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Indian Education Quagmire

Indian Education Quagmire

Mushrooming schools and minimum learning, aggressive students and school violence, unskilled teachers and irrelevant curriculum, vacillating administration and inadequate state-funding, congested classrooms and poor infrastructure, lopsided urban/rural divide in the distribution of schools and teachers, unrealistic parental expectations and irresponsible media, score-oriented education divorced from life skills are all symptoms  of the multiple ailments that afflict the public school system in India. Caught up in such a quandary, education in India has come to be a national crisis which is conveniently overlooked by all stakeholders: parents, teachers, students and the community.

Education is indispensable to individual and society for benefitting from the accumulated knowledge of the ages and all the standard of conduct. It’s a progressive process of transmitting certain attitudes, knowledge and skills to the members of a society through formal systematic training by which an individual learns the things necessary to fit him/her to social life . The effectiveness of the training depends on the collaborative involvement of the whole society where school, home and state are equal partners. Irresponsibility of any one partner is bound to jeopardize the educational system of a nation. An attempt to pull up just one section of this partnership would be as incomplete as renovating just one part of a house that is falling apart.  

The multiple ailment of Indian education has been put under the scan of a series of Education Commissions each at the end of the day had brought out volumes of report and guidelines to remedy the rot. Unfortunately most of the findings and guidelines of these commissions have more shelf-life than hitting the path of implementations.

Though the Right to Education Act 2009 has mostly met its target of 100% enrolment in primary schools, the qualitative improvement in learning still remains a mirage. The spree of ‘enrolment’ witnessed a proliferation of primary schools with petite student population, scarce resources, poor infrastructure and unskilled teachers. Most of such dysfunctional schools are deprived of qualitative teaching-learning activities. As per a new study released by NITI Aayog in March, “India today suffers from the twin challenges of unviable sub-scale schools and a severe shortage of teachers which makes in-school interventions only marginally fruitful. India has almost 3-4 times the number of schools (15 lakh) than China (nearly 5 lakh) despite a similar population. Nearly 4 lakh schools have less than 50 students each and a maximum of two teachers. Around 1.5 crore students study in such unviable schools.”

The extreme disparity in the distribution of teachers results in shortage of teachers in rural government primary schools and excess of them in urban schools. With a shortage of over 10 lakh teachers and those exist unequally distributed, surplus teachers in urban schools and a single teacher in rural India managing 100 plus students is commonplace. Despite India achieving almost 100% enrolment in primary education (97% in grade 1), dropout rate is so high that only 30% complete grade 12. Also, with teachers of little knowledge, most government schools are of a low standard. Consequently, 50% grade 5 children can read only grade 2 texts and 70% students are not in the know of grade-level competencies.

Consolidating schools and transferring teachers from surplus schools to the deficient ones, shifting the focus from syllabus completion to mastering competences, ensuring that teachers master content and teach efficiently, building a school culture of delivery and accountability, making education budgets flexible et al can help restructure India’s ailing public schooling system. Indian education scenario needs to be transformed by a total overhauling of each section of the tri-partnership.

Since the teacher is at the centre stage in the entire gamut of teaching-learning activities s/he ought to be an adequately equipped and well-informed person to effectively play the role of a ‘friend, guide and philosopher’. A healthy, well-balanced and positive relationship between teachers and students is a sine qua non for the effectiveness of the teaching-learning activities in classrooms. A teacher with a positive attitude, skilful classroom management, equipped with correct pedagogical methods is capable of keeping all children high on motivation, interest, and positive attitude to learning based on their individual differences seldom run into a strained relationship with his/her students. In this regard, teacher-student rapport goes a long way in moulding good citizens. India’s former scientist president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who mixed and mingled with students and wanted to be remembered as a ‘teacher’ observed that “the best brain of the nation may be found on the last bench of the classroom.”

Teachers in every age have played an active role in the educational process. But when the emphasis was shifted from the teacher to the learner, the teacher has become less of a transmitter of information and more of a facilitator of learning. On the flip side the postmodern digital world, where education is being viewed as a bought and sold commodity, teacher as a service provider and parents as a taxing client, has led to a loss of respect towards teachers. Today’s students of high tech era overloaded with information at the click of a button verify and question all what the teachers teach and view teachers as redundant; hence lose respect towards them. The student relationship with teachers is no more one of silent surveillance, respect and obedience but one of questioning and analysis with respect or no respect for teachers.  

Although teachers play a crucial role in the education of the young, it’s unfair to blame teachers alone for the crisis of education in India. In fact they bear the brunt of India’s ailing system of education. The recent bout of teacher-student conflicts across India wherein teachers were brutally attacked by their students is a worrisome trend. In most cases the teachers were allegedly attacked on taking their mandatory disciplinary measures. It looks the last two decades have not been kind to teachers in India. Right from 2001 onwards teacher-student conflict has been inundating the media. There have been several incidents in Delhi government schools over the last few years where teachers were assaulted by their own students over issues as trivial as making a noise in the corridor. A Class XI student, who sans wearing the school uniform and teacher’s permission, allegedly barged into the classroom to collect the hall ticket and on being questioned of his misbehaviour, manhandled his teacher in a government higher secondary school in Kerala’s Kumali last month.

It has been a ruthless time for teachers who have been at the receiving end in the hands of their students, society and the state. School teachers across India today face the puzzle of taming the unruly students without taking disciplinary measures. Corporal punishment legally banned from schools, even a remedial reprimand is being taken amiss by the students and the parents-society and teachers are at a loss to discipline the erring ones! Meanwhile teachers are accused for ‘not properly educating’ the students! Teachers in many government schools arrive in classrooms every day with fingers crossed and mouth shut. Any attempt to dominate can invite trouble, they feel. From a social perspective, violent behaviour is an adaptive response youths make to a particular social context. Thus a positive teacher-student relationship calls for mutual understanding of each other’s requirements and come to terms with mutual expectations.

Over thirty years of my teaching experience in various schools I can say it with conviction that making meaningful connections with students is one of the most effective ways to prevent teacher-student conflict in classrooms. More often than not it’s the affective qualities of a teacher that has greater impact on the child than his/her cognitive qualities. Since children spend more time in school than their homes and teachers are considered their second parents, it’s very important that teachers develop their affective skills to deal with the children under their care and guidance. A well-trained and enlightened teacher develops positive relationships which will lead to the quality of student interaction and thus affect the quality of learning. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “A teacher who establishes a genuine rapport with the taught, becomes one with them, learns more from them than he teaches them. He, who learns nothing from his disciples is, in my opinion, is worthless. The main purpose of any educational system is not to provide education to its stakeholders but to create learning communities, where learning is optimum.”

(Published on 15th April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 16)