ndsharma's blog

Sorry state of primary education

Posted on: November 30, 2014

Primary education has never received the required attention in this country. It was completely relegated to the background when age of ‘globalisation’ started in the early nineties; the focus was then shifted, obviously and unashamedly, onto the institutions of higher learning, universities, IIMs, IITs and so on. Even the present Government has promised spread of IITs, IIMs and universities with no word about improving the quality of teaching at the lowest level or improving the conditions of school buildings which continue to be derelict across the country, with negligible exceptions.

Not surprisingly, the private shops are flourishing everywhere in the country where the child’s education is not only costly but not always conducive to the proper development of the child’s personality and character.

“Free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years within a period of ten years after the commencement of the Constitution” was enshrined in the Directive Principles of the Constitution. It was only in 2009 – fifty-nine years after the promulgation of the Constitution – that the Union Government enacted the Right to Education Act for providing free and compulsory education to the children of 6-14 year age group. It became operative from April 2010. Its implementation continues to be tardy because no Government, either at the Centre or in the States, has its heart in it.

A recent report on “Elementary Education in India: Progress towards Universal Elementary Education” prepared by Union Ministry of Human Resources reportedly on instruction of Minister Smriti Irani highlights the sorry state of primary education in the country, including in Gujarat.

There are a few conscientious persons who are trying to impart meaningful education to children. One such couple was spotted by journalist-turned-writer Hartosh Singh Bal during his procrastinated journey along the river Narmada. In his book “Waters Close over Us”, Bal describes in detail his meeting with Amit and Jayashree and went to visit their school at Sakkad village near Sendhwa in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh.

Bal says that Amit and Jayashree were working among the tribals in Jhabua district when their attention turned to issues that needed more prolonged attention. With children of their own, the state of the Government schools was an obvious focus. The schools barely functioned, teachers rarely if ever taught, and in the happy circumstances where these problems did not exist, the Bhil students were repeatedly tested on a curriculum that had no relevance to their lives.

They decided to set up a school that stemmed from a way of seeing and acting in the world very different from what they had left behind. In the years since it was set up, they had managed to implement several of the ideas they had in mind. A curriculum had been designed with local needs in mind, built around a history that meant something to the Bhil students. The learning was interactive. Students tried out science projects and mathematical problems on their own rather than through rote learning. Even something as simple as tending to the garden with its organically grown vegetables ensured that these children of farmers carried a new knowledge home.

This would stand out in any of India’s large cities, writes Bal, leave alone the corner of tribal India where a functional school was a small miracle in itself. But there were no teachers in the region who could teach what was required. The solution was eventually found: the older students, who had already learnt the material through their own interaction with Amit and Jayashree, knew what to teach. The timings for the classes were staggered, and the older students acted as guides on the same journey they had already undertaken. Education and stay for them was free: the school sustained itself on the fee the parents of younger students could afford to pay, as well as the money from friends and well-wishers.

Such efforts are being made at other places also, but they are few and isolated. The tragedy is that in India those who can afford prefer to donate for temples or religious activities rather than invest in imparting good and cheap education to children.


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