Rural education and promoting literacy have been the focal point of the Union government’s priorities for a while now. With initiatives that aim at equitable education, adaptive learning and digitisation of learning methods, there has been a continuous momentum in attempts to bridge the learning gap in rural areas and ensure that access to education is affordable and effortless.
However, the Annual Status of Education Report 2022 (ASER 2022), released in January 2023, exposed the fault lines in the quality of education vis-à-vis reading capability, arithmetic skills, and overall learning outcomes. Another survey, CASS 2022, highlighted the lack of social-emotional learning (SEL) skills among India’s 260 million school-going children despite being enrolled in competitive schools and receiving primary education. The latter further showed that SEL is completely ignored or overlooked and that a majority of students still hold prejudices concerning religion, caste and gender and don’t trust schools to be a safe place.
These findings have prompted a relook at the current state of rural education in the country and manifested an urgent need for action. Educators should aim to achieve the desired level of SEL competence in each of their students, especially in rural India, where there is already a lack of resources and opportunities.
At its core, the purpose of education is straightforward: to nurture children into becoming respectful human beings capable of making informed decisions without biases. While tangible subjects like Maths, English and Social Studies help them develop the sense to make informed decisions, SEL ensures they grow symbiotically with their surroundings and become confident citizens of tomorrow.
The ASER findings from previous years have concluded significant gaps in children’s SEL abilities, sometimes to the extent that young children cannot identify primary emotions like happiness, sadness and anger. Not only does this negatively impact their mental growth, but it also poses a significant threat to society as these kids grow into adults who fail to understand guilt, impulse control or anger management and are then easily manipulated to create problems due to their selective misconceptions.
Educational institutions, therefore, must work towards rejigging their curriculum to ensure that this part of education is not put on the back burner. Here are some actionable steps:
- Shaping an integrated curriculum where SEL activities are part of the syllabus and systematically evaluated from time to time
- Training every teacher in the fundamental aspects of SEL, even if it is not their primary subject
- Conducting training and awareness sessions for parents to help iron out biases at the grassroot levels
- Leveraging technology to enable students of different geographies and cultures interact with each other and learn tolerance, friendship and empathy
- Making SEL a part of everyday activities and including nuance at every touch point so that there is minimal room for error
- Adding more capabilities for Do-it-Yourself (DIY) and teaching children about the dignity of labour
- Exposing children to the history, culture and heritage of our country, including the huge diversity of indigenous art and craft traditions
Although the current status of SEL may be termed ‘average’, all is not lost. Three years ago, when the National Education Policy 2020 was formulated, educators acknowledged the importance of SEL and gave the topic significant importance in the early childhood and primary education chapters. Consequently, a few schools also introduced variations of a ‘Happiness Framework’ that accounted for SEL capabilities when evaluating academic performance. Though these initiatives constantly evolve and still need to be perfected, it is a positive start.
The writer is President, Hinduja Foundation.