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Education needs radical reform

The education sector needs a national perspective

Education needs radical reform

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DILEEP RANJEKAR

BACK TO SCHOOL

At a recent interaction with a large group of colleagues in a regional meeting, one relatively junior member who visits schools daily as part of his training schedule was very disturbed with his experiences in a school. He did not like the way teachers were treated by senior functionaries when they visited the school. The functionaries did not empathise with several situations that the teachers faced in the school — such as the degree of difficulty multigrade teaching creates for the teacher or the artificial pressure of completing the syllabus that gets created without consideration as to whether the children are actually learning or whether there is an appropriate teacher-pupil ratio.

He said that while the mid-day meal programme is an important one for children, it is not the only purpose of the school. But the education administration places a disproportionate emphasis on the programme. While there is constant scrutiny of the mid-day meal programme, there isn’t equal focus on learning outcomes. The administration was very prompt in taking punitive action if something went wrong with the mid-day meal. However, there wasn’t such rigorous evaluation of teaching-learning or continuous comprehensive evaluation processes.

Another colleague interacts with senior educational functionaries vested with the responsibility of education across the state. She often finds that the perception and priorities of many education functionaries are radically different from what happens in the schools. She asked whether it is possible for the Azim Premji Foundation to engage with institutions (such as the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy) to develop the right social and education perspective among these functionaries.

Many feel that the critical reason why our current education system is failing to achieve its stated goals is that the functionaries who are required to administer our large education system are not qualified and competent since they have not been prepared to deal with the complex challenges.

One of the most striking features that I observed in Finland about five years ago was a thoroughly shared understanding among the academic and administrative departments that were responsible for education in the country. We spent a lot of time with the university that helped the State in developing the agenda, the curriculum board, the textbook preparation board, the teachers and principals of the schools and also the school administration department. There was a striking similarity in the way they spoke.  Their overarching concern was: “How do we help our schools in achieving the education objectives?” The university is deeply engaged in researching the processes in schools and also building capacity among the teacher preparation institutions. It studies and formulates strategies for dealing with issues such as pre-school education, strategies for children with learning disabilities, and so on. The curriculum board is not only engaged with writing the philosophy of education but also with how it can be translated in the classroom through pedagogic processes. The administration has a clear map of how it will manage the schedules of school timings, appointment of teachers and addressing the infrastructure issues and is constantly tracking their own performance in helping the schools.

Some of the core principles they follow in organising and managing education are:

  • The academic and administrative structures are well-coordinated and know each other’s work and priority in detail through a continuous dialogue.
  • Almost all personnel engaged in education are professionally qualified and trained to contribute to education.
  • Given the rigour of teacher education, only those who pass the quality muster can become teachers. It is not easy to become a teacher in Finland.
  • Teachers have  status in society that is equal to that of any other profession.
  • Education is very well-resourced (financially and intellectually) and is among the highest priorities on the State agenda.
  • The political role in appointment of teachers, approving teacher education institutions or transfers and so on is non-existent.
  • The broader vision and agenda is more continuous than programmatic. There are no programmes of ‘flavour of the year’ nature.

Section X of the National Policy of Education, 1986, laid down several principles for managing education in India. Unfortunately, successive governments failed to implement the spirit and letter of the policy.

Illustratively, the policy required us to set up central, state and even district advisory boards of education to play a pivotal role in education at various levels. Our Central Advisory Board for Education — which is regarded as the highest decision-making body in education — has met 64 times since 1920 when it was first established. The policy required us to establish an ‘Indian Education Services’ to bring a national perspective on education issues. Among other things it would have ensured developing a cadre of people who understand the perspective of education including the philosophy-sociology and psychology in education. It would have ensured a long-term perspective rather than launching several short-term programmes that have lacked continuum at central and state levels.

Today we have several central and state institutions such as UGC, NCERT, NCTE, AICTE, IMC and NUEPA, operating almost independently of one another with no common bridge binding their work. Even within the Ministry of Human Resource Development, several sections tend to view their work in a unidimensional manner.

If we don’t change the way we manage our education system — the largest in the world — we will continue to have the current infirmities. Mere application of ointment will not help. We need radical structural changes that have the potential to address the following pivotal issues:

People working in the education department must have deeper knowledge and abilities that include a social and educational perspective on the role of the teacher, and belief in the abilities of the children.

The various education advisory bodies at central, state and district level must be truly empowered bodies to make decisions and not merely act as rubber stamps.

We must establish several high-quality Schools of Education (at least one per state, to begin with) that develop truly competent education professionals. These institutions must be fully and permanently resourced by the government.

Teacher education needs to be fundamentally reformed to prepare teachers who are fully competent to engage with the children to achieve the broader aims of education rather than merely dealing with content of various subjects in a rote manner. They must be prepared for every useful aspect of education.

Administrators or politicians who do not have  an education perspective or long-term interest in education must not be allowed to make decisions in education.

While the community must play a significant role in education and supporting schools, we should not entertain romantic notions of leaving education to communities irrespective of their competence to understand education.

Since this is also the time when the new National Education Policy is being thought through, it is important to critically examine how many important resolutions in the 1986 Education Policy have gone un-implemented.  

Dileep Ranjekar is CEO of the Azim Premji Foundation