India in a ‘learning crisis’ really? – Part III

What does the Policy report say about school education and what are the recommendations / suggestions to improve the situation, if needed?

Chapter 2 – ‘Foundational Literacy and Numeracy’ spells out the objective.

‘By 2025, every student in Grade 5 and beyond would have achieved foundational literacy and numeracy’. 

Why in 2015? Why not in 2019 itself? It must not require more than a few days or a few weeks at the most to achieve it – provided of course we have competent and committed teachers on the job.

No doubt, it is important and urgent too – to be taken up at the earnest, at the earliest. We just cannot afford to be complacent. Why should we wait 6 years to accomplish it? The ‘objective’ for 2025 must be the goal for this year itself. It would have been proper if the Committee had given an extensive, exclusive programme for immediate ‘achievement’ of foundational literacy.

The report in its chapter on school education hopes that ‘the availability of free and compulsory quality pre-primary education for all 3-6 years olds will be included as an integral part of RTE Act’. It is a good wish all right but does the problem end there? Will it serve the purpose without having to do anything else in this regard? In all fairness, it is much more complex and complicated that can be solved only by means of well orchestrated, deeply sustained efforts at grass root level.

The report states – ‘We are in a severe learning crisis with respect to most basic skills; a large proportion of students currently in elementary school – perhaps over 5 crore in number – have not attained foundational literacy and numeracy – the ability to read and comprehend basic text and the ability to carry out basic addition and subtraction with Indian numerals.’

This has been widely reported in many of the journals and magazines already and we can easily ascertain the facts by ourselves. All that we need to do is to have an informal talk with the children of an elementary school. In a few minutes, we will know what it is like. Yes, it is real; the problem does exist.

The committee calls it a severe learning crisis. This is where we prefer to differ.

Is it really a ‘learning crisis’? Is it not a ‘teaching crisis’ for sure?  It is extremely disappointing.

The committee has failed to acknowledge the fact that the children at elementary school level are more to be guided, taught and tutored rather than learning anything on their own. At every point, at every moment and at every move, the children need someone to tell, train and guide them. The ‘crisis’ is not with the children; it is not in learning. It lies somewhere else.

How can the responsibility of the teachers be ignored? How can they be absolved of their duties? In fact, the report does not seem to have considered the problem of deteriorating standards of professional ethics among the teachers all over the country. We have to address the issue of lethargic attitude and irresponsible behaviour (sorry to say this) of the school teachers. The teaching fraternity needs to be reconditioned; teaching methods have to be refurbished and the teaching modules and models must be redesigned to improve the level of foundational literacy of our children.

This is the biggest challenge before us that calls for meticulous planning and immediate  action. But the committee has conveniently chosen to whistle past the whole issue.  How can the report be silent where it is expected to be critical and candid, frank and forthright? Disgusting indeed.

Instead of calling a spade a spade, the report in Chapter 2 says – ‘the teachers have explained the extreme difficulty they currently face – due to the sheer size of the problem today – in covering the mandated curriculum while also simultaneously paying attention to the large numbers of students who have fallen vastly (often several years) behind.’

It is quite strange that the committee has to take the opinions of the teachers at face value and proceed with all the faulty inputs. If one is to act on the advice of the culprits, sorry to say so, what good could emerge out of it? It is pathetic; what else?

And, there is this observation of the committee – ‘a major cause of current learning crisis is a lack of school preparedness. A large proportion of students fall behind during elementary school years already during the first few weeks of Grade 1.’

It is truly appalling (do not please read it appealing) to hear that students fall behind during the first few weeks of Grade1. What does the committee expect from the fresh goers to the school? Can they enter with all the shrewdness and cleverness of a committee member into the school so that they would not have ‘learning crisis’? Is it not too much to judge someone’s learning capacity in the first few weeks of schooling at a tender age? In most of the cases, children are slow in learning because they are too playful and nothing else. It is as simple as that.  And sometimes, we need to be plain to be perfect in our judgement. Can the committee deny this?

The report goes on to say – ‘schooling in the early years lays too little curricular emphasis on foundational literacy and numeracy and, in general, on the reading, writing and speaking of languages and on mathematical ideas and thinking.’  On the one hand, the committee identifies ‘learning crisis’ in the children and places the onus of correcting it on their shoulders (brains); on the other, it says that schooling lays too little curricular emphasis. Other things remaining same, will it work better with a stronger curricular emphasis on literacy and numeracy? It defies logic. 

There is another finding that again rattles our minds: ‘teacher capacity also plays a central role in the attainment of foundational skills. Few teachers have had the opportunity to be trained in a multilevel, play based student centred style of learning. Children learn at different levels and paces during their early school years; the current formal system assumes from the very beginning a common level and pace for all, many students start to fall behind almost immediately.’

The report mentions many other problems like rote learning, school drop outs etc and gives ‘innovative’ solutions too. How real and how good are these problems and solutions?

Baskaran Krishnamurthy


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