The HRD ministry’s recent resolve to ensure attainment of minimum learning standards before a child is admitted to Class IX could positively impact the quality quotient. It could infuse alertness among school teachers and parents. Quality of education across the spectrum must be upgraded as no nation could progress without enhancing its cognitive capital. Sudden introduction of the ‘no detention policy’ was a hasty step, which ignored the ground realities. The policy inflicted maximum damage on learning attainments of children in government schools and low-fee charging private schools. In simple terms, it means children from weaker sections suffered the most.
Yes, the no detention policy is considered pedagogically a far superior alternative to year-end examination practice, but it requires a basic support system in place before its introduction. One requires trained teachers, right teacher-taught ratio, and provisions for remedial teaching. In addition, the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) was also forced upon teachers in government schools, which were severely deficient in infrastructure teacher-taught ratio. The well-endowed public schools obviously had no problems. No teacher can do justice to CCE if the teacher-taught ratio is more than, say, 1:30. What would happen in a two-teacher school with hundred or more students, which faces teacher absenteeism and involvement of teachers in non-academic assignments? Several surveys established that most children studying in government schools in Classes V and VI were at the level of Class II. All this further lowered the credibility of government schools and opened the field for dividend- driven private investors. It created more dependence on tuitions. Coaching became an industry and centres like Kota in Rajasthan appeared on the scene in a big way. When young aspirants, unable to cope up with the pressures which are created because of inadequate learning levels in schools, commit suicide, the nation must sit up and take note.
The RTE Act projected that every child shall be in a functional school within three years of the date of implementation that was April 1, 2010. Except for statistics indicating progress in terms of more rooms, allocations, and para teachers, nothing actually changed in quality aspects in schools. One major factor that ensured continuation of quality deterioration, rather officially, deserves mention. The infrastructure norms applicable to other schools were not made applicable to government ones. District-level officers had a heyday; private schools with lesser resources were under constant threat of being derecognised. Many were indeed forced to close down, as these could not meet the prescribed norms. On the other side were the government schools that could not be touched. It is another matter that surveys indicated that over 90 per cent of such schools would get derecognised if the RTE Act norms were applied to these too.
Failure is demoralising, particularly in initial stages of education, such as being in a school that is poor in infrastructure and unable to provide regular teaching by competent teachers. When the nation guarantees “education as a fundamental right”, it is implicit that effective learning requirements would be put in place and a motivating, creative and learner-friendly environment provided to every child. All along, children from the weaker sections, including minorities, have mostly remained deprived of a properly equipped, suitably staffed and regularly functioning school. As teachers would vouchsafe, the child who graduates to higher class without having adequately equipped himself in the earlier grade suffers immense psychological stress and mental agony. One hopes the new step would reduce such inflictions on young learners. Minimum levels of learning must be attained by every child and strict adherence to the provisions must be ensured. That would require well-meaning monitoring systems being put in place.
Rajput is a former director of the NCERT