Education in India, as we know, is in a most abysmal state. Despite spending vast amounts of money, India has been unable to arrest the decline in learning, particularly at primary and secondary levels of education. The quality of teaching and teachers – millions of them untrained or under-trained has now emerged as the major problem in the education sector of the country. Poor learning outcomes in India’s classrooms pinpoint urgent need for drastic improvement in standard of teaching through quality training of teachers.
A recent United Nations (UN) report showed that some basic indicators such as enrolment and access to education have improved in India. Over the last 12 years, the country has reduced its out-of-school children (enrolment rate) by more than 90 per cent. Universal primary education has achieved 99 per cent of children (6 to 14 years of age) in school. But, despite significant improvement in enrolment rate, learning outcomes in India have fallen very low.
An annual Status of Education Report (ASER) on elementary education in India, described by the government itself as ‘pretty depressing’ revealed a familiar story; rising enrolment, growing number of private schools and poor learning levels in reading and mathematics. Seven years after the implementation of the Right To Education (RTE) Act of 2009, the fact that 53 per cent of students in Class 5 are unable to read a Class 2 textbook and as much as 58 per cent of Class 8 students could not do simple division is a worrying sign of the abject failure of India’s education system.
The RTE Act was enacted to ensure that all children of India between 6 to 14 years of age, regardless of their economic status, caste, class, creed or gender, would be given an elementary education by right and by law. In addition, the Act made some time-bound commitment, to ensure schools achieve certain minimum standards of quality teaching, and that all schools should have adequately trained teachers, sufficient classrooms, toilets, laboratories, libraries with sufficient amount of good books and other learning materials, for all students.
The RTE Act – which has seven Chapters and 38 sections – in Chapter 7, Section 29 and sub-section (2) mentions among other things that the evaluation procedure should be …. (h) comprehensive and continuous evaluation of the child’s understanding of knowledge and his/her ability to apply the same. Though the Act talks about not holding the child back in any of the classes from Standard V to VII – which is interpreted as no-fail (nobody can be branded as a failure) policy – there are specific duties and responsibilities outlined that a teacher appointed shall perform the following duties ; a) maintain regularity and punctuality in attending school, b) Conduct and complete the curriculum, c) Complete entire curriculum within specific time, d) Hold regular meetings with parents and guardians, etc. e) perform such other duties as may be prescribed.
The onus, as per the RTE Act, is more on the teacher to see that students learn appropriately. It is primarily meant to take pressure off students and change the way students were taught at school. In fact, changing the education system to have a no-fail policy, has put additional responsibility on the teacher to teach the students the right way – the burden has shifted to teachers from students. Monitoring of each student has become an important task of a teacher, and needs a complete focus on the job.
Unfortunately, the Union government said that schools across India are not getting qualified teachers as 91 per cent of candidates aspiring to become teachers fail even in the basic test that they need to undergo. The RTE Act, enforced from April 1, 2010, has mandated Central Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) to ensure a national level benchmark for teaching quality in the country, but very few are able to qualify. The minimum qualification fixed for teachers under the RTE Act has brought out a shocking phenomenon of 91 per cent of candidates aspiring to teach in elementary section of Class VI to VIII flunking the basic teacher eligibility test (TET) conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).
A comprehensive study by the National University for Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) – an affiliate of the Union HRD Ministry – revealed that in the wake of Teacher Eligibility Test (introduced after the implementation of the RTE Act) and the high proportion of candidates who fail to clear the examination, there are people who argue that subject knowledge is very poor among our teachers.
People pointed out that it is the quality of teacher – her / his mastery over subjects, pedagogic skills and aptitude to teach – that is responsible for poor learning in India’s schools. Many of the people argue that persons enter the teaching profession as a last resort – when they have no other opportunity or option, the study said.
So the message is now very clear, building new classrooms, spending billions on school infrastructure and making children sign up to attend school through some popular schemes, like the Mid-day meal scheme, won’t be enough till we start focusing on what actually happens inside the classrooms. Besides required infrastructure, we owe our children an effective education system with adequately trained teachers, in order to bring about improved outcomes in schools. Schools, including those run by the government and those aided by the government need to have quality teachers.
(The writer is a freelance journalist)