Universal education- a basic need for India’s century

Every Indian- here and abroad is concerned about the lack of quality education at primary level. What has gone wrong? Who are to get up and start working for it? Why had the same schools and the teachers with a salary of Rs 15 per month produced brilliant students? Why is it not happening today when the overall income of the households has increased manifolds and the salary of teachers 100 to 500 times? And then the teacher absenteeism in primary school is a dismal story. We all know that. Why should an International body report is required to understand the condition? The 2005 Education For All Global Monitoring Report focuses on the theme of “quality of education”. As per report, in 2003, investigators in a World Bank study who made random visits to 200 primary schools here found no teaching activity in about half of them.

All the rural villages or most of them do have a primary school. A solution can be found to establish school, if it is not there, in every village with a population of 1000. But the critical issue today is about ensuring and improving the integrity of the primary teachers. Today these teachers can’t and should not talk of low salary. A system of motivating them to carry out their duty is necessary. But what is more needed is incorporating of some accountability factors with measurable parameters. Those who fail to give the necessary results through dedicated teaching should be fired. A fear of loss of the cozy job must be a part of the primary education system. Simultaneously, the teachers must not be involved in all the unnecessary tasks such as census or electoral rolls except for the period when the school are on long vacations.

Perhaps it is lack of government jobs that has dissuaded the parents in rural areas from sending their wards to school. This could have been overcome by extensive and even compulsory adult education in night in the same school by the same teachers with extra payment as incentives. Education is necessary for any work even for agriculture.

Unfortunately, the affluent ones in society have gone on building temples and other charitable institutions but shown hardly any interest in building schools and arranging good educations at primary level. I was surprised to know that the number of religious constructions in the country is more than the residential dwellings. As it appears, the primary education must be taken up by small entrepreneurs both as charitable missions as well as investment in future. Let the rich people building temples understand that the educational centres are better temples of knowledge

The country requires some 600,000 local managers or entrepreneurs to upgrade the standard of primary education in rural areas to acceptable high standard. The user-parents must shake off their indifference and show interest in educating their children and those who themselves are illiterate must be made to join the same school in night and upgrade themselves to educated group. Simultaneously, the industrial houses or associations such as CII must also come forward in big way to help the government to improve the standard of education in government primary schools. Ultimately, it will benefit them.

As another thought, the high schools may go out of primary education, outsource that to the primary schools of the area and keep a watch on the quality of teaching. It will help them too, as their prospective students will come from those schools.

Perhaps one way out may be to remove the anomaly regarding the gender distribution in the teaching profession pointed out in the report mentioned above. While female teachers constitute a huge 90% at the pre-primary level, this ratio is only 36% at the primary level. In contrast this ratio is 80 in Western Europe and 54% even in China. At the secondary and tertiary levels as well, female teachers constitute just 34% and 37% respectively of India’s teacher population. We must have more rather if possible hundred percent female teachers up to class VI level. It will certainly improve the quality of education. The qualified and willing daughter-in-laws of the villages may work as better teacher than the outsider male teachers who absent frequently to go back to their villages to look after their family responsibility or farm.

Interestingly the student-teacher ration in India is also pretty high and may be one of the causes of poor quality. India has a student teacher ratio of 40:1. Though there is no standard available for this ratio, the lower is the better. The global average at the primary level is 22:1, while developing countries average 28:1. Here I feel the best ratio for a quality teaching should be 10. I wish more and more of housewives take up this task. The educationist and government must come out some means to remunerate them.

But the whole education system particularly up to class VI requires a change of mindset and must come out of the clutches of political interference. It is unfortunate but true that most of the teachers today in West Bengal and Bihar are ruling party’s active member. I was told in one of my visits to a village in West Bengal that the primary school teacher has employed another boy to substitute his work at a salary of Rs1000 per month, as he has to remain busy in political activities. And it is quite a normal practice in many schools. How can you think of a good education with this short of thing going on?

PS: As I was writing this entry, I came across a news item in Business standard that really was pleasant:

More private players planning to start schools in Andhra: Vijayawada November 18, 2004. Private institutions in the state are going in for the next big thing in education – schools. These institutions, some of which have already opened over 100 schools, are planning to open thousands of schools all over the state in the next 10 years.

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