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What a teacher does in classroom matters the most

Aarti Dhar
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There has been indisputably a growing shift towards private schooling in both urban and rural Andhra Pradesh. However, private school enrolment is ridden with socio-economic, gender and caste gaps. It is also apparent that while the rapidly growing private sector is labelled ‘low-fee’, these costs can be very significant and a barrier for many poor families, as a latest survey has shown.

Although enrolment in elementary schools in India as well as Andhra Pradesh has seen a steady rise, Young Lives data shows between 2006 and 2009 the number of children in private schools increased by 8 per cent and by 7 per cent for older children in private secondary schools.

Young Lives is a long-term international research study investigating the changing nature of childhood poverty in four developing countries – Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh), Peru and Vietnam – over 15 years, the timeframe set by the UN to assess progress towards the UN Millennium Development Goals.

The study follows two groups of children in each country: 2,000 children who were born in 2001-02 and 1,000 children born in 1994-95, and collecting data, not only about their material and social circumstances, but also their perspectives on their lives and aspirations for the future, set against the environmental and social realities of their communities.

Private school enrolment of the Young Lives Cohort children (aged 8 in 2009) was nearly double (44 per cent) that of the Older Cohort children at the same age in 2002 (23 per cent). Comparing the Older Cohort children at age 8 ( in 2002) with the Younger Cohort (age 8 in 2009) shows that private school enrolment has gone up for every group – boys, girls, rural and urban children, as well as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. However, inequalities prevail with 70 per cent of more advantaged other castes children enrolled in private schools.

Gender gaps, too, are widening. In 2002 boys were 4 percentage points more likely to be enrolled in private schools than girls but this had increased to 13 percentage points in 2009.

Evidence gathered during the survey entitled ‘Teaching Quality Counts: How Student Outcomes relate to Quality of Teaching in private and Public Schools in India’ suggests that parents perceive private schools as providing better quality education and are opting for ‘low-fee’ charging private schools that are mushrooming across both rural and urban locations. Young Lives study examined teaching quality in 227 government (public) and private primary schools. The children enrolled in low fee charging private schools are seen to perform better in mathematics, despite better qualified and more experienced teachers being available in government schools.

Dr. Renu Singh, Young Lives India, country director said private schools may be considered better than government schools, but ‘better’ should not be perceived as ‘good.’ Quality varies across schools and a lot depends on leadership in school. Benchmarks and regulatory mechanisms need to be developed and implemented for quality assurance in both government and private schools, she said. “One way to achieve this would be to create an autonomous body for assessment of schools and learning levels of children in every State. This information should be in the public domain to foster greater accountability of schools both government and private. What teacher ‘does’ in the classroom is more important that what the teacher ‘knows’.’’

In Andhra Pradesh, Young Lives collects data in 20 sentinel sites across three geographic regions – coastal Andhra, Rayalseema, and Telangana. There is a mix of urban and regional sites, and a number of poor and non-poor sites in each district. Children of the right age were randomly selected, and there are an equal number of boys and girls.

While standard characteristics of teachers like experience, gender, content knowledge and subject specialisation do not have any significant influence on children’s learning outcome, teaching practices such as regularity in checking homework and factors such as the proximity of the teacher's residence to the school and teachers’ attitude towards the children, as well as teachers’ perceptions of their schools, have emerged as important determinants of students’ test scores.

In short, it is what the teacher ‘believes and does’ in the classroom that has the maximum impact on children’s learning outcomes, the report says.

Aarti Dhar

Benchmarks and regulatory mechanisms need to be developed and implemented for quality assurance in both government and private schools

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