Which of the following is true: nearly 10 per cent of Class 4 students in top urban Indian schools believe that Mahatma Gandhi is alive. In Tamil Nadu, only 15 per cent students in the 15-year age group are skilled in maths. About three-fourths of Class 3 students in rural India can’t solve two-digit subtraction problems.
All true. How did you score?
Three recent reports—Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), the Programme For International Students Assessment (PISA) and the Quality Education Study (QES) by Wipro and Educational Initiatives—serve a gloomy, telling reality check, busting some long-held stereotypes about the strengths of Indian students.
Consider this: in the top 89 urban schools across the country, the QES report says, there has been a 5-10 per cent drop in learning levels in the last few years in math, science and reading literacy. The PISA report, which conducted an extensive study among 4,800 15-year-olds in the high-literacy states of Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh, is even more grim. Among 74 countries—including the US, UK, Canada, China, Korea, South Africa—Indian students rank second to last, at 73rd position, just above Kyrgyzstan. This, despite a high enrolment rate of nearly 97 per cent, the Right to Education being in place since 2010, propped up by a wave of progressive schools and teaching tools. “I know a lot of people who’re up in arms saying these reports are not valid, but why can’t we just accept that there is something seriously wrong with the way we’re teaching?” wonders Maya Menon, director, The Teacher Foundation, an organisation that looks at enhancing teaching techniques. The system is dumbing down our children, undermining their capacity to learn, breeding a whole lot of boredom in classrooms, she feels. HRD minister Kapil Sibal admits as much. “What we need is a paradigm shift in the way we teach and the way children learn,” he says.
“We don’t have a clear vision as far as education is concerned. Rote learning continues to thrive in our best schools, and even while we’re trying out new methods of teaching, it’s like tasting new flavours, not changing anything fundamentally,” says Maya Menon.
“It’s our legacy of 60 years,” says Sibal, “and it can’t change overnight. It’s a very complex issue.” There’s also the challenge of age-inappropriate textbooks, unimaginative teaching and a 1.2 million shortfall of teachers. “The impact of the rte will be felt only after 5-7 years.
There is a mismatch between the mathematical needs of modern society and the curriculum, feels Sanjiva Prasad. “At the moment, the CBSE curriculum is seeing a dumbing down. What we’re hit by is students not internalising math but just learning formulas and falling into the question-solving mould.” Over the years, a certain grade inflation has taken place, with ever-increasing percentages of toppers in board exams and larger pass percentages, leading to an illusion that standards are improving.
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