If there is a learning crisis, it is a teaching crisis and the only way to address this issue is through proper recruitment and training of teachers
School is not the one and only place of learning for a child. A child also learns in the home, peer and social environment. In today’s times, the exposure to electronic channels of communication provides additional opportunities of learning. E-learning tools and gadgets open up conduit of self-learning. However, the school remains the most powerful organised institution to imbibe knowledge, skills and values. Despite all these possibilities of synergy, there is hesitation to conclude that children after 10 to 12 years of schooling acquire the minimum basic knowledge and skills to deal with the world and their surroundings with fair degree positive mindset.
The value addition accruing to children to mature into thinking and problem-solving adults through schooling remains a question mark with no definite answer. The Annual Status of Education Reports (ASER) which provides estimates of children’s schooling status and basic learning skills have highlighted the poor learning levels indicating the existence of a crisis in formal learning. ASER tests show that 50 per cent of grade 5 children cannot read a grade 2 text. The outcomes in arithmetic are equally pitiable.
Is this a crisis in overall edifice of school education or is it a crisis of learning? Would it be just to blame the entry of children from heterogeneous backgrounds and from environments non-conducive to learning? Is it right to take an anti-teacher posture or do we need to select and train teachers to take up the challenge of learning?
RTE has largely facilitated access to educational institutions with the objective of “education for all”. This entitlement of primary education though a fundamental right only guarantees right of entry. It is the innovations in process and friendly teacher-learner interaction that can ensure “education of all”. Among all the resources imperative for effective learning at primary and secondary stage of education, the most critical is the human resource i.e. teachers. The school infrastructure, the curriculum, textbooks, classrooms, computers etc. are complementary inputs. Teachers remain pivotal to answer the challenge of learning. The learning gaps, poor levels of learning, school dropouts and flourishing private tuitions from KG onwards are offshoots of teaching crisis. It is relatively easy to introduce technology and reform curriculum of school education. It is difficult to mould graduates into professional teachers. If teachers are tuned to allow the child to learn at her own pace and self-introspect for taking suitable paths for future, schooling benefits children. Every school is eager to join the competition to bag ranks and 100 per cent results. Children who cannot adapt to the pace become targets of ridicule and are categorized as bad learners blemishing the name of the school. The approach seems to be that students are liabilities of schools and teachers. Schools and teachers are for students should be uppermost in our minds rather than the reverse.
Let me put it straight. We need resourceful teachers to achieve the agenda of learning. Curriculum, textbooks and infrastructure are passive agents’ vis-à-vis teachers. As the situation stands today, all graduates are assumed to be qualified for teaching assignment. This is evident from the rush for graduate and diploma programmes in education. It is rare to find any graduate from the top 30 per cent opting for teaching. A teacher is a professional of a different kind as this resource is a blend of tutor-counselor-model-guide-parent. The motivation levels for the profession should be positive for learning irrespective of the background of the child. The commitment should be towards continuous enhancement of content knowledge and methodology. Learning materials at best provide knowledge. It is for the teacher to renovate and translate knowledge into skills as a part of the learning process. If there is a learning crisis, it is a teaching crisis and the only way to address this issue is through proper recruitment and consistent orientation and training of teachers.
There is no dearth of colleges of education offering pre-service qualification to be teachers. In fact, such institutions have mushroomed sacrificing quality and desirable outcomes. There also seems to be an excess supply of resource with requisite qualifications. School managements and the government conduct orientation and refresher in-service training courses for teachers. Yet, we face a learning crisis in school education. For better outcomes, we should move to clinical based practical teacher pre-service and in-service education. It should be minimum weightage on lectures and maximum focus on classroom teaching and management including skill-building exercises. Similarly, there should be a deliberate attempt to avoid activity by teachers which has no link to the improvement of learning level of children. Lot of doings such as notes dictation, monotonous reading of textbook, copious writing on black board, involvement of teachers in census work and school meetings or training during class hours are learning ‘stoppers’.
With the doors of school education open to all, minimum expected level of learning is the challenge before teachers. It would be injustice to blame the children. The children of the elite community get guidance in the family and have easy access to resources such as tutors, allied books, libraries and educational gadgets. The teacher in the school should position the self to smoothen this inequity in respect of children from the educationally and socially backward sections and tribal communities. If children are “better off” when they leave the school in terms of skills, self-confidence and psychological development, it would serve the purpose of school education and also contribute to national development.
For addressing the learning crisis in school education, start with the teacher. A modern child-friendly school actually depends on the modern and egalitarian outlook of teachers. The simultaneous next reform is to attack rote learning. Rote learning is irrigated by rote teaching with sprinklers of memory-based evaluation. Learning without understanding and teaching without being understood are the roots of the learning crisis.