Giving children the kind of inputs and experiences they need has positive effects not only on their academic performance but also on a range of socio-economic outcomes. The responsibility of the school education system in the process of nation-building is enormous.
According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018, in India, the percentage of total enrollment of 60 or less has increased to 29.4% in 2018 from 17.3% in 2010. The percentage of computer availability in school for children was 9.3% in 2010 which is 22.6% in 2018. Though the statistics reflects certain advances, there remain a lot to be done in providing quality education.
Vikramshila Education Resource Society is a Kolkata-based civil society organisation that envisions ensuring quality education for all children from ‘under-resourced’ and ‘at risk’ sections of society. Shubhra Chatterji, Director and Vice-President, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, told BE, “Having worked with the public school education system for nearly thirty years, I have been fortunate to witness some major changes in our school education system during this period – the efforts of the government to make education accessible to all children, making education a fundamental right, creating more schools to universalise access, improving physical infrastructure of existing schools, providing training to teachers, formulating a progressive and ambitious curricular framework, upgrading textbooks, engaging with civil society organisations to usher in innovations are some of those.
All this put together had the potential to transform the education system – but sadly nothing much seems to have changed. Rather, one keeps hearing about a learning crisis, suggesting that children are not learning, even after being in school for five years or more. There is now talk of introducing large scale standardised assessments to measure and track children’s learning, of bringing in technology to make up for the lacuna of teachers, of strict surveillance methods to usher in greater accountability. Not discounting the efficacy of these measures, one has to be cautious and reflect more deeply.”
Chatterji’s remark reflects on certain integral challenges of the public school education system in India. The government schools in India – mostly the ones in urban spaces – have become disconnected from the community they are intended to serve. Many educationists have raised concern over the lack of accountability of these public institutions towards their two most important stakeholders – the students and their parents. Chatterji added, “Do we really have the will to make our schools equitable so that children from weak socio economic backgrounds get a level playing field when they step out into the wider world?”
As per the ASER report 2016, in India, 47.8% of class V students can read the books of Class II and only 43.2% of class VIII students can do simple division. Such disturbing data reflect Chatterji’s concern.
Teachers' leave system affecting school education
In 2015, the Government of West Bengal sanctioned the benefit of the ‘Child Care Leave’ for a maximum period of two years i.e. 730 days to the regular female teaching and non-teaching employees of government sponsored, non-govt. aided schools, boards, district primary school councils, the West Bengal School Service Commission. This policy has created certain problems as the school education system in the state and also in many other states is short-staffed.
Papia Nag, Headmistress, Sakhawat Memorial Govt. Girls’ School, Kolkata, West Bengal told BE, “The ‘Child Care Leave’ has become an issue in school administration. The teachers are taking leave under this particular category for one or two months. The school does not get any substitute teacher to fill these gaps. We are somehow managing but that is absolutely ‘somehow’ for which the students are getting affected.”
The gap due to the unfilled posts of teachers
Sluggish teacher recruitment and absence of expedient appointments in vacant posts are pertinent problems of the public school education system in India. Nag added, “We are also not getting proper substitutes at the right time for the retired and promoted teachers. Even the new teacher’s appointment process is quite long drawn.” The system of school inspection played a vital role in maintaining quality teaching and robust school management. However, that process has weakened considerably. Nag said here, “Our school falls under the school directorate and hence we do not have a particular school inspection system. It will be better if we have a structured regularised school inspection system.”
There is a need for the government to plug the gaps in the public school education system and make it more accountable.