School Education: Surveys and Systems

Before analysing how school education factors in NEP it is necessary to have an understanding of prevailing situation and status of school education in India drawing some insights from Jammu and Kashmir
School Education: Surveys and Systems
The Jammu and Kashmir administration through “TALAASH” is planning to start an exhaustive exercise and collect data about children in the age group 6 to 18 who are to be mainstreamed. [Representational Image]File: Conor Ashleigh/ Flickr [Creative Commons]

After some discussion on issues connected to higher education it sounds appropriate to analyse the status and direction of school education considering imperatives of New Education Policy (NEP, 2020).

For too long academics teaching in universities have exhibited a strange nose in the air attitude towards primary and secondary education.

The compartmentalisation and narrow focus on specialisation has created too many problems for society and economy.

People teaching at higher level need to involve themselves in all things that concern the quality of education at lower levels. The fragmentation and hierarchy are anathema to the concept of an integrated education process.

The International Labour organization (ILO) has predicted a surge in child labour for the first time in 20 years due to pandemic reversing years of hard work.

This should concern us and make us to work in different ways to arrest backsliding of progress in targets achieved.

Before analyzing how school education factors in NEP it is necessary to have an understanding of prevailing situation and status of school education in India drawing some insights from Jammu and Kashmir. Broadly two issues deserve serious attention:

First, Covid-19 has impacted all sectors of life and education for obvious reasons got badly affected. In a poor state like Odisha after the loss of two back-to-back academic sessions about 30 percent students are now found not attending schools and if the 30 percent absentees are extrapolated, the number of students not coming to schools could be in the range of 20 lakh.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration through “TALAASH” is planning to start an exhaustive exercise and collect data about children in the age group 6 to 18 who are to be mainstreamed.

This survey hopefully may give us an idea of how many have left schooling due to Covid-related issues. The World Bank’s Global Director for Education Jaime Saavedra has already drawn our attention towards crisis in Indian education due to the pandemic. According to him the “learning poverty” has shot up from 54 percent to 70 percent.

To those of our friends who possess fanciful ideas about on-line education the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report provides that 70 percent of Indians do not have access to internet connectivity.

As I am writing this column media has carried in a big way findings of National Assessment Survey (NAS) detailing the magnitude of learning crisis in India. The survey was conducted in November 2021 among students of more than one lakh schools in 720 districts.

The NSA shows a sharp dip in the performance of students in almost all subjects during the pandemic years. UNESCO (2021) lists out a few consequences of school closure that include interrupted learning, poor nutrition, unprepared parents, confusion and stress for teachers, gaps in child care, high economic cost, rise in dropout rates, increased exposure to violence and exploitation and so on”. My friend, Yogendra Yadav calls it India’s, worst ‘edu-cide’

Second, there is need to find-out how the 86th constitutional amendment passed in 2002 via Article 21 A, making education free and compulsory has helped the cause of primary education.

In 2009 we had “Right of Children to free and Compulsory Education Act” laying down the legal underpinnings for universal elementary education and giving effect to the above amendment.

The amendment apart from providing free education for children in the age group 6 to 14 also provides early childhood care until they complete the age of 6 years.

To fund this two percent cess on taxes will be set aside. The Indian state decided to do it to oil its economic engine leading to production of well trained professionals who can innovate to compete in the global knowledge economy.

It is genuine to take a step back and see to what extent financial commitments of governments are matching the needs of the people in India? It is not difficult to find resources for making education free if managers of the system can peep into sharp inequalities in India.

The non-governmental organization Oxfam’s Report titled “ Inequality Kills” in January 2022 discusses how man-made inequality in India claimed more lives than the pandemic did.

It estimated that 01 percent tax on 98 billionaires in India could take care of the total expenditure of school education and literacy or fund the Ayushman Bharat (health insurance scheme) for seven years. In the backdrop of these observations it makes eminent sense to unfold the insights of NEP (2020) as far as school education is concerned.

The two points analyzed above make it abundantly clear that universal, free education in our case cannot have any meaning unless we align it with the principle of Universal Basic Income. This makes the case for critical scrutiny of NEP to assess its potential to mitigate the crisis in “Indian Education”. The following points must factor in any policy-making related to school education:

First, implementation of NEP and progress under the “Right to Education Act”, 2009 must move in tandem to correct policy distortions and underfunding of education to ensure achievement of sustainable Development Goals.

The pandemic induced crisis has added further urgency in this matter. In one survey conducted to understand reasons for increasing dropout rate about 30.2 percent of the girls gave domestic work as the reason for discontinuing education and about 36.90 percent of boys left studies for supporting their families.

The RTE Act needs to be reviewed seriously when NEP sets (2035) as the year for attaining the 100 percent Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) .

This can be done by adopting the policy frame of “Universal Basic income” (UBI) so that the state ensures that every adult citizen receives a set amount of money regularly.

We may also have to hasten implementation of UBI keeping in view the large scale automation affecting jobs and livelihoods in the country and the manner in which vulnerable population groups are going to be affected.

Further on war footing we need to do everything possible to overcome the regression caused due to pandemic in children’s foundational skills-reading, writing and doing simple mathematics.

Some education experts have recommended need for remedial classes to overcome the learning poverty which needs more funds to school education.

It is unfortunate that funds for teacher training have been slashed by 50 percent in the current budget and the outlay for Mid-day Meal scheme- has come down by almost 10 percent.

Push from government bodies for e-learning just to save money needs to be avoided and teacher needs to be brought back at the centre of school and teaching activity.

Second, in our schools an average teacher works on the assumption that his job is to teach from the textbook and outdated notes. He/she is not concerned about developing curiosity and personality of the child. The demands of a child from insects to stars are quite genuine to the classroom space. The NEP aims at making education grounded.

The imagination is of schools practicing agriculture, dairy keeping, weaving on the best modern techniques all roped into one fabric-teachers, students and the community having the same meeting place.

Already several studies including Annual Status of Education Reports (ASER) have underlined that most of the failings of the country’s education system stem from the lack of connect between the lived experiences of most students and what is taught in classrooms. \

The fact is that education should be closely connected with the life of its people but not narrowly conceived. Rabindernath Tagore played an important role in education both at Santiniketan and Sriniketan.

At Sriniketan the initiatives included trials with seeds and manures, cattle breeding, poultry farming, rural surveys, rural banks, paddy stores, weavers, cooperatives, irrigation and health societies, anti-malarial measures, vaccination against Small Pox, training for midwifery and an awareness programme on how to deal with famines and epidemics. The NEP recommends that every student will take an year-long fun course during Grades 6 to 8 so that world meets in one nest.

This requires shift from syllabus-centered approaches of the past to learner-centric methodology and schools, management and functionaries of Education Department need to ensure this shift.

Third, the institution of the “Teacher” needs to be reinstated and fully established in the institutional matrix of society and the government. Those of us who were fortunate to gain out of State-Funded Education have fond memories of good and grounded teachers who taught us in a missionary mode.

Unconsciously, to my knowledge they aroused the interest of children in thousand things and allowed us to have best of natural setting. Today we talk of the “Lost Teacher” whose birth we know but not his death.

The NEP 2020 has many things on how to get good teachers-quality of training, recruitment, deployment, service conditions and empowerment etc. It even says that teachers will not be involved in electioneering, cooking of midday meals and other strenuous administrative tasks so that they may fully concentrate on teaching-learning process.

But more needs to be done to ensure that we are able to attract the best towards this job and all other stakeholders do whatever is possible to rehabilitate the teacher. It is significant to note that societal transformation is more important than economic reforms.

The Delhi government has issued an order to heads of all schools to sensitize students on ‘cyber bullying”. The quality of education cannot extend the quality of its leaders.

Our neighbors in East-Asia have invested in social capital and moved ahead the economic ladder. They appoint school principals on merit not on seniority. In Vietnam we have excellent “Teacher Training Universities”.

We live in a world of learning and emulating best practices. I would urge officers of school education to pass on instructions to all school heads to identify teachers (in the long life of their school) who had played pioneering role in a particular area in disseminating education.

Their portraits be kept hanging in the schools for students and organize memorial lectures/celebrations in their honor. A good teacher affects eternity. His influence never stops.

These small steps can help us in inculcating culture of institution-building in the new generation. We need to know that at one end the Nawab of Rampur donated Rs one lakh to establishment of the Banaras Hindu University and at the other a Muslim beggar donated one rupee highlighting that education can spread by love.

The NEP (2020) rightly emphasizes the abiding value of truth, peace, righteous conduct, forgiveness, tolerance, mercy, helpfulness, justice and fraternity as abiding values to be passed on to our children.

The write-up is author's Speech at the inaugural function held on 19 May, 2022, by Private Schools Association Jammu & Kashmir (PSAJK)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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