Children are not getting exposed to different perspectives in “top schools”

A recent survey of “top schools” across the country presents a stark picture of the performance levels of students and the world view they are developing.

Student Learning in Metros Study (SLIMS) carried out by Educational Initiatives and Wipro in 2006 assessed students for their conceptual understanding and found that the “top schools” do not promote conceptual learning in students. Quality Education Study conducted recently by the two organisations shows that there has been a further drop from the already unsatisfactory levels of 2006. Students exhibit rote learning and perform comparatively better in questions that are procedural or do not involve deeper understanding or application of concepts.

Further, misconceptions acquired in lower classes continue in higher classes without any correction.

Some of the students surveyed indicate a bias on questions of gender equality, acceptance of cultural and religious diversity, civic, citizenship and ecological responsibilities, which might over time grow into prejudices. “It is possible that children are not getting exposed to different perspectives on these issues and thus their thinking is not well-informed,” states the survey.

Classrooms where teachers and principals do not believe in physical punishment and students believe that their teachers treat everyone equally seemed to be linked to greater student performance.

While a majority of principals think that co-scholastic areas are relevant for building students’ self-confidence, self control, sportsmanship, solidarity, teamwork, competitiveness and health, less than half of who said so mentioned that their school places no major emphasis in curriculum for these areas, indicating that what is being said is not often practiced. Practical competencies such as map reading, using good language while writing, measurement, general awareness of well known facts, etc are not developed well.

About 40-43 per cent of students in Classes 4, 6 and 8 felt that education for a girl is not as important as responsibility towards the family, if a choice has to be made between a boy or girl child in providing education, boys are to be preferred over girls.

Disturbingly, some of them also felt that in the long run, educating a girl is a waste of resources. While 35 per cent of Class 4 students and 47 per cent of Class 8 students felt that both boys and girls are equally capable, about 15-20 per cent of students in both classes believe that abilities are determined by gender. About 15 per cent of Class 8 students believe that females are more likely to be burdensome to their parents. The results indicate the deep rooted bias against the girl child even in students from families which probably belong to the educated and higher socio economic strata of society.

Nearly half the students surveyed believe that people come closer to each other due to mutual respect and understanding, and not due to religion. However, the other half had preconceived beliefs about people from other religions and that religious differences matter and need to be defended by violence if necessary.

While 29 per cent of students believe that Indians can live and work freely in any state of India, nearly 60 per cent students showed less acceptance towards immigrants from other states as they felt that immigrants have to conform to the state’s traditions, they take away jobs from natives of the state and also are a source of communal disagreements.

A large majority (70-80 per cent) of students across different classes think of differently-abled people as either burdensome, unhappy or not able to do well in studies.

However, acceptance of differently-abled peers as capable people is slightly higher among older students (21 per cent in Class 4 to 29 per cent in Class 8). Sixty per cent of students show lesser sensitivity towards HIV affected people and a lack of awareness about the nature of HIV. This could be because the awareness creation efforts are not effectively reaching out to children.

Students in Class 4 seem to have a stronger sense of civic responsibility than students of Class 8 with regard to disposal of garbage. Nearly 20 per cent of students think that it is ok to bend traffic rules in an emergency or as long as there is no personal harm.

Regarding environmental issues, 19-23 per cent of students at all three class levels think it is the responsibility of the government, while 32-44 per cent of students at all three class levels understand that personal choice can make a difference to the environment.

The study was planned as a multi-year study to expand the meaning of ‘quality’ in education to include educational outcomes beyond student performance in subjects and study the attributes of quality learning environments.

The study surveyed about 23,000 students, 790 teachers and 54 principals from 89 schools including six schools recommended by experts as schools providing different learning environments.