School system fails students

Considering Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s caution regarding the insecurity that people face over a lifetime due to the deprivation of basic education, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2014 calls for a hard look at the situation. Its findings amount to a distressing catalogue of the failures inherent in the pedagogic methods of instruction in vogue. The foremost among them is the overemphasis on a curriculum that is geared to outcomes in the form of examination results, at the expense of a process of learning that is oriented to a mastery of concepts. These shortcomings underlie the original assumption that students of a particular grade would not measure up to commensurate standards; and that any such evaluation would hence be an exercise in futility. That is the apparent rationale behind the ASER assessment of actual student performance based on a lower set of metrics. The report points out that just a small proportion of third-graders are able to read even a text from a lower grade, let alone their own. Any improvement in later years is at best marginal, says the report. The fact is that reading skills are not imparted as part of classroom activity.

ASER also shows that pupils from the higher classes are unable to perform even simple tasks of division or subtraction. This may have to do with the inadequate reinforcement of concepts over the years owing to the structure of the syllabus. For instance, the use of logarithms that were once taught from Class 9 has been dropped from the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) curriculum. Students are hence denied the opportunity to learn complex mathematical computations. Besides, the mathematics knowledge that people need in daily life is mostly arithmetic-based. Yet, the latter has been omitted from the Class 9 and 10 syllabus. Time was when students could opt between a basic and advanced level of math from Class 8 or 9 under some State boards. The current CBSE paper, tailored to the requirement of engineering aspirants, may be imposing an undue burden on students inclined to pursue different academic streams. A healthy pupil-teacher ratio could also help overcome many of these shortcomings. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act stipulates a 30:1 ratio. ASER notes that the country has come consistently close to universal enrolment in the 6-14 age group for six consecutive years. That may have afforded some consolation in an age where the prevailing wisdom held that poor families are disinclined to send children to school. In today’s competitive environment, the ability of students to read, write, count and measure is a bare minimum. The country cannot continue to fail its children.

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