Monday, July 30, 2012

Where is my Teacher? --- Part 2

Shalini studies in Grade 5 but is not able to do a simple addition problem. Mukesh is a Class 3 student unable to read a sentence in Hindi (his mother tongue) without mistakes. This is the story of more than half of the rural kids in the country who lag behind their prescribed standards of learning. According to the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) survey conducted in more than hundreds of rural districts across the country, the number of such kids is increasing every year. This raises a question whether we are investing the right amount of money for educating our future generation.

The answer is ‘Yes’! The education budget has doubled in the last six years. There are incentives like ‘Mid-day meal’ to bring students to the school. The Right to Education (RTE) makes it compulsory for every student till the age of fourteen to go to school. In spite of all the planning and resource allocation, the kids are not learning in schools. The recent PISA survey which focused on Math, Science and reading performances of the child placed Indian kids at the second last place out of 72 countries. This shows that there is something which is missing from our primary school system.

The recent article in The Times of India about the shortage of primary and upper primary teachers in Varanasi district answers this question partially. However, the wider gap lies in the absence of good quality teachers. No matter how good the school infrastructure becomes or how much money is spent in making the classroom more lively and vibrant, a student cannot learn without a good teacher. The teacher has to be capable of teaching in the class, creating interest in the class and motivating the students to learn.

The quality of teaching which we have in our government schools is questionable. On one hand, most of the schools have a shortage of faculty and on the other, the teachers present are not capable of teaching. In most of the cases, their knowledge of the subject is limited. The recent ASER report shows that in many schools, a teacher in Class 6 is not able to explain the meaning of ‘addition symbol’ to the class. It may be argued that every teacher in the country has a degree in Education and has qualified the Teachers’ Education Training (TET) exam for being appointed as a teacher. Then why is the teacher not capable of teaching?

As someone who has worked with government school teachers, I would question the credibility of the TET exam. There are books and coaching institutes which just prepare teachers for such exams. So, a person can easily cram the subject, get through the TET exam and become a teacher. Moreover, a teacher trained in math teaches languages and a teacher trained in history teaches science. It is quite obvious that the quality of teaching is going to suffer in this scenario.

Gone are the days when the bright students chose teaching as their profession. I still remember the inspiration which I got when I came to know that my physics teacher was the state topper of his times in School Board Exams. We don’t have such teachers in schools anymore. Today, people get into teaching because of the easy money it offers.

Apart from the easy money which one can make through teaching in government schools, teaching attracts many as there is no accountability on the part of teachers. The lack of accountability is also one of the reasons of poor quality of teaching. Once recruited, there is no evaluation of the teacher. There is no check on the quality of teaching in the class. There is lack of honesty on the part of teachers. At times, the teacher asks a student to read a poem or a table in the class. The rest of the class repeats the poem or the table while the teacher engages himself in some other work.

Absenteeism is something which hampers teaching and learning a lot in the schools. Studies conducted to compare absenteeism in India and other countries shows that India ranks second worst in teachers’ absenteeism in the world, the rate of absenteeism being in the order of 25-26%. The system of proxy attendance is also widely prevalent. The teacher is marked present on the register while he or she is not in the school. I myself have come across many such instances while conducting the ASER survey in schools. Teachers are appointed for special duties like census, election services etc. This adds to the absenteeism in the class room. No one is bothered about the loss of studies in class.

            Private and convent schools, on the other hand, do not suffer much from the problems of absenteeism or poor quality of teaching. But these schools are not affordable for a larger fraction of rural students.

The best way to improve the learning levels is to recruit the best faculty which can work effectively with the students in the class room. But in our country, where there is no craze among the best students to get into academia, this seems a distant dream. The focus should be on effective training of the teachers so that they are able to teach efficiently in class. There are teachers’ training programs running in the country but those are not able to solve the problem. The teachers should be trained in innovative and interesting ways of teaching to encourage students to come to the school. The teachers should not be engaged in duties other than teaching. A check should be put on the absenteeism. The policy makers should focus more on the quality of teaching in classrooms rather than focusing only on building the infrastructure. What the children of this country need is the Right to Learning and effective measures need to be taken to attain that.