The contemporary education scenario in India is beset with numerous unanswered questions on issues concerning retention and learning outcomes. Research studies have identified several factors that multiply this phenomena and perpetuate exclusion in schooling processes that impact the learning outcomes of children, especially the marginalized and girls. In fact there was a systemic exclusion of the marginalized groups and girls from the formal education system since 19th and 20th century in India. In fact it may not be vague to argue that the base for this exclusion was the Brahminical and Persian systems of education which catered to the elite and noble families. The labour classes received vernacular and vocational education that was informal in nature where the vocational education was mainly inherited and acquired. All this reveals that the quantitative expansion of schooling across the country has not resulted in qualitative changes and schools are not able to reduce learning gaps. So, it will not be wrong to state that schooling does not result in learning.
Indian education was always concerned with the low quality/efficiency of the educational system and a dismal rate of return on years of school enrolment, which was also stated in the national survey reports; only 27 % of Indian children who complete primary school can read a simple passage, perform division, tell time, and handle money, although students should master each of these skills by the end of the second year of school. The UNESCO’s Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report 2009 too stated that India is one of 17 countries in the world with the greatest number of out-of-school children (around 7.2 million). The report suggested measures for strengthening policies on quality education to ensure that children have basic literacy and numeric skills. But the anchoring question that still haunts us is; can our school systems guarantee that all the students will learn while sitting in classrooms and attain the mastery level of competencies as defined under Minimum Level of Literacy (MLL)? Well time will only tell this. But on the positive side it is important to mention that India has achieved its enrolment targets for elementary education in 2015 and has achieved gender parity in primary education. It is on the way to achieve this in secondary education also. To add to this achievement further the Education in Human Development Index of India has grown from 64.5 in 2005 to 68.3 in 2010, and this indicator has had a good growth in the rest period of years.
Initiatives to Improve Learning Outcomes
The Article IV of the World Declaration on Education, 1990 on Education for All stated that the actual learning should be the focus of basic education. Ultimately what matter is; whether people actually learn as a result of the expanded educational opportunities and the useful knowledge, reasoning ability, skills and values gets translated into meaningful development for an individual or for society? The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child states that education shall “promote a child’s general culture and enable him/her, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his/her abilities, his/her individual judgment, and his/her sense of moral and social responsibility, to become a useful member of society.” To ensure systemic change, engagement in reform must extend beyond education ministries and teachers’ unions to a broad range of stakeholders, including parents, employers, parliamentarians, and taxpayers. This report also urges the education and development communities to greatly expand national and international assessments.
The World Bank since the year 2000 has committed over $2 billion to education in India. It also provides technical support to India’s Integrated Child Development Services with several operations. Since 2003, the Bank has been working with Central and State governments, to support the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan program, to expand access to upper primary education, increase retention of all students until completion of elementary education (Grade VIII), and improve learning levels and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) for secondary education with focus on strategies to improve access, equity, management and quality.
India paid special attention from the 3rd Plan and in all subsequent Plan periods for increasing retention rates, specially the 12th Five Year Plan talks about learning outcomes and providing quality education Two important policies that attempted to address issues related to equity, equality and quality concerns in education were the National Policy on Education, 1968 and the National Policy on Education, 1986. Both these policies laid special emphasis on removal of disparity and equalize educational opportunity by attending to the specific needs of those who had so far been denied equality. These policies lay special stress upon making education a vehicle of social transformation and empowerment. As a result of which a number of schools, especially for girls, increased over the years. Starting with setting up new schools specially schools for girl children, number of schemes and incentives were launched for the purpose. In addition to provision of schools and financial support, attention was also paid for development of appropriate curriculum, publication of text books, and their revision.
The National Curriculum Framework (NCF)-2005, portrayed children as a natural learners and knowledge as an outcome of their engagement with the world around when they explore, respond, invent, and make meaning out of that. It recommended curricular expectations/ learning outcomes to be laid out stage wise as the abilities, skills, and dispositions that are essentially expected to be accomplished by all children over a period of time. Finally the recent Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), 2009 has made elementary education for all mandatory. The multiple non-government agencies working at local levels have also contributed towards access, enrolment and retention of children from all communities, especially the hard to reach groups. This has made it possible for 98% children to access primary schooling within one kilometre of their habitation and about 92% to an upper primary school within three kilometres of their habitation. The gross enrolment ratio has increased significantly across all social categories, dropout rates at primary level have declined, and the transition from primary to upper primary stage has improved. It is not wrong to claim that India has made progress in increasing access to education and building a strong policy and planning framework for education but the challenge lies in ensuring quality education system which would produce positive learning outcomes for all children in India.
Concerns for Quality Education
There are several quality concerns in Indian education system. Be it mushrooming of private schools, exorbitant fee structure and recruitment of para teachers or lack of professional development programmes for teachers and school leaders, all of these make the quality of education questionable in Indian schools. These concerns for quality are observed more in the government schools rather than private ones. It will not be wrong to say that the growth of private schools in India is the result of poor outcomes of government schools. This mushrooming of private schools has given birth to a different set of issues in education. It is the private schools that have exorbitant fee structure, with major emphasis on display of wealth and least minimum interest in employing competently qualified and well trained teachers or administrative staff. These schools do not hesitate to employ part time/ contract based teachers who may or may not have professional qualifications. It is also a fact that the low salary and extended timings brings down the morale of these teachers, which is reflected in their contribution to work. It is obvious form available data that government schools have more trained teachers than private un-aided schools. The government schools have about 80 per cent trained and qualified teachers while the private un-aided schools have 56.8 per cent qualified and trained teachers.
It is imperative to ensure that; there are competent and trained teachers with knowledge and experience of handling socio-economic and cultural diversities of learners, there is a provision of sufficient funds for improvement of basic amenities in schools e.g. Drinking water, Separate Hygienic Toilets for boys & girls, there is proper infrastructure in schools which include sports grounds, Teaching Aids, Laboratories, equipment’s etc. Another major hindrance to quality of education is lack of capacity building programmes for teachers. Content and methodology of training programmes organized by several national, state and private agencies at the pre-service and in-service level need to integrate concerns related to gender, life skills, environment, conflict management and social tensions in an integrated manner with disciplinary knowledge. Training could also include self-reflective exercises for teachers so that they can reflect upon their own processes of socialization and be convinced enough to critique certain customary practices and traditions that are derogatory and negatively impact the status of marginalized communities, particularly the girl child.
Knowing that improved quality education reflects improved learning outcomes which essentially depend on the quality of teaching learning process (i.e. transaction of the curriculum) the qualitative aspect of learning/assessment is crucial to quality education. But we are not measuring learning outcomes nor do we have standardized assessments in place. The large scale assessments mostly are performance based that include achievement of students in different curricular areas measured in scores through tests measuring quality in education only quantitatively. Therefore the action of government to measure the level of learning outcomes can prove helpful to take corrective measures and reforms for improving educational outcomes in the country.
How to Improve Learning Outcomes
There are various variables that positively affect the student learning outcomes these variables are; student attendance, teacher education, learning material, teacher attendance, midday meal provision, teacher student ratios, school infrastructure etc. Learning indicators can help to map the learning and developmental progress of learners. These indicators are, basically, process based reference points which can be used to tap children’s progress of their holistic development on their learning and development continuum and not just as end products in terms of measured achievement or competencies, based on which different stakeholders can arrive at some decisions and decide their further actions. In order to achieve these learning outcomes, appropriate pedagogical processes need to be employed. Apart from what counts more in increasing learning outcomes is school leadership and accountability mechanisms. Leadership presence can have positive effect on teacher attendance and teaching learning methods adopted in classrooms.
Policy makers and educators in India must recognize that the knowledge, skills and productivity of young and dynamic work force forms the backbone of our economy. To reap the benefits of such demographic advantage, we need to implement the reforms in the education system and also bring forth new factors of production, namely knowledge, skills and technology which have the ability to unleash the productive frontiers of the economy in the most efficient and dynamic way. There is a need of regulation or some kind of monitoring by developing quality assurance mechanisms to focus on low quality of both for government as well as for private schools (government, grant in aid, private unaided) serving in the country. The need of regulation becomes all the more important after the implementation of Right to Education Act (RTE), 2009.
The issue of quality and low levels of learning outcomes in Indian schools have opened deliberations for necessary strategic intervention by the government. On one hand, there is need for improvement of schools & service providers to schools, on the other hand there are number of issues which need to be taken up at policy level and by the state machinery. Learning outcomes can be improved by bringing about qualitative improvement in education through renewal of curricula, improvement of textbooks and other teaching learning materials, teacher improvement, provision of adequate infrastructure, and improvement in national assessment for measuring student outcomes.
To sum up, in spite of many efforts, the problem of improved learning outcomes is still a challenge for the education system in India. The quality improvement strategies for children both at primary and secondary levels do not bring desired results in terms of the targets envisaged. The participation of marginalised and girls in schooling programmes also has not been satisfactory. Therefore, it is necessary to expand the efforts for improved and effective teaching learning methods in schools for improving student outcomes especially the marginalised and girls. If all the suggested measures given at national and international levels are implemented in the true spirit, the objective of achieving quality and increasing learning outcomes with increased retention in primary and secondary education can be attained in near future.