A raft of reforms introduced by the Tamil Nadu government recently has brought back the focus on quality of education in the state. These include the ‘Naan Mudhalvan’ scheme, through which the government plans to improve academic and employability skills of 10 lakh youth every year, and the ‘Illam Thedi Kalvi’, launched with the help of 1.8 lakh volunteers to address children’s learning losses due to Covid. Recently, the state Budget allocated Rs 36,895 crore, TN’s highest, for school education. The state’s emphasis on social inclusivity over the years and pioneering intervention measures such as noon-meals scheme and free distribution of notebooks, uniforms and laptops have ensured consistently high enrolment rate at all levels, but quality of education has been a concern for long.
The state faces three significant changes. First, the UGC has decided to introduce a mandatory Common University Education Test (CUET) for admission to UG programmes in all 45 central universities. It is important for TN to raise the standard of school education lest students face challenges akin to NEET. Second, despite long years of political and legal struggle, TN has not got an exemption from NEET for medical admissions. While it is important to continue the fight to wrest back the state’s rights over education, it would be prudent for TN to expeditiously improve the quality of learning and teaching to progressively move students from rote learning to conceptual learning.
Third, the recent Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for 2019–20 shows that the majority of children in Class 3 in rural schools across the country do not have the basic skills to read and write, and perform basic operations with numbers. On a 70-point grading index, TN, with a score of 132, has the lowest learning outcome and quality compared to Karnataka (160), Kerala (154), Andhra Pradesh (154) and Telangana (142). The state finance minister said the Budget was prepared keeping in mind generations of Tamils yet unborn. The fight for social justice is only half-won. Education may be the first and best place to start this battle for an inclusive Dravidian model of growth.