Falling Standard of Education – Who is to Blame?

By Ritika Bisht
In Cover Story
May 7, 2015
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The number of educational institutions has increased manifold in the country but the standard of education has failed to improve learning skills among majority of students.

ASERLast year, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) report revealed the status of education in India. As per this report, enrolment in elementary education is almost 100 percent. However, when it comes to education outcomes, abilities in reading, writing and other comprehensive skills have deteriorated among children between the ages of six and 14.

Low learning and falling quality of education imparted to kids in India has grave implications for the future of an economy. The country has not been able to improve the learning skills of majority of its primary school children; if anything it has fallen to alarming lows.

Even with the increasing primary enrolment rates, India has the largest number of out-of-school children in the world which is more than the out of school children in whole of sub-Saharan Africa. There is a huge disparity between the urban and rural education; rich and poor children have radically different schooling experience.

As one delves deeper into the Indian education system, one realizes that the very basic foundation is corrupt and flawed. Biggest problem is the fact that a sector as crucial to nation building as education seems to be getting importance only on surface level and real problems are intentionally being ignored due to deep rooted corruption.

Indian government is unique in respect of how they formulate policies for different set of problems. However, once the policies are set in place, what happens next, on the field is nobody’s concern.

Challenges

From ill formed educational policies of states to inexperienced faculty, each segment in the educational hierarchy is facing some kind of problems which government has failed to address.

To start with, teachers in primary schools in rural areas face an uphill task. Outdated and rigid curriculum combined with the disinterest of principals in teaching results in poor quality of education being imparted to students. Teachers are made to teach multiple classes and textbooks assigned do not sync with the comprehension level of students.

Apart from this, schools are facing the chronic shortage of teachers. According to the British Council report, around 30-40 percent teaching positions are unfilled. The situation is further deteriorated by high level of teacher absenteeism; It has been found out that teachers do not come to school for most part of the year, which clearly states that there is no mechanism to punish or fine such absent teachers.

Qualified teachers too fail to understand the concept of the subject, resulting in flawed teaching methodology. Rote learning is the trend without any effort to make kids understand the concept. This is also preferred by teachers as this is the only way they can teach the entire syllabus before examination.

Primary school teachers often make students read the lessons without explaining the meaning of the text. Resultantly, a fifth grader cannot do basic multiplication and division and cannot properly read the text but can effortlessly copy the entire paragraphs from his textbook. This practice stretches till later stages of schooling education. Beyond academics, there is massive lack of extra-curricular activity in schools because of which students fail to develop a wider range of transversal skills, including critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem-solving and collaborative working.

A highly bureaucratic administrative system is a hurdle that discourages bold decision making and makes implementation of any new idea difficult. Moreover, education in India is highly politicized and complex. Reforms in education are controlled by political processes and interests at both central and state levels. These political contestations do not allow changes, necessary for improved learning, to take place.

Students are thus left with an ineffective quality assurance system and lack of accountability of teachers and schools. As a result of this, we are generating an army of semi-literate people unable to take advantage of the new opportunities.

Remedy

An education system is only as good as its teachers. Unlocking their potential is essential if we need to enhance the quality of learning. When it comes to improvement of academic quality, teachers cannot do it alone. They will be able to give their best only when well-designed curriculum and assessment strategies are put in place, to improve teaching and learning.

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Most rural schools suffer from poor quality because of systemic negligence

There are a few crucial steps that would be required for improvement in teachers and learning quality. First, teachers must be trained to support the weakest learners, starting from the early grades. Second, to overcome inequalities in learning best teachers need to be placed at most challenging parts of a country. Third, governments must provide teachers with incentives to encourage them to remain loyal to their profession and to make sure all students at all levels are learning, regardless of their circumstances. Lastly, governments need to work closely with teacher unions to formulate policies and codes of conduct to tackle unprofessional behavior.

In order to bring these policy changes, financial strength is needed. This is why we need to see a dramatic shift in funding. There is need to enhance public investment in education. Same goes with the donors who cannot step back from their funding promises. Infrastructure in government schools are in requirement of immediate and major uplift and for that large sums of investment would be required.

Equality in access to education and learning must stand at the heart of future education goals. We must ensure that all students are learning the basics and that they have the opportunity to acquire the transferable skills needed to become global citizens. We must also set goals that are clear and measurable, to allow for the tracking and monitoring that is so essential for governments as well as donors to bridge the gaps.

Nth number of pages can be written to suggest solutions to remove the flaws in Indian education system. In order to be on world map, people responsible for managing the system have to be capable and willing to take bold, decisive steps. Clearly, country’s reputation has been marred by falling learning standards which needs to be immediately addressed. We cannot allow innumerable children to suffer just because authorities cannot get their acts together.