When misplaced priorities, segmented approaches and corruption govern education, schooling fails to foster knowledge. There is evidence in annual studies from the past decade that a significant percentage of children in higher elementary classes lack the basic language and arithmetic skills of Standards I and II.
Over the years, the shift from “slow and steady” teaching – where English and arithmetic were introduced only in advanced elementary levels – to producing quick-fire results from Class I, has killed competitiveness in children. It has spawned variants of rote teaching leading to abysmal learning outcomes at the primary level.
Making matters worse, policies including the Right to Education Act prioritised schooling of children only from age six, thus ignoring the positive impacts of pre-school education on a child’s learning capabilities.
As early as 1944, the Central Advisory Board of Education’s report on Post-war Educational Development in India emphasised on provision of pre-primary education as an essential adjunct of a national system of education. Endorsing this in 1966, the country’s first Education Commission (Kothari) called for establishing a centre for the development of pre-primary education in each district over the next two decades. Unfortunately, the recommendation retains only “citation value”.
Corruption in the appointment of government school teachers too has deprived children of quality formative mentorship and pushed some to ill-equipped private schools.
Innovative knowledge delivery remains nascent with some exceptions such as Tamil Nadu’s pioneering Activity-Based Learning methods under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which is now being replicated elsewhere.
Overall, learning outcomes were never specifically assessed in India as opposed to numerical outcomes such as access to schools, pass percentages and dropout rates. The country began reluctantly acknowledging the existence of poor knowledge acquiring skills only after the NGO Pratham began publishing its Annual Status of Education Report since the mid-2000s.
Today, the state of denial has gone. The Twelfth Plan recognises the need for measuring and improving learning outcomes. The Centre has also launched the ‘Padhe Bharat, Badhe Bharat’ (Learn India, Develop India), targeting early reading and writing with comprehension and understanding mathematics as “twin track approach”.
There is still a long way to go in eradicating corruption in teachers’ appointments and supporting adult literacy, as some studies have revealed that children of literate parents have the advantage of supplementing their classroom studies at home. There is also a need for further reforms to rid the outdated “one size fits all” approach in classrooms.