(Author: Pramod Sridharamurthy)

While the need to improve quality of education at Government Schools seems intuitive, I still think it would be good to see some numbers to make the point. Intuition can sometimes be inaccurate and looking at the right statistics and figures numbers are important to ascertain intuitions. As you read this, you will come to realize (if you haven’t already), the magnitude of the problem and the underlying issues that I feel are the core reasons why on quality of education is important.

Let’s start with some figures from latest Census.

According to the 2011 Population Census of India, 70% of Indians live in rural areas. Adult literacy rate is 74.04% and out of this, around 75% are educated only up to middle school or below i.e. only 18% of adults in Rural India have reached 5th grade or above. With limited education that the parents (adults) have received, families of such children are ill-equipped to provide necessary guidance to their children’s education at home. Since majority of these parents haven’t completed their schooling, it won’t be wrong to say that their children would hence be first generation learners.

Now, let’s look at some figures on quality of education. These figures are not just applicable to Government schools, but also to private schools. According to the 2014 ASER report, 50% of children in Standard 5 could not read text from Standard 2. Also, 75% of the children in Standard 5 could not do a simple division. The report brought to front the lack of basic foundation in Maths, Science and Language for a majority of children in schools. There could be a number of reasons for this, such as the inability of the parent to guide children at home, rote-learning practices that are prevalent in our education system, understaffed team of teachers and lack of infrastructure at the Schools.

If we look deeper into the quality of education problem, based on the hundreds of projects that ILP has worked on in the last 25 years, we have come to realize that most Schools today focus a lot on rote-learning or memorizing the study material than learning and understanding the fundamental concepts. While this is something that I experienced first-hand during my own schooling, we still see this as a common practice in our interactions with schools in our project areas and it clearly stands out as a common problem across India.

We have also noticed that teachers in most schools don’t customize their teaching based on the learning styles of the student. Humans as we know, learn in multiple ways and most of us typically have a preferred way of learning. While there are multiple theories around this (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_styles), the general acceptance and broad categories of learning are Visual learning, Auditory learning and Kinesthetic learning. If teachers adopt multiple methods of teaching, learning would be a lot more fun and effective.

Beyond the styles of teaching, what children are taught is also important. While curriculum is the core, research has shown that, including topics outside the curriculum, helps in balanced development of a child. Also, we all know that learning does not stop at school; children learn all the time. Providing an opportunity for children to learn outside the school in their own space and at their own pace will ensure learning is continuous.

The goal of education should not just be to score high in exams through memorizing lessons but make children confident and inquisitive, to explore areas that interest them and not get stereotyped…

While the problem of quality applies to both Government and Private schools, our (ILP’s) primary focus is Government schools, which stands for free and compulsory education. We want Government schools, which are the cradle of learning for the majority of children in India (70% of children according to 2014 ASER report), to have the best in terms of quality of education. We don’t expect the frills of an expensive school, but definitely don’t want to compromise on child’s learning.

Free education should not come at the cost of quality. Period.

Here is some food for thought. What if our schools,

  • Taught children how to learn and learn beyond Maths and Science, and appreciate other forms and areas of study?
  • Nudged children to probe and ask questions while learning?
  • Encouraged teachers to teach and children to learn in ways more than one?
  • Made children voracious readers and tap the vast knowledge from across the globe?
  • Made children aware of their career options including those that embrace and build the local economy?

Sounds obvious? Fundamental? Ideal? As I have said before, what seems fundamental is lacking in most of our Schools. In my next blog, I will talk about the concept of Schools as Multi-Dimensional Learning Spaces, which is our humble attempt to make the “what ifs” above, real.