Though reports indicate that many more children are in school than before, the educational standards are not matching up. “We have to move towards measuring outcomes,” Vimala Ramachandran, national fellow and professor, National University for Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi on the ‘learning crisis’ in schools across the country.
She was delivering the fifth Memorial Oration at the Eleventh Annual Function of the Kuruvila Jacob Initiative for Promoting Excellence in School Education on Sunday.
For learning to happen across the board, there is need for a coordinated approach to improve efficiency of school education, genuine decentralisation, teacher accountability and quality teacher training colleges, she said. “Before I came here one of my friends called and told me that the big tragedy is that today, we have so many more schools, teachers, and students, but, somewhere we are turning out a generation of people who are not as well educated as we would want them to be,” she said.
Though more children are finishing the elementary cycle, there is a sense of disquiet among people across the country, she said, adding that employers cite skill shortages. “National and international studies tell you over and over that there is something wrong with our educational system,” she said. “We have students with degrees, but do not have the skills.” And the crisis, she said what being felt not just in government, but also private schools.
Why are children not able to master basic skills in school, she asked. “Even after 7-8 years why are they lacking in basic competencies?”
She cautioned against rote learning, and spoke on how even good ideas such as the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation system are being reduced to an administrative chore in some places.
“Unless we do something drastic at the elementary education level, it is not going to help secondary or higher education,” she said.
“There is a saying that what gets tested is what gets learnt and how it gets tested determines how it gets learnt,” she said, adding that we need to stop teaching to the test.
Many countries, she said, used a combination of tremendous autonomy at one level where teachers have freedom and combine it with some kind of centralised testing that serves as a quality benchmark. Advocating decentralisation, she said, that as long we don’t trust the knowledge that is at the grassroots level we will not be able to make much change.
S. Viji, one of the convenors of the initiative, said this year was special as they complete a decade since the initiative’s founding. Students of Kuruvila Jacob, the first Indian Headmaster of MCC Higher Secondary School, got together to carry his legacy forward. It was also the 110 birth anniversary of Kuruvila Jacob.
N. Murali, Co-Chairman of Kasturi & Sons Limited, and one of the convenors, said that Kuruvila Jacob strode not just the vast grounds of MCC, but the larger educational sector. Certificates and diplomas were given to those who had completed their various courses.