In 1991, the National Literacy Mission had declared Kerala a 100 per cent literate state. More recently the School Education Quality Index (SEQI), released by the NITI Aayog has placed Kerala in the first position among 20 major states in overall performance in the education sector. SEQI, prepared on the basis of 30 indicators, among others, ranging from learning, access, infrastructure/facilities, equity outcomes to governance processes aiding outcomes etc., used 2016-17 as the reference year and 2015-16 as the base year to evaluate the performance of states and Union Territories in the school education sector.
Kerala is followed by Rajasthan and Karnataka, being the other the top performers in learning outcomes. Amongst eight smaller states, Manipur, Tripura and Goa bagged the top-three positions, respectively, followed by Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. Of the seven UTs, Chandigarh topped the list, followed by Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Delhi, Puducherry, Daman & Diu, Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep. It is heartening that 95% of the schools have toilets for girls.
How did Kerala achieve the quality distinction? Reports indicate that sustained efforts over the past few years have paid rich dividends. In brief, about 1000 government schools were upgraded into international standards. Importantly, beyond infrastructure development, the teaching and learning process were perfectly aligned to the present day needs. One government school in each Assembly constituency was also selected for being upgraded as a centre of excellence. Free uniforms in handloom material is also provided by the state government for students from class one to eight Yes, introduction of Information and Communication Technology enabled learning - that is smart classrooms from classes eight to 12 - were other initiatives undertaken. Notably, about 45,000 hi-tech classrooms reportedly set up in government schools and government-aided schools possibly facilitated in a year-on-year increase in the number of students getting enrolled in Kerala’s government schools. In the past two years, about 3.42 lakh new students have opted for government schools in the state.
Now for a moment let’s go to over to rural India. The Right to Education Act, 2009, has made it clear that all states should have eight years of elementary schooling. Have all States come up with a uniform pattern of elementary schooling from classes 1 to 8?
Going by the 2018 Annual Status of Education Report released earlier this year, which surveyed 5.46 lakh children in the age group 3-16 across 596 districts of the country, in a nutshell, although the basic educational skills of rural India are improving, it is abysmally slow. Government schools in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, Mizoram and Tamil Nadu have shown an improvement in learning outcomes.
The cause for concern is that although such learning outcomes have improved marginally over the years at the primary level it is not so at the secondary level. If one out of every four Class 8 students in rural India is unable to read even a Class 2 text, over one in two Class 8 students cannot solve a problem that involves basic division. Thanks to mid-day meals and the physical infrastructure of schools, enrolment seems encouraging. The proportion of children not enrolled in school has fallen below 3% for the first time ever in the country, across age groups and gender. From 10.3% in 2006, the proportion of girls in the 11 to 14 age group who were out of school fell to 4.1% in 2018.
Among the various latest initiatives underway to sort of revamp the education system is the New Education Policy 2019, which is under examination by the Union Government. The nine-member Kasturirangan Committee, which was tasked to formulate a precise, rigorous and comprehensive education policy has among others proposed a uniform syllabus for mathematics and science across the country besides giving importance to local content in social sciences. The policy covers the entire sector from pre-school to tertiary education and inter-alia proposes to integrate vocational education into all educational institutions – schools, colleges and universities and to provide access to vocational education to at least 50% of all learners by 2025. It also proposes to incorporate boosting of education in rural areas especially with regard to hygiene and sanitation to dropouts, quality of teachers, infrastructure, mapping skills and employability. Hopefully the approved new education policy would take care of some of the contentious issues which have seen many debates.
Suffice to say that our education system poses several challenges for a plethora of reasons. There are several ongoing initiatives/schemes aimed at improving/reforming the quality of education especially in backward regions as well as to address social, gender and regional imbalances in educational development.
The Kerala model of imparting quality education gives a glimmer of hope that across the nation it can be implemented. It has also demonstrated that such challenges can be overcome with effective management planning and control. As over 60 per cent of India’s children are dependent on public education – elementary and secondary school levels - we cannot be complacent.(Published on 14th October 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 42)