Is There Hope for Primary Education in India?

Education has always been the yardstick in measuring a civil society. On 15 January 2019, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018 was released. The report compiled surveys on the status of education across the country. It documented a remarkable improvement in the education rate of girl children and fewer dropout rates in schools. While the government is ensuring that every child in India avails the Right to Education, they may have compromised on the quality of education made available to these children. ASER 2018 reads that only 2.8% of the children between the age group 6–14 are still struggling to obtain an education. However, having achieved an enrolment rate over 97%, it is high time that the focus is shifted towards improving the learning levels.

The learning levels of students from class Ⅲ in the years 2016 and 2018 remain unchanged. Over 71.9% of class Ⅲ students still struggle to do basic subtraction. 72% of class Ⅴ students struggle to do basic division and more than half of the country’s class Ⅷ students are weak in basic arithmetic. The result of the current year’s report is worse than what it was five years ago. Clearly, the schools struggle to impart basic knowledge on mathematics. Poor teaching methodology and syllabus are the reasons for the increase in the number of students who cannot do simple mathematics. The children lack motivation to grasp the basic arithmetic skills, therefore one out of eight students from class V cannot read their books.

While focusing on educating every child in India, the government has ignored the need for investing in primary education and recognising the competency of the children. The ancient gurukul system in India aimed at developing the children by teaching them based on their competency level. Students, while staying with the teacher, learned and imbibed what was taught to them at a convenient pace, regardless of the competition in the class. The teacher understood the child’s needs and decided what to teach him/her and was solely responsible for deciding when the student completes his/her education. Thus, the gurukul system followed a student-centred teaching approach, thereby encouraging creative and critical learning in the students.

It is really disheartening to point out that the government has failed to provide the teachers with adequate training and equip them with necessary teaching resources. Once considered as a dignified profession, the teaching job is not favoured by many these days. Statistics show a significant decrease in the number of people opting for teaching as a profession. Newly recruited teachers earn ₹19,300 in primary schools and ₹20,000 for teaching upper primary classes in government schools. However, many teachers in private schools are paid pittance. Since the pay for the same amount of work in the corporate sectors is higher than a teacher’s salary, many graduates dismiss teaching as a favourable profession.

Three percentages of the children in India still face difficulties in attending schools. There are many markers that contribute to the rise in the number of children attending school. Two of the important ones amongst them include the presence of toilets and the midday meal scheme. Over 66.4% of schools in India have usable toilets and 87.1% of schools avail the midday meal scheme. The increase in the above statistics has been slow when compared with the last four years. Furthermore, the ASER 2010 shows that only over 8.6 schools in India use computers. Within eight years, the number of children using computers in schools has fallen to 6.5%, with fewer schools having access to computers than before. This shows the government’s inability to channelise their funds. Understanding the problem areas and working to improve them are the primordial steps to be taken in order to develop this sector.

Only 5.8% of primary schools in the nation have physical education teachers. While Khelo India is promoted throughout the country, the government has ignored the importance of sports teachers in schools to develop and emphasise the importance of physical education. Perhaps the amount spent on promoting Khelo India can instead be spent on training the teachers and improving the educational foundations of the children.

Education for all is a target still unattainable in India. It is 2019 and yet the government still aims at encouraging children to join schools regardless of the quality of education they receive. Foundation skills determine the literacy rate in higher education, which eventually aims at developing the society. Hence, the quality of literate Indians it produces in the society plummets. It is very crucial to shift the focus on improving the quality of teaching in primary classrooms.

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