18 Dec 2007

It's Elementary

To say primary education is a problem area in India is an understatement. The school system especially the government-run part of it is in a shambles. Poor infrastructure, shortage of teachers and an unimaginative syllabus and teaching methods all contribute to the sorry state of affairs. It is not surprising that the system churns out students that are not educated in any sense of the term. This denies them access to higher education and, eventually, gainful employment.

It is no secret that there is an acute shortage of qualified teachers nationwide, especially in rural areas. Often, the ability and skills of the teachers employed are also suspect. A recent study by the National University of Educational Planning & Administration (UNEPA) shows that almost half the 47 lakh elementary schoolteachers in India have not studied beyond class XII. Just about a third of those who teach classes I to VIII are graduates.

It would be tempting to be alarmed by these statistics and draw a direct link between the level of a teacher's qualification and the quality of teaching. However, that is a simplistic reading of the situation and all that is wrong with it.

There is no guarantee that a person holding a graduate degree would be a better teacher than one who has not attended college as the standard of education in many of our colleges is not much to write home about. What is important and is sorely lacking is that those recruited to teach in elementary schools receive special training both before they start teaching and on a regular basis throughout their careers.

It is mandatory in some states that candidates undergo a teachers' training certification but the rule is not as rigorously implemented as it ought to be.

Elementary school must necessarily be viewed as a training ground for young minds. Unfortunately, in India, it is a battleground where children are forced to cram and learn by rote. It is proven that the development of cognitive abilities is not uniform among children. Their needs, interests, responsiveness necessarily differ. It is, therefore, crucial that teachers are equipped to address the specific needs of young children.

It is imperative that the present one-dimensional and merely instructive flow of information from tutor to the taught is replaced by a more interactive system where learning is made meaningful. To that end, it does not matter if an elementary schoolteacher is a graduate or not. All that matters is that she is competent and up to the job.

Times of India, December 18, 2007