India has come a long way in ensuring education on the principle of equality and social justice. The system India inherited from its colonial masters was elitist in nature and thus exclusionary. While moving forward on the path of progress, India faced several challenges including accelerated growth of population that has often acted as an obstacle in her bid to get children to schooling with highest levels of quality. India took several policy measures in her pursuit of letting her children receive quality education, one amongst such step was amendment of the Constitution making education a Fundamental Right and adopting the corresponding Right to Education Act by the Indian Parliament in 2009. In addition to this, the country has also embarked on the ambitious path of making secondary education universal and ensuring equitable access to higher education for all. These achievements and policy measures have raised new expectations for the future. This article will discuss some of the critical steps required to ensure quality education for all.
Moving Towards Consolidation
Traditionally, both central and state governments have been following supply based approach for locating social sector facilities, in general and for locating schools in particular. However, this has led to considerable amount of irrational considerations in the distribution of avail- able resources and consequent imbalances in educational facilities. A major issue that has emerged in recent years is that of small schools in terms of enrolment that are economically and academically unviable to provide quality infrastructure and academic facilities such as library and laboratory and so on. A progressive policy of consolidation has to be put in place as the situation is going to become even more challenging with the swift demographic shift taking place in many parts of the country.
Such a policy of consolidation has to clearly move towards new framework for establishing new schools as well as combining the existing ones to create viable schools of good quality. This framework may involve properly equipping every school with adequate material and human resources should be determined based on local parameters such as the size and location of the school and the accessibility to neighbouring habitations. It may not be desirable to fix a national norm in this regard.
Primary School: Too Late to Begin Education?
Empirical evidences suggest that learning starts well before the formal entry of the child to primary school. In fact, preschool education is seen as facilitating the process of socialization and self-control necessary to make the most of classroom learning.
It is within this context that institutional support for children before the school has gained considerable attention in recent years, particularly with respect to health and nutrition programmes. Schools have been used as means to increase opportunities for girls’ education by freeing them from looking after younger siblings. India has a massive programme under the banner of Integrated Child Development Scheme to provide development support to children in the age group 0-6 coupled with prenatal and post natal care facilities for mothers. Yet, the progress is quite slow and commitment of resources is quite inadequate. It is worthwhile to work out an independent policy on preschools education to be pursued along side school education.
Working Children: Issues
Most parents even from the poorest families prefer to withdraw their children from work if they can afford it. So the main approach should be to create such condition that enables parents to send their children to school. An important lesson is that mere advocacy on banning child labour is not enough? It is essential to design policies that help delineate concrete alternate programmes of education which effectively take children out of work.
Investing in Teacher: Investing for the Future
Teacher is the central actor to tackle the quality issue. Many parameters currently available are not adequate to ensure quality teachers. Such parameters are Teacher Elegibility Test, in service training programmes organized by SSA or RMSA. Instead it is time to develop a proper policy on professional development of the school teacher. Such a policy should incorporate several critical element such as subject matter up-gradation and used of ICT. The vision should be to provide opportunities for lifelong learning for improvement and up-gradation. The policy should also effectively link participation in professional development programmes with career prospects. Another reformative step would be to appoint teachers to the school and not to the system.
Reshaping the Gender Discourse in Education
Positive change are visible in recent years in terms of decreasing gender gap in school enrolment across a states, still education of girls need a focused strategy. Several factors seem to be impeding the education of girls. These includes, responsibility of caring for younger, learning or education centers at distant locations, lack of basic infrastructure and women teachers etc. these factors causes huge dropouts of girls.
Support to the girl child will have to flow following the life of the girl children over a sustained period of time and transforming the vents that surround their lives, Several programmes have been launched including the more recent ‘beti bachao, beti padhao’ programme. Yet it is necessary to formulate a more comprehensive policy for girls education that goes beyond the school years and shift the focus from mere parity to gender equality. The policy should also address the needs of reorienting the youth in order to socially impact their attitudes as they grow.
ICT and School Education
The tremendous potential of ICT in recasting the quality of school education experiences is widely debated and discussed. However, policies and programmes that effectively transform the school experiences of the young learner need greater attention. We have to move beyond the current paradigm of supplying hardware and proprietary software to schools and embed ICT into all aspects of school life.
Learning Achievement to be the Primary Focus
Learning is at the centre of all educational processes. Parents send their children, after all, expecting them to master reading and writing and acquire knowledge. It is difficult to accept poor performance of schools on this count. Poor learning levels act doubly against the interest of the marginalised groups. However, it is misleading to treat school quality as synonymous with pass percentages in public examination or placement in national league tables based on national testing. If quality with equity overcoming the problems of exclusion and discrimination is the concern, definition of school quality cannot be based on marks and grades alone which often hide underlying inequalities. Two broad sets of factors that cause inequity in quality have to be recognized and dealt with, namely;
- inequality of provision of quality schools; and,
- inequitable practices and discrimination within
Refocusing the Curriculum Debate
Curriculum is critical in determining the quality of education imparted. There has been considerable attention paid during recent years to revamping the school curriculum.
- Focus on Science Education in Curriculum
The focus of curriculum has to encompass science education effectively as no country can develop without the supply of well equipped professionals in science and engineering. In fact, an emerging trend observed across the world is to create special pathways for bright and interested children to pursue science and mathematics through specially designated institutions commonly addressed as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) schools. This can be achieved through engaging with budding science students and exposing them to frontier areas of knowledge and research. This could possibly begin by involving top science and technology institutions such as IITs and IISERs and the scientific research laboratories by establishing special schools attached to these institutions or in their neighbourhood in order to facilitate participation of senior professionals from these institutions imparting science education at the school level.
- Engaging the Civil Society and Private Sector: New Framework
The last two decades have witnessed emergence of a number of non-governmental organizations actively engaged in school education. Generally, these organizations work closely with the community and respond to the ground reality. They have indeed become strong voices in favour of education of the marginalised groups. During the same period, corporate sector has also begun to show significant interest in promotion of school education. This is in contrast to the traditional approach in which public schooling catering to the needs of the poor has been the exclusive responsibility of the Government. Generally, the efforts by the three stakeholders, namely, the Government, NGOs and Private entities have been viewed as three distinct compartments. It is time that a comprehensive policy is framed to find common ground and propose a framework in which the Government, the NGOs and the private schools occupy common public space of education in a mutually supportive fashion and not occupy exclusive domains that divide. Obviously, the State has to play a significant role in this as market force may not be sensitive to diversity and equality nor to the concerns of sustainability.
Crafting a new policy for a country as varied as India is indeed a difficult proposition. The ‘rights perspective’ as enunciated in the RTE Act set the tone for moving ahead in this difficult endeavour. Implementing the principle of equal rights requires shared experiences and the narrowing of the range of inequalities. It is necessary to think about the kinds of institutions that facilitate or hinder these goals. Continued inability to overcome gross inequalities would lead to an incomprehensibly wide range of experiences and interests in the society. A society in which the range of inequality is so extensive is one in which members share little. They cannot understand the claims and grievances of one another and they fear that recognizing the claims of those who are much different will come at their own expense. The new education policy has to envision a new world of values and ethics of learning to learn and live together. If such a policy has to be substantive and not merely rhetorical it must be based on shared values and experiences of people living in this vastly diverse cultural, linguistic, and economic context. There is, in fact, unprecedented groundswell in four of education throughout the country that raises a sense of optimism for the future has to be built on this sense hope and aspiration.