How did it start?
The whole thing started in February 2007 when we paid a visit to the government aided school (Oruganti Rukmini Memorial Aided Elimentary School) in Haranthapurum, 3rd street, Nellore, A.P (It is the school in which my father had done his primary schooling) . The facts really took us by shock.
The school was being run in a small thatched cubicle in which all the students were forced to sit. They were choking in the dimly lit, poorly ventilated, single teacher run so called patasala with its meagre potential for teaching. Around 30 ankanams (the unit of measurement used locally, one ankanam = 8 sq. yards approx.) were allotted by the correspondent to the school in 1980 but the land wasn't utilized effectively. The teacher receives around Rs.13000 per month from the government and was asked to run the school entirely on that expense. In addition, free books and special allotment of money for mid-day meals is being provided. But the condition of children seemed to be poor both physically and morally. None of them were upto their supposed standard of schooling (the same teacher was employed to teach, plan, conduct exams and evaluate papers). Obviously there wasn’t much follow up or monitoring in regulating or upgrading the standards of the school, which seemed to be the reason for the failure.
But things had been very different around 44 years ago. The then teachers of that time,according to my father, were more dedicated. Despite the fact that they received relatively lesser pays and there weren’t any schemes like mid-day meal programmes to attract children, they still managed to train the students both academically as well as in other activities such as sports and games. They created an interesting environment for learning by teaching in the form of stories and fables. The motivational skills of the teacher and the regular attendance follow up added to the importance given to the value of education. Consequently, the school drop-out rate was also relatively low. During the past few years, things have changed a lot, unfortunately for our nation and its offspring.
The Problem Statement
Having lived in the academic environment for the past 20 years (my father Dr.P.Narayana is the chairman of "THE NARAYANA GROUP", the prestigious chain of educational institutions across the country which run a medical college, a dental college, 2 nursing colleges and two engineering colleges, several schools and coaching centers - training students for competitive entrances like IIT-JEE, PMT, EAMCET etc., in Andhra Pradesh and in other places of India like Delhi, Kota etc.,) we have observed the primary education system in our country and analyzed that early childhood education in India is subject to two extreme but contrary deficiencies.
PROBLEM STATEMENT ONE
India fortunately will have a youthful population (with 35% of population now under the age of 15) compared the other countries (especially the developed have more members in the geriatric age group). This should indeed give us an edge over the others. But if this advantage is not properly utilized, the domestic political ramifications could be severe.
Average level of educational attainment has not yet reached the critical threshold where benefits are greatest and high economic growth rates are sustainable.
While renowed institutes such as IITs, IIMs, AIIMS, etc. are indeed producing millions of graduates each year currently, there is an underlying problem. Youngsters skilled in engineering, medicine, enterpreneurship and other fields continue to spring from well developed cities, while the juveniles of rural areas face severe challenges, unable to complete even primary and secondary schooling. According to statistical data, 40% of first grade entrants never complete primary schooling. The concept of manpower advantage underpins India’s recent economic advances,but masks deepseated problems within India’s education system.
Successive governments have pledged to increase spending on education to 6% of GDP, but the actual figure has hovered around 4% for the past few years. Our constitution has been urging all states to provide "free and compulsory education" for all children until they complete the age of 14 years. The constitution envisaged fulfilling this promise by 1960. But, at the current rate of growth, without our intervention, it will not be achieved until the middle of the next century.
REASONS BEHIND THE FAILURE
The true reasons shatter the two popular myths used to "explain" the slow progress of elementary education. It has been believed that successful completion of elementary education is a failure due to
1)a supposed lack of parental motivation
2)work prevents children from going to school
Contradicting it, the Public Report on Basic Education (PROBE) is as follows.
Even illiterate parents value education
80.2% of parents feel primary education should be made compulsory for all children. Though parental motivation for female education is lacking in some cases, the general pattern is one of loud clamour for better educational facilities.
Work does not keep children from school
Among out-of-school children, about a half work for less than 3 hours a day, 18% for greater than 8 hours and 1/3rddo not go for any work during school hours on a day. Also, girls tend to work more than boys (mainly at home), but they usually have enough spare time to attend school. Additionally, school hours in rural India are effectively short, about 4-5 hours a day.
THEN WHAT IS IT THAT IS REALLY CAUSING THE DISASTER?
1)Creaky, crumbling schools
The poor quality of schooling in India has many aspects. The physical infrastructure is woefully inadequate. If all children were in school, as they are meant to be, school buildings would burst at the seams. In a few places, there are no school buildings, or the building is used by the teachers for residential purposes, or as a store etc. The pitiable state drives the children obviate school. Even a "typical" school boasts little more than two classrooms, a leaking roof, a couple of blackboards, a table and chair for the headmaster.
2)Many students, but very few teachers
In primary schools, the student-teacher ratio allotted is 50:1. So even if all teachers are always present and actively teaching, the total amount of teacher-time-per-child is, on an average, around 1 hour per month.The true figure is well below that, since they spend little time in active teaching even when they are present.Also, the distribution of teachers among schools is highly uneven. Nearly one third of the primary schools are single teacher based schools. So active teaching becomes impractical.
3)Poor teaching means little learning
Many children are unable to read or write even after several years of schooling. Why? The answer is that very little teaching goes on in government schools.
Often, teachers are just not there. Even among "conscientious" teachers, coming late and leaving early is an accepted practice. Some schools are closed for a week as the teachers go on “French leave". Even when teachers are present, the teaching activity is minimal. Teaching aids are seldom available, let alone used. In the classroom, the cane remains the most common teaching aid. Three quarters of the teachers do multi-grade teaching. So they concentrate on the higher grades resulting in the slower progress of the younger ones. Thus many promising children have get bored, beaten or humiliated resulting in lack of interest to students.
4)Rhetoric and reality: the official non-action
Instead of confronting these alarming trends, the government tend to take refuge in ad-hoc supplementary programs such as non-formal education, Operation Blackboard and the national mid-day meal scheme. Some of these programmes have met localized success. But they have fallen far short of expectations for want of political backing.
5)Media of teaching
Most of the government schools teach in the regional language. But even an illiterate person wants his kid to speak in English, he takes it as a pride. So they make their best efforts to send their child to an English medium school and once it goes beyond their capacity, they join their child in a government school. So it is only the poor parents who opt for a government school for primary education. Though the government recognizes this as a problem they still stick to it for political gains. Moving beyond token programmes requires much political will and public pressure. Unfortunately, elementary education continues to receive low priority from those in power. While the Parliament discusses trivial issues, a constitutional amendment bill aimed at making education a fundamental right gathers dust. It awaits discussion; but ignorance is not as patient. The tide of illiteracy continues to rise.
PROBLEM STATEMENT TWO
At the other end of the social and educational spectrum, children attending urban schools, especially middle and upper class children in private schools are subjected to extreme amounts of competitive pressure to acquire basic language skills and memorize vast amounts of information to qualify for admission into the best schools at an age when they should be given freedom and encouraged to learn as a natural outcome of their innate curiosity, playfulness and eagerness to experiment.Rising concern over compulsory learning at an early age is prompting many educators to advocate dramatic steps to counter the obsession with premature and forced teaching practices.
We, the Society members of the NARAYANA GROUP, have decided to redesign the teaching system of Indian primary education as per the guidelines of NCRT. We took up the 30 ankanams (around 240 sq yards) allotted to the school and constructed a infrastructurally rich building. The project went upstairs in March 2007. We allotted a total budget of Rs. 20 lakhs and built a building 30 feet high in an area of 720 sq.ft with 3 floors, each floor containing 2 rooms, occupying an area of 3 ankanams each. Out of the 6 rooms built,one is meant to be used by the Headmistress, one for the computer room and the rest four classrooms (merging the 4th and 5th grades in one). The classrooms and compound wall have been painted with illustrations of cartoons, maps, etc to make the environment conducive for learning. The surrounding are kept lush with greenery to enhance the concentration of the child and instill enthusiasm.
Toilets were also constructeed both for boys ad girls separately. Within the remaining plot, a quarter for the headmistress is built and the rest is left as play area for the kids where a few play items such as a slide, a merry-go-round, etc. were arranged. Drinking water faility is arranged for children to stay healthy.
The project was completed on 20th November 2007.
In the computer lab, we have installed 10 computer systems along with Internet facility. We will soon be launching a multimouse system in which one computer will be connected to 5 mice simultaneously so that the 5 systems can be simultaneously operated by 25 students. This is to ensure that every child gets the opportunity to work with the computer and group learning can be encouraged. We have also asked the headmistress to let herself and some of her staff get trained at our engineering college so that they can train the children.
Once everything gets underway, we will be alloting a stipulated amount per month for the school to keep it running without any shortcomings. This means that she can then run it by appointing additional personnel required to run the school efficiently. She can also allot money for developing special teaching aids to the kids.
WHAT DO WE GAIN OUT OF THIS?
Honestly we don’t expect any monetary gain in return. Our aim is to qualitatively run the school and bring out the hidden talent in children.
The project was inaugurated on 28th November 2007 by the officials, Honourable State minister for information, films and cinematography, Sri.Anam Ramnarayana Reddy, The State minister for school education, Sri.C.Damodar Rajanarasimha, The Union minister of State for health and family welfare, Smt.Panabaka laksmi and the District Collector, Sri M. Ramchandra.
What do we propose to the officials(the government) on the eve of inauguration of our project?-----the solution to the problem statement one
In earlier days, around 40 years ago, there weren’t many private schools. So any man, the son of a landlord, or a commoner, had done his primary schooling in a government school. This is a call to all those who have laid foundations to their knowledge and skills in such schools and have reached great or reasonably good heights today to come forward and take up such projects either as individuals or as a group i.e some of the students who have done their primary education in such schools and have settled well in life can together take up such projects, it isn’t a call only for celebrities or NGOs. Once the NGOs have done their job, it will be the government’s turn to perform their tasks genuinely.
1)CHANGE IN THE MEDIUM OF TEACHING BLOCKS
It is high time that the government realizes the fact that there is no point in sticking to the age-old method of teaching in regional languages if we want the future citizens of India to be globally competitive. They have to or atleast make attempts to change the medium of teaching to English.
2)TRAINING STUDENTS IN COMPUTER KNOWLEDGE
The government should draft a specific syllabus for all classes of primary schooling children in the subject of computers. The students should be trained in basic knowledge of computers so that they can withstand the tide of this highly competitive world, where computers dictate terms.
3)PERIODIC ASSESSMENT OF THE CHILD’S PROGRESS
The fact that it is the same set of teachers who are teaching, conducting tests and evaluating the answer sheets makes it clear that the knowledge gained by the child isn’t rightly assessed. But the tests they take up can’t be conducted or valued like 10th class students, since that means a great budget and employment to the government as well as an extra stress on the kids who are still in the age where learning is meant to be a fun. So teachers of nearby schools should sit together and solve the problem by themselves. They can go to other schools in the neighborhood and assess the skills and style of teaching there. This will give them an idea of their own skill as well as scope for improvement. They can interact with students and faculty of other schools to assess the general standard of education.
These have to be conducted atleast once a month and the progress of the child,his or her attendance, punctuality, behavior, hygiene, health, etc. have to be discussed with the parents. The parents (most of them being illiterates) should also be aware of the importance of sanitation at home and nutrition to the child. They should be briefed on home economics and the importance of primary education to every citzen of the country. If possible, the teachers should come forward and teach the illiterate parents to read and write during their free hours. It should be embedded deeply into the parent’s mind that education is the basic tool for self defence in the society and that an illiterate person is handicapped throughout his life. The parents should also be motivated to offer voluntary labour to improve the school building.
The government should appoint uncorrupt officers and see that the funds are properly utilized and all that is on paper is being practically applied. Apart from a government officer, a member from the NGO that has organised the project must contribute his services to bring out better results.
The solution to Problem Statement two
This isn’t as easy to deal with as the first one. A change in the attitude of parents, students, government, the whole society in essence, is what is needed to achieve it. None of the developed nations admit students into their institutions just based on merit, they look at the other aspects too, such as their presentation of any research paper in some popular journal, their ability in sports, etc. In fact, these things are very important. These are skills that determine the person’s ability to deal with a problem when one arises.
Education is nothing but 'what we forget subtracted from what we learn'. So the lesser the things we forget, the greater we have learnt. And to achieve this we should go for methods which will enable children to retain and apply the knowledge they amass. All those people who have contributed to the country’s progress are not great scorers in academics alone but people with vision and bent of mind to achieve something in life, more than just a high paying job.
So how are we to achieve this? This purely depends upon the creativity and the will of the teacher. The greater the effort he/she puts in, the better will be the results. The government can, of course, contribute to it by conducting workshops and training the teacher’s skills in innovative teaching, upgrading his/her knowledge in the subject and by providing audio-video aids etc. Usage of canes as teaching aids should be banned. A friendly rapport should be built between the teacher and the student.
Each subject, each topic and each concept should be taught in a way that the child imbibes, not only to the mind but to heart as well, and takes pride in applying it in daily life. The child should be permitted to observe and enquire about the subject without being compelled to memorize.
Here are some examples(one each for a concept in a subject) on how the teacher can make the things more interesting for her students.
It is not enough if we make the child learn multiplication tables by heart. The teacher should make them understand that when the child says 12 times 2 is 24,it means when 12 is added twice or when the number 2 is added 12 times to itself, the answer is 24 i.e. multiplication is a simple form of addition.
To make the child apply this, the teacher may call a small group of children (around 5 of them) on a Sunday and make a short list of what she wants them to buy from a nearby shop.
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She may then take out a small amount out of the funds for the above project. She may give it to her students and ask them to distribute the amount equally among themselves (that makes them apply their knowledge of division). Next she may take them to a shop and ask them to buy the required items in the list and calculate the bill(that makes them apply their addition and multiplication skills) and finally if the bill seems to go beyond or below the budget, they will be made to understand the application of subtraction.
On the next day, the teacher may ask the 5 children to take turns to explain to the class, what they had done the previous day. This speech that they deliver will have several benefits to them and their peers.
a) The rest of the students' curiosity will then be awakened, which will make them learn things spontaneously and at the same time, will be more enthusiastic and make them wait eagerly for their turn to be taken out as it would be fun learning things this way.
b) The child who delivers the speech develops his/her presentation skills. He/She is freed out of the shackles of shyness and stage fear.
c) The children will be made to understand the value of money.
d) Our main goal of making them understand the application of addition, subtraction, multiplication and divison is also fulfilled.
To make students understand that plants are living beings, the teacher may demonstrate experiments proving air,water,sunlight and soil are required by plants for living. She can in fact, get the experiments done by the students themselves. She may encourage them to start a school garden and get them involved in its maintenance so that they also get to understand the importance of green wealth. Articles on deforestation and its hazards may also be collected from newspapers and read out in class.
Information on people, places, political systems, economic situations, etc are presented to the child in the form of pictorial information combined together with explanation to illustrate facts in a natural, integrated context rather than as a series of separate disconnected lectures.
These can be taught by allotting the characters in a story by dividing the lesson among a small group of students and asking them to read their part aloud in the class and explain the meaning of the sentence they read. Whenever a new word arises in the lesson, the teacher may either explain to the children its meaning or may ask them to mark it and let her know the meaning the next day by referring to a dictionary(this makes them learn how to use a dictionary). Later she may insist them on using the word in their day-to-day conversation to improve their vocabulary.
In addition, preparation of colourful charts, flash cards with large images, demonstration of skits, story telling, etc. are a few other methods of creative teaching and stress free and meaningful learning at low cost. The teachers can themselves prepare these teaching aids or get their students involved in making them based on the interests and knowledge levels of the students.
PROPER UTILIZATION OF FUNDS
Now that the schools will be funded both by the government as well as by the NGOs, the teachers of the school should plan to utilize the amount carefully and purposefully.
a) They can now increase their teacher-student ratio by employing more number of teachers so as to ensure individual attention is paid to children(especially to slow learners).
b) Appoint a computer teacher for training students in the use of computers. Computers may also be utilized to teach the kids, their subjects in a more attractive manner through animations, images etc.
c) Appoint a Physical Trainer to engage the students in sports and exercise to ensure that they have enough physical energy and natural attention levels needed for learning.
d) Nutritional and medical supplements are provided to undernourished children because, only when the child is physically healthy, he can stay healthy mentally and grasp things faster.
e) A female care taker to maintain the premises clean.
Involvement of a single NGO or an individual in developing a nation as big as India will take decades. To achieve the goal of such magnitude in a short time, the entire nation should come forward(the NGOs,individuals and the government) to work for a beautiful bright India.
As the former president of India, Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam said “three people play a very important role in a child’s life—the father, the mother and the primary school teacher.It is the responsibility of these three to instill and build confidence in the child. If a child becomes confident, the citizen becomes confident.If the citizen becomes confident, the nation in turn becomes confident”.
“Primary education leads to better family health, lower fertility rate and slower population growth.It helps workers to take advantage of technological change, raising their productivity and earnings.Increasing the labour force’s average primary schooling every year can increase output substantially”, says Marlaine Lockheed, a principal education specialist at the World Bank.
So isn’t that clear? The only way to beat the already developed nations is to educate and make the future citizens of India knowledgable and worthy enough to face the challenges of life. Let us pave the way for Indian supremacy from this day onward.