Another Chance

7 Feb

Another chance

Meeta Sengupta
03 February 2014, 11:31 PM IST

Sometimes it comes home in personal ways.

This Sunday, a student I knew went to take an examination, and the allocated seating was in a government school. A very good one, in the heart of government officers sectors in central Delhi. The school was large, the building impressive(sort of). He was seated in a class that was designed for children two years older than him. The seats however seemed to be designed for someone much smaller. He sat for 3 hours at 30 degrees to his normal straight posture, those larger than him had to sit at almost 90 degrees to their normal sitting position to be able to fit between the bench and the table.

And we wonder about dropouts?

Of course the school had the right number of chairs and benches. Well, almost. The chalkboard read ‘Class Strength = 50” and there were 48 seats in the classroom. The RTE norms for private schools mandate a maximum class size of 40 students. India is reaching full enrollment in primary schools at least – the pressure on classrooms is natural. Not excusable but natural. Fifty students, seated in a windowless room (other rooms had windows, not this one) in benches that are too small for them. I wonder how many will have the motivation  to bring themselves to sit in such seats, and once they get there how much work can get done. Bad seating can damage developing spines, but then in a place known for its potholes that beat a Disney adventure ride this might be seen as a minor problem. To put it simply, discomfort will drive them away, unless highly motivated.

It is the little things that matter… it really is not enough to have the right number of benches, or the right square footage in a classroom. Measuring quality by inputs is made even more meaningless when the input criteria do not actually speak to their context. How can the qualification of a teacher actually determine whether good quality learning is happening in the classroom? A certificate does not make for a caring, enthusiastic teacher, one needs more than just the certificate to even start building good classroom climate. Of course trained teachers tend to have more tools than untrained ones who may struggle if not supported. But even trained teachers, despite being well paid have turned over batches of non performing students. Even if one wanted to measure quality via inputs (rather than the currently popular call for outcomes driven measurements) the current criteria are not fit for purpose. The last mile problem rears its head here again. Criteria designed far away from the users and consumers will never be able to meet the needs of the users.

Dropouts may happen for reasons other than learning outcomes. There may even be little connection between these two outcomes. It sounds logical that schools will retain the students that are performing well, but that is an untested hypothesis. We do not know how many talented and sincere students drop out due to family circumstances. We do not know  what binds these students to school, and what brings them in everyday. Is there someone watching over their mental health or is their peer group their only support? Is the peer group a reliable mentor or can some be led astray? The rate of dropouts in India is steady after primary school and I would be glad to be informed of a serious study that has investigated the reasons for dropping out. Yes, there are studies that indicate that girls used to leave school at puberty due to lack of toilets. What about schools with toilets? What about the boys? How many had to leave because the curriculum did not reach out to them? Did any feel bullied at school either by teachers or peers – and if they did, was there any recourse? Was it more macho to earn a living like a man rather than go to school like a boy? Was there social pressure to get married a the traditional age? We know that life does not wait for degrees.

At the same time we do know that each year of education enhances the earning capacity of a child by – I believe the estimate is – 5%. The children who drop out of school lose out on higher lifetime earnings.

Which merely reflects on bureaucratic the education system.

Is there any reason for teaching to be managed by age bands? Especially after primary school different children may begin to invest in their abilities and must have a chance to be tutored in those – vocational or academic. Those who were uncomfortable at school at fourteen and dropped out cannot be abandoned – they must have other channels for learning. The sad truth is that there is just one bus for people to learn how to be literate – if you miss that bus, you are left behind. No wonder that 37% of the world’s illiterate population is in India. Adult literacy programs are inadequate, as is the concept of the community college which could easily become a learning hub for the community regardless of age or prior learning.

It is time education systems outgrew their ageism and created opportunities for everyone to learn in comfort and dignity.

 Link:
 http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/another-chance
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