What & Where is the Disconnect?

The word education originated in the mid-15 century from the word educate which means “bring up (children), train,” from Latin ‘educatus’.  Educare meant “bring up, rear, educate,” which is related to educere “bring out, lead forth,” from ex- “out” (see ex-) + ducere “to lead” (see duke (n.)). Education, thus got the meaning “provide schooling” in the 1580s. In today’s parlance this means that we provide a conducive atmosphere for learning, thinking, problem solving, collaborating, creating and thereby nurturing in our students the vitally essential skills to become successful 21st Century learners are to be provided in our schools. But do we, in real speak?

What is the status of education in India now? My week end was spent in reading all these reports; and I must add that each one was so depressing. For, if reports are an indication, there is something seriously wrong with our system. On 15th January 2012, the global rankings of the 73 countries that participated in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conducted Programme for International Assessment (PISA) was released. PISA is annual exam administered to 15-year olds to evaluate educational systems worldwide in Reading, Math and Science. The penultimate position, i.e. 72nd was that of India only overcoming Kyrgyzstan! Second from last!!!

The findings of yet another study done in urban schools by Education Initiatives and Wipro called the Quality Education Study (QES), it covered over 23000 students, 790 teachers, 54 Principals and 83 ‘top’ schools across Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai were part of this survey. This one too, which was released late in 2011, revealed disconcerting facts. All these children came from educated and affluent families, and the schools they went to had all facilities and were technologically savvy. Yet these children showed signs of rote learning. They lacked critical thinking skills, higher order thinking skills, creativity and hardly responded about current social, cultural, civic and ecological issues. So things are not fine at the urban level too.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)** has released its report for 2012 on January 16, 2013 and the bad news continues. Literacy and Numeracy skills amongst 6-14 year olds have drastically waned. Academic levels have declined. Enrolment in schools has increased but attendance is deficient. The exodus to private schools continues despite the very many benefits like the mid day meal scheme and monetary aid provided in government schools. Even more disconcerting is the fact that the number of Class 5 students who can do two-digit subtraction problems have declined from 58.8% to 49.1% in just 2011-12.  More than half of all children in class 5 are at least three grade levels behind where they should be in terms of learning levels, says the report. And the blame could partly be attributed to the government’s much-touted Right to Education Act (RTE), ASER 2012 results seems to suggest. While enrolment has increased in private schools, there is great deal of dependence on private tuitions. Considering that 70% of India’s population lives in its rural regions the report needs to be closely looked into to stem the rot.

If all these are not pointers enough, each time CBSE conducted the CTET (Common Teacher Eligibility Test) or states conducted theirs (Tamil Nadu, for example) very few teachers clear the test. In 2011 when the test was conducted by CBSE, the pass percentage was 9%; in 2012 it dropped to 7% and now in the latest test results in 2013, it is seen that only an alarmingly abysmal 1% got through.

So keeping these cavernous slides in perspective, is there some kind of proportion at work? Is it that we churn out pathetic teachers and they in turn are responsible for the grossly substandard results from pupils? Where is the disconnect? What is the disconnect? Whatever be the case, we need to seriously introspect, examine, debate and come out with effective strategies that will bring our education arena from the mire that it is in. There is no point in generating plans. What we need is action. Precise. Specific. Laden with accountability. We owe this to our children, who will be future citizens taking our country into the 21st century.

Have you ever read The Parrot’s Training (read it here: http://bit.ly/13UnaZJ ) an amazingly must-read and true-even-today short story written by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore? Tagore lampooned the educational system that focussed only on mugging and rote learning prevalent in his times through this brilliant and incisive tale of a parrot’s training. Seemingly generations of young minds have undergone the same drudgery of mundane, insipid text books, uninterested and even boring teachers, rote learning, tests and examinations that focus on reproduction than understanding or application, and mindless discipline that Tagore saw in the classrooms of his times. It was this despicable kind of learning that prompted Tagore to conceive of establishing the Santinikethan, the Srinikethan and the Visvabharati.

The disconnect still exists not withstanding the fact that today’s children require a multi sensory engaging experience in the classroom. So, have we ever progressed from the 1860s? Mind you, Tagore lived from 1861 – 1942. To me the wheel of education has just stood still for centuries!!! Crying face Crying face Crying face   There may be changes outwardly but the core of the classroom is just the same. We just do today to our pupils what the pundits did to the poor caged bird a century ago…

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