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Beyond the rigid school system, letting talent find the groove

Illustration: Sreejith Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith Kumar  

Many countries provide alternative education paths, focussing on vocational schools

Sanjay is in Class 6 in a private school in Bengaluru. He goes to a school that, as he himself, has children from low-income families. Sanjay does not like to go to school, the lessons do not interest him and he does not connect well with the classroom activities. His father is a painter and mother works as a maid. Both parents work full-time. His parents themselves had very little schooling growing up, and cannot help him in school work. Sanjay’s parents want him to study; therefore, they put him in a private school, paying fees.

Sanjay’s mother, Saroja, knows he is not interested in studies; he wants to work in a garage, repairing motorcycles. She figured out that garages will not hire her son, even as a trainee, as he is underage and will be considered a child labourer. As a parent, she is in a no-win situation: the school system does not provide any skills that Sanjay can use as a trainee mechanic when he reaches the age of 14; nor can he possibly learn the skills on the job now as he is underage.

In my class of sixth graders, I see many students like Sanjay. In the past few years, in an average class size of 25 students, each year I must have seen fewer than 10 students who may succeed in the traditional secondary schooling system. That is, about a third of the students may continue and succeed in the formal (and only) education path we have out there. The remaining two-thirds are left to fend for themselves.

I do not consider my observations in one classroom in one school over a few years as out of the ordinary. Instead, I think this is the tip of the iceberg of a situation faced by a large number of schoolchildren in low-income urban and rural India. Consider, for example, this summary from the independent Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2014: close to half of all children will finish eight years of schooling, but still not have learned basic skills in arithmetic. The situation is not much different on the reading front either.

With free and compulsory education through Class 8, we have tried to create a one-size-fits-all system. This system probably helps a State or Central board of education in the administration of the curriculum, but it fails to serve the interests of many children in terms of equipping them with the skills they need or have an interest in.

We need to rethink the rigid curriculum that is in place today. Once a student comes out of the compulsory eight years of education, he has no option except to enrol in a traditional high school for Class 9. Else, he has to drop out of the system and look for unskilled jobs. The only alternative that is available in most States is to enrol in a two-year vocational course or in an industrial training institute (ITI) after clearing Class 10.

Many countries provide alternative paths in middle and secondary education, focussing on vocational or “trade” schools. Most notably, Germany has implemented this system successfully to create an industrial powerhouse. While we can learn from the experience of others, we need to develop a system that works best for our own situation.

With eight years of compulsory education in place, we should look at offering vocational type of training from Class 7 as an option. With this system, all children would have had six years of uniform curriculum in mathematics, general science and languages. Beyond that, parents and children, in consultation with their teachers, should be able to make a decision whether to take the path of “regular” curriculum or a “trade”-oriented curriculum. Students completing Class 8 are about 14 years old, and they will be able to take up non-hazardous jobs as per the Child Labour Act, if they wish to. Equipped with two years of “trade” training, the children entering the labour force after Class 8 will be more skilled and productive sooner than otherwise.

In due course, the ITIs and other vocational institutes that are open only to Class 10-passed students need to rethink their admission requirements and start admitting Class 8-passed students from the “trade” stream.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 12:46:10 PM |

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