Reforms in Indian education have considerably suffered during the last decade mainly because of the fascination of the top policymakers to all that is ‘Western’. Indian experts were sent to US universities to ‘learn new techniques of evaluation in elementary schools’, and thus help implement the RTE Act. One of the consequences was hurried implementation of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE). While pedagogically, CCE is a sound proposition, it requires certain basic infrastructural and professional inputs without which it just becomes a farce on paper. Take, for example, the case of Bihar. It has only 80,000 regular teachers as against 3.5 lakh appointed on temporary basis on a fixed honorarium, without any security of service. They are neither equipped to conduct CCE nor, in uncertain conditions, have the level of commitment needed to conduct it, that consequent remedial teaching inputs can really be expected, or extracted, from them. The teacher-taught ratio on the basis of sanctioned teacher positions and enrolments is 1:39. Based on the actual number of teachers and para teachers in position, however, it comes out as 1:58. Further, what these figures do not convey is that the ‘density’ of teachers around the big towns and district headquarters is far higher than in remote areas. Hence, it is the weaker sections that suffer, and the reforms, much-hyped and publicised, become of little consequence to the majority of children.
Conditions in several states are practically comparable. Those who understand the Indian education system of today would prioritise things in a different way. First, give schools all that is mandated under the RTE Act. Put teachers in position, stop recruiting them on honorarium basis, and ensure that the teacher posted in a school is not permitted to play truant. Ensure that schools open regularly, function for the stipulated duration with basic facilities of a separate room for each class, drinking water, toilets and at least one or two lady teachers. Would anyone believe that India does not have resources even to provide these basics in its schools? What is the priority: teacher, drinking water and toilet, or CCE?
A recent example of publicity-oriented and bureaucratic approach-driven thinking comes from the Delhi government. It is keen to create a board of school education and withdraw from the present system of the CBSE conducting examinations. Is this the priority of school education in Delhi? Certainly not. Why should the state government, run by young persons, not accept the challenge of upgrading its schools to the level of Kendriya Vidyalayas?
The real challenge before any enterprising state education minister would be to transform the government schools to a level that the race to get children admitted in the high fee-charging public schools is reversed. It is tough but certainly not unachievable if a comprehensive strategy is worked out in consultation with policy-makers, academics, community workers and genuine activists. Delhi state government, Noida authority, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, Chandigarh administration, Chennai Municipal Corporation and a few others that have sufficient resources or are in a position to organise these with public support could take a lead and create models, only if they really analyse the real deficiencies and needs of the lower strata of people in educating their children.
In the times of transparency, RTI and expanding public awareness, the discriminatory system of education shall confront increasing resistance and public aversion. Small bits like 25 per cent reservation for weaker sections in the initial year in ‘public schools’ shall not do. Education policies and systems must ready themselves for total transformation: equality of opportunity of access and also of success in non-discriminatory systems is a basic human right and hence the first priority. firstname.lastname@example.org
Rajput is a former director of the NCERT