By Dhiraj Kumar
It was a sunny day in September, 2014, when I saw a small boy, wearing khaki (pale yellow) shirt and nikkar (shorts), heading towards the primary school in my village in western Uttar Pradesh. I asked him where he was going. He replied “I’m going to have lunch in school”. I curiously inquired why he hadn’t joined in the morning. His reply was startling. “There are no teachers for class three (as he was in the 3rd standard), all the students of class one to four have to sit in the same classroom. There are no benches to sit on, and sometimes it’s very onerous to sit on the floor (especially in winters)” he said. The same is the dismal state in most parts of the country.
Influential government schemes and initiatives like the Right to Education and the Mid- Day Meal have a significant positive impact on ground. They proved to be the real game changers and increased the primary enrolment to 96%. But, do you think this blanket coverage is sufficient?
The findings of the 10th Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) brings to light the darker side of our primary education. According to the report, 48% of the students of class five are not able to read class two textbooks. Shockingly, 25% of class eight students are unable to read class two textbooks. Mathematics, in which India has pioneered since the ancient times, is the toughest subject for students. The report says that the majority of class two students are not able to recognize numerals above 9. It also indicates that the number of students dropping out of school is increasing. The Right to Education (RTE) Act stipulates the pupil-teacher ratio as 30:1, but the report shows 57% of schools have a distorted pupil-teacher ratio.
It is clearly mentioned in various government norms that schools must have a playground along with other basic facilities, but unfortunately, 39% of our schools do not have playgrounds. Sport is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children. Experts suggest a blend of study and play as part of the main curriculum.
The Government of India, on the 2nd of October, 2014, launched its ambitious scheme “Swacch Bharat Abhiyan”. Its prime objective is to eliminate open defecation. According to the United Nations, India has the highest number of open defecators in the world at 597 million. Toilets are one of the primitive requirements of schools, though about one third of schools lack girls’ toilets.
With the Government not being able to catch up with the demands and wishes of a vast majority of Indians, private players are filing up the gap. It is the desire of every parent that his/her child gets the best education. With the standard of Government schools on a decline, parents are compelled to opt for private schools. Education is now a costly affair. Private schools are mushrooming in rural India and are attracting 10% more students every year. Beside private schools, parents have to spend a considerable amount of money on tuitions, making quality education more inaccessible to the poor.
Who’s to blame?
In a recent poll, 50% of the respondents blamed the Government for the dwindling standards of primary education, while 2
2% accused teachers. According to 2012 World Bank data, the Indian government is spending about 3.4% of the GDP on education, as compared to China’s 4.5%, despite the fact that China’s GDP is nearly five times as ours. Experts have always advocated for an increased education funding. Our states routinely shed tears of insufficient funds. It is straight responsible for indigent infrastructure. The trend of hiring unskilled teachers on a contract basis is soaring. Country wide, around 12 lakh teaching seats are vacant. There are reports of rampant corruption in teachers’ recruitment.
Some argue that it is the responsibility of the teachers to overcome these challenges, but they too are lagging. When they have lower class students along with middle class ones, and the basic question that comes to their mind is, “Why must we have these children in school”? The grudgingly accepted response is: it is the policy of government and we must follow it. In the long run, this leads to a quality compromise.
This government came with the slogan of “sabka sath sabka vikas”, but it seems that the poor are excluded. The recent “beti padhao beti bachao yojna” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is laudable. The NDA government came to power with a whooping majority, it should quickly plug the loopholes in system to come up with people’s expectation, and improve the situation of the education system in our country.
Edited by Madhavi Roy, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist