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Of laziness and tenancy

Does a school science class result in social change? According to the Madhya Pradesh Government's report on the Hoshangabad Science Training Programme, it should. MEENA MENON reports.

Learning to enjoy science ... but for how long?

THE Madhya Pradesh Government has finally acted on the Hoshangabad Science Training Programme (HSTP) (see The Hindu Sunday Magazine dated June 30). On July3, the Government extended the science curriculum prevalent in the rest of the State to Hoshangabad District, making HSTP a supplementary curriculum. The non-governmental organisation, Eklavya, which is implementing the programme, was not taken into confidence and came to know over a week later. The HSTP or Hoshangabad Vigyan, introduced in the district in 1978 in government schools, for the first time used a universally acknowledged pedagogical approach to the teaching of science. The programme covered about 1000 schools in 13 districts, with the bulk in Hoshangabad and Harda. It seems unlikely that faced with the prospect of implementing a full-fledged science curriculum, schools will opt for HSTP as a supplementary one.

Representatives of Eklavya had met the Chief Minister on March 3 and a decision was taken during this meeting that useful aspects of HSTP programme should be identified and assimilated in the main curriculum. This has not been done and Eklavya, which has strongly protested the decision of July 3, demands that it be put on hold till the HSTP is reviewed.

The Government has tabulated the Std. X board examination results of 2002 to show that Hoshangabad and Harda do not come within the first 15 districts in terms of performance in Science. According to "The rejection of the curriculum of Eklavya Implemented by it in the District of Hoshangabad by the District Planning Committee of Hoshangabad: Report on Assessment of Performance and Options," this data calls into question any impact in terms of learning outcomes from the HSTP. Added to this is the fact that 69.62 per cent of children in Hoshangabad scored less than 50 per cent in Science, which to some extent may explain the dissatisfaction, expressed by the District Planning Committee, (based on whose recommendation, the Government has made this move), the report said. This Government report is the one used to explain the decision to relegate HSTP to a supplementary option.

Statistics, according to the Government, clearly show that the educational initiatives under HSTP over 30 years have not been able to make Hoshangabad even an average performer in terms of learning outcomes as measured from indicators related to school education. The Std. X Board result shows that at least in 26 non-HSTP districts, children do better than those in Hoshangabad. Eklavya contends these examination results are not a gauge for assessing performance. In a letter to the Government, Kamal Mahendroo of Eklavya said the present examinations at Std. X level are largely confined to information recall testing with little or no emphasis on testing a student for problem solving, experimental or analytical skills or conceptual understanding. Since HSTP gives more emphasis to development of these skills and discourages learning by rote, it would be unfair to assess the impact of HSTP by using the results in these examinations as the sole yardstick. To Eklavya's contention that one of the positive aspects of HSTP was the obvious enjoyment of children while learning science, the government report said, "The only remaining argument in its favour is the `enjoyment of children', which is an intangible and an inadequate index of the quality of learning." It has castigated HSTP for not impacting on social processes in any significant manner. This, it concluded, is based on indicators like increase in literacy (which has not risen in comparison with neighbouring districts that have not had this additional input) and also other proxy measures like the Gender Development Index."

It is unfortunate that,while in terms of Human Development Index based on Index of Deprivation, Hoshangabad ranks 13th in the State (undivided Madhya Pradesh), it slips in Gender Development Index to 28th (Source: MPHDR 1998). Clearly the educational efforts have not had the reach or the scale to impact any societal empowerment. Using the same argument, how much has the Government's own educational curriculum impacted on social awareness or gender equality, ask activists in favour of the programme. But the government report does not stop there. It goes on to say that, "To put it starkly, Eklavya as a Non-Governmental Organisation are `tenants' in a very small part of the government's public schooling system. Therefore their prescriptions for change based on the small sample would have limited empirical validity for the larger system even if, unlike the data presented here, its performance was outstanding. The issue of illegitimacy of space that Eklavya has occupied in government schools though historical is now an issue that would be dangerous to leave unsettled ...

"The fault with the Eklavya-type of intervention is that it is seeking to alter a space that it does not own. Just as a tenant in a small part of the building has no right to alter the design of the building, Eklavya, even if it had performed well would not have the legitimacy to ask for the entire design to be changed to its pattern. In that sense Eklavya has chosen a `lazy' method of not taking the trouble to create its own schools but take part-tenancy in a part of the larger government system whose policies have to represent the popular or democratic will." And the popular and democratic will has been enacted by the DPC, where at least eight members demanded a review of its decision to stop HSTP!

An expert committee, convened by Prof. B. Ganguly, in its final report in March, 1991, recommended an "all out effort ... to introduce this HSTP model as Madhya Pradesh Science Teaching Programme (MPSTP) to all the schools of Madhya Pradesh". The committee made recommendations regarding various aspects of the programme, preparatory to its expansion. Obviously the Government did not take this up. In a meeting with Prof. Yashpal, the State bureaucracy and Eklavya, in August 2000, the Chief Minister had said that an evaluation of HSTP should be done. During Sunderlal Patwa's rule in Madhya Pradesh, an evaluation committee of experts was appointed but the report was not made public. Rajesh. Khindri of Ekalavya said that as far as upscaling HSTP to the entire State is concerned, it is entirely a political decision.

An internal evaluation by the HSTP group admitted that no drastic social change is likely to ensue as a result of one or two 40-minute science sessions every day in middle school alone. The changes, if any, are likely to be delicately nuanced, fine shifts in emphasis. However, all that the Government has seen in Eklavya is its "laziness" and weak tenancy rights, not to mention the fact that students were actually enjoying what they studied! The DPC arrived at the decision to discontinue with HSTP after a proposal by Sitasharan Sharma, Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Itarsi. Soon after the decision of the State Government, Eklavya said that pressure was being brought on the social science programme also, which it is implementing in schools. Dr. Sharma, who has been vocal about this curriculum as well, has various objections to the content of the books. The orders for continuation of the social science programme had to be issued before the end of June but there was no intimation to date, according to activists of Eklavya.

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