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Elementary Education: Needs Renewed Push – OpEd

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Education is an important indicator of inclusive growth for an economy and a critical input for investment in human capital. It is indeed a fundamental right of every child to receive at least the basic education. India is in the process of transforming itself into a developed nation. Yet we have 350 million people who need education.

The Right to Basic Education is spelled out explicitly in Article 26 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet planned efforts in real terms with concerted policy of mass education that ensures Elementary Education for all become a reality only after country got independence in 1947. In 1950, the Indian Constitution had resolved in Article 45 under the Directive Principles of State Policy, “Free and Compulsory Education to all Children up to the age of fourteen years”. Since then, every five year Plan including, the National Policy on Education (1968), the revised National Policy on Education (1992) have attempted to refine India’s efforts at Universal Elementary Education (UEE). There have been important Constitutional amendments as well to boost Elementary Education.

The 42nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1976 brought education (which was largely a state responsibility) into the Concurrent list and made elementary education the responsibility of both central and state governments. In 2002, Government of India took another significant step by making Elementary Education a fundamental right through 86th Constitutional Amendment. In 2009, India further passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (2009). Regrettably where we are now? Despite all these significant achievements, the goal of Universal Elementary Education remains elusive and far a distant dream. The learner’s achievement across the country remained unsatisfactory and far below than the expectations.

Punjab is no exception to all this: Punjab government has also taken various steps to improve educational status, but in spite of such efforts, the educational standard of government elementary schools in Punjab is not improving as per expectations. Besides affecting academic achievements of the bright students; the standards of education at elementary level are declining fast, apparently due to paraphernalia of constraints which inter alia, includes(a) inadequate inputs, including teachers, (b) defective syllabus and examination system, (c) lack of discipline, supervision and guidance, (d) absence of clear-cut education policy, (e) centralization of authority in the minister, sidelining the education officers, (f) uneven distribution of resources, and (g) a parallel system of completely independent public schools. All these causes lethargy, de-motivation, lack of will and personal interests.

Although number of primary schools has increased yet the enrollment of primary government schools is decreasing day by day. Study reveals a lack of infrastructure, lack of teaching aids in rural schools of Punjab and very importantly the indiscipline along the students coupled with very low standard of education. Parents have failed to release the importance of education and least bother about the education of their wards. The teachers of government rural schools did not take interest in teaching due to burden of non-academic work coupled with lack of interest among the parents. Moreover government schools are dominated by reserved categories enrollment, especially of Schedule castes due to obvious reasons. The general category students prefer to go for private schools due to various constraints prevalent in the government schools. However, Pupil-teacher ratio in Punjab’s elementary schools has declined indicating improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio in Punjab – a healthy sign of development.

On the other hand, the government rural schools face numerous problems. And one of the constraints under RTE Act is the areas or limits of schools coupled with no detention policy. According to RTE Act, primary schools should be established within a walking distance of one km of the neighbourhood. Moreover, upper-primary schools should be established within a walking distance of 3 km of the neighbourhood as per RTE norms. This is why enrollment in primary section has declined in spite of increased primary schools. On the other hand, urban schools were over dominated by teachers. Apparently, there is a strong need for redeployment of teachers, in addition to recruitment of qualified and better trained teachers, which would also improve learning outcomes.

Moreover, due to increased upper-primary schools; majority of the schools had not sufficient/good infrastructure. Need of the hour is to merge primary and upper-primary schools in one i.e., Elementary Schools, which should be established within a walking distance of 3 to 5 km of the neighbourhood. At the same time, government should provide free to and fro transport facility. By this, schools would be able to meet all its necessary requirements (like proper teaching staff, good infrastructure facilities etc). It is an important step that government must take to improve quality of education.

In government schools, old teaching methods and techniques were used to teach the students. Teachers still prefer to use only Blackboards. They do not use CD’s, projectors and computers etc due to lack of knowledge about new teaching aids or innovative techniques of teaching. Moreover teachers were not aware about the positive effects of new teaching aids. Through innovative educational technology, the students can easily grab the things whatever teacher wants to convey to their students. Academic performance of government rural school students was very dismal. The students were not able to answer even simple questions out of their syllabus taught to them. Moreover the children did not know how to write in Hindi, English or even in Punjabi- their very mother tongue/native language. Their reading skill was also dull. Their Academic performance has to be improved with the adoption of new innovative ideas and techniques.

Moreover, to improve the level of education in Punjab, various constraints of government rural schools should necessarily have to be improved on war footing. The need of the hour is: to provide financial help as well as its efficient use should be given due attention. More teachers should be appointed so that the education of students do not effect adversely. Pre-service/in-service training should be arranged for the teachers for the adoption of the new teaching technology. The new teachers now should be appointed in schools only after having training about how to teach in class. Moreover the non-academic burden of teachers should be reduced so that they can concentrate on teaching only and improve the student’s academic capabilities. For reducing the teacher’s burden, non-teaching staff should be appointed. Clerks must be appointed in government schools for maintaining records and handling clerical work- may be on rotational basis. Moreover, sweepers, peons, librarians etc should also be appointed in schools – may be on part-time basis. For improving the concentration level of students necessary emphasis should be put on the health of children by giving healthy food in mid day meal programme. Moreover, sports competitions should be arranged. The confidence levels of students can be improved through debates and discussions. Their reading-writing and speaking skills should be improved which is also a part of education.

The children are taking more years to become primary graduates than ideally required. The unfinished task in terms of enrollment and out-of-school children is a challenging one. Rigorous efforts are needed to bring and retain them under the umbrella of education system. Disaggregated planning with block as its unit may help to identify disadvantage groups and areas. The community, in this direction, can play a vital role in bringing and retaining unenrolled children to schools. Micro planning exercises in this regard and development of village education plans may be useful. For creating the awareness among parents, help of NGOs can be taken. In rural area of Punjab, parents do not prefer to send their children to schools due to poverty. Moreover it has been noticed that some of children come to school only to take benefit of various freebies/schemes and due to mid day meal. They prefer to go to their home after taking meal. Rather some of the parents’ also demanded/suggested/proposed pocket money for their wards. Government should take necessary steps for awaking the people about the importance of education in one’s life. Government should also pay whole-hearted attention to Early Childhood Development to fully develop childhood potential as it could lead to more peaceful societies. Return on investment data show that focusing resources on supporting young children is a “no-brainer. In addition to the economic argument, a burgeoning field is growing around the effect of early childhood education on social cohesion and peace building.

That can boost up the level of education in Punjab. Access to primary education was universalized through flagship programmes of Government like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Mid Day Meal scheme, RTE Act etc. However, despite this, a few children are still deprived of elementary education due to inability of their parents to send them to schools because of their poor economical status coupled with educated unemployment in Punjab. For these parents, sending their children to school means not only incurring extra financial burden but also depriving them of some money which their children would have earned otherwise by doing labour. That being the attitude of these economically backward parents, such parents have to be motivated to bring their children school by providing them food and nutritional needs. Several elementary level students scurried around collecting disposable plates, glasses, spoons and other trash. Numerous eight to thirteen year olds (sometimes in their uniforms in the unmistakable maroon sweaters that are part of the school uniform in Punjab) were working as waste-pickers-cum-waiters in various marriage palaces and other wedding ceremonies.

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 in occupations such as the above. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, mandates free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of six and fourteen, but there was no voice of protest or concern to check this malpractice. Furthermore, due to lack of infrastructural development in Punjab rural schools, the obesity epidemic is sweeping Punjabi children with half of the children aged between seven and 17 years found unfit to compete in sports events. Nearly 24 per cent children possessed high BMIs (Body Mass Index) compared to the national average of 19.9 per cent.

The findings are significant as these involve future of Punjab, the state traditionally known for high fitness levels among their masses. The low fitness level is being blamed due to lack of basic skills to play sports, unhealthy eating habits and sedentary options available for entertainment through TV, Internet and video games. Importantly, children in non-metros have been found to be fitter than those in metros.

Apparently, it is the total neglect of the government rural schools by the successive governments by not providing adequate number of teachers as well as infrastructural facilities which has led to the collapse of the elementary education in the rural area of Punjab. In order to ensure quality education in government schools, emphasis should be on teacher’s training, motivations and on basic issues related to school management. It is a very serious matter and state must find solution to the problem otherwise state will be Educated Illiterates in reality.
Government schools requires large amount of funds for their proper functioning. It is the duty of the government to provide financial help to government schools for some improvements like meals, rooms, new technology adoption, furniture for staff and children etc. If these requirements would be fulfilled then government schools could work properly. If government not provides funds to the schools, then problem can be overcome of exploiting the role of school council.

To provide quality education, there is need of good teachers. More teachers should be appointed in the under staffed schools so that education of students does not affect adversely. The problem of under staffed and over staffed schools should be removed. More teachers should be appointed in under staffed schools or the teachers from over staffed schools should be transferred to under staffed schools. Teacher’s shortage problem can be overcome to a large extent by proper rationalization of teaching staff in schools.

In the government schools, there is a shortage of non-academic staff because of this mostly teachers did clerical work while the main function of the teachers is to provide qualitative education. So to improve this, the non-academic staff should be appointed in government schools for reducing the burden of teachers. If the non-academic staff is appointed in government schools then teachers can perform their duties properly.

Teachers are the only persons which provides good education to students and for providing better education, teacher training must be provided to teachers. The training of teachers is a major area of concern at present, since both pre-service and in-service training of school teachers is inadequate and also poorly managed. Pre-service training needs to be improved and regulated in both public and private institutions, while systems for in-service training require expansion and major reform that allows for greater flexibility. The teachers of government schools should be given training about the new teaching methods and aids so that they can teach properly. Moreover new teachers should be appointed only after giving the training.

Student’s enrollments in the government schools are quite low because of shortage of teaching learning aids. More students can be attracted in schools by creating enthusiasm in them for learning; visual aids like projectors, television etc. can be used. Some educational movies can also be shown to them. To appreciate the efforts of students, some type of scholarships either in the form of gifts or books can be given to them who perform well in the class. Sports competition, debates and discussions should be conducted for the students to improve the level of their confidence. Their concentration level should be improved.

There are various learning styles in each classroom, and teachers can engage students by designing activities that appeal to individual strengths. For example, one student may choose to design a t-shirt to express an understanding of poetry elements and another may elect to build a model airplane to demonstrate the laws of gravity. By using this personalized strategy, students become engaged in lessons and deepen their understanding of content.
It was observed that Infrastructures were not safe and easily accessible. Due to lack of infrastructural facilities, students felt less willingness to participate into sports and cultural programs. Results revealed that attitude varies with differences in socio economic status, districts, literacy rate of blocks, and with available school infrastructure facilities.

People should be made aware about the importance of education. They should understand that how education is important for their children. For creating the awareness among people help of Non Government Organizations can be taken. Although the Government is providing free education to the children yet some of the parents do not send their children to schools due to their poor financial condition. As their children help them in earning some special sessions or classes should be conducted for the parents to make them realize the significance of education for their children.

It is believed that collaboration between home and school can result in improved student academic performance and communication with parents. Schools can foster this relationship by showing parents how to supplement school work at home. Parents feel empowered when they can help in planning the academic curriculum, and volunteer at the school in meaningful and interesting ways.

Cleanliness towards school infrastructure should be initially conceptualized. Moreover, schools should have adequate facility of drinking water. This problem may be temporarily overcome by encouraging students to bring water bottles but schools should make efforts for permanent solution of this problem by either generating their own resources or asking help from the government or community.

The critical role of teachers in the entire education set-up must be realized. Emphasis should be made to address their professional development needs. Processes should be set up to initiate a participative mode for the teachers in the development of curriculum, text-book, teaching-learning material and methodologies. However, simultaneously the teachers have to be made more responsible and performance-oriented.

Examination system of government schools should also be changed. It is important to review the current examination system and consider possible alternatives. At present, the emphasis on education is on theory which is encouraging rote-learning without basic understanding. More practical work and activities should be encouraged, which would also discourage mass copying and rote-learning. It will be appropriate to adopt a regular grading system and emphasize on the year-long classroom work, instead of evaluating only on the basis of annual examinations. This will increase the attendance rate and the knowledge of the students.

For the improvement of the education system; institutionalized mechanism has to be set up for regular inspection, monitoring and follow-up. A school graduation and evaluation system, initiated by the state from this year, is a welcome step, which needs to be institutionalized. A similar system of appraisal of teacher and school heads must also be put in place. One needs a local-level body or institution to monitor the performance of teachers. Nonetheless, given the serious implication, it is important for all agencies working on RTE to do an independent checking on their own and RTE needs re-thinking. There is no point in wasting public money. One thing is clear – Government, Civil Society Organizations and international agencies working on basic education in India cannot afford to sit idle.



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Dr. Gursharan Singh Kainth

Dr. Gursharan Singh Kainth

Dr. Gursharan Singh Kainth is Founder–Director of Guru Arjan Dev Institute of Development Studies

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