expediency many a times, but it is academic viability that is more important, because it is in academic terms we ultimately measure the success of the school system. In education, administration is just a means to the academic end. Presently, only a single line exists in the system looking after both, and having become overly burdened. Therefore, many a times, ends get martyred for means. 

The department is not silent on all this. This challenge triad from planning to execution to overstretching has been attended in many ways. But when you wrestle with an elephant you are up for many surprises. And many of these surprises are new challenges in themselves.

The author teaches at Govt. College of Education, Srinagar
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