Monthly Archives: September 2011

Indian Education policy: Is the centre going the right way

Education is a concurrent subject under our constitution. Has the central government forgotten this????

It does seem so. The central government seems to be in a hurry to make changes over changes in the education system and in this process seems to forget that we are more of a federal democracy and that education is not a central subject.

I very much welcome their move of bringing in the Right to Education Act, 2010 (RTE) and the current proposal that the right be extended upto 10th standard than just the 8th standard as of now.The announcement of the Prime Minister on Independence day to reconstitute the Education Commission to reformulate the Education Policy (the last being that of 1986) is also a very welcome move. We obviously need a relook at our education system. While many good recommendations of the previous commissions themselves (including the common schooling system) remain untouched, it would still help to have a relook. Things have changed a lot since then. Kerala has an IT@schools policy and recently Tamil Nadu has announced ICT@schools as a focus area. More and more changes will be seen in the near future for certain and a direction in the form of an Education Policy, 2012 would be most helpful.

Having said that, I see a few disturbing trends. We heard last week about the proposal from IITs to have one single common entrance exam for engineering across the country. While the RTE is fine, it still has not taken off very well in most states. There are still cases pending in the Supreme Court about it’s interpretations. The bureaucracy is still trying to figure out how much budget is really required if all provisions of the RTE are to be implemented in it’s spirit. State commissions for protection of rights of the child (SCPCRs) still do not exist in most states, which are supposed to be the body which are to check the progress of implementation of the Act. There is I guess a lot of confusion too regarding what the RTE says about curriculum. It does seem to say that the State bodies (like DSERT) would formulate it. Does that mean though that there can be only one curriculum within the state? It does not talk about it’s relationship with CBSE, ICSE etc. Moreover, it does not seem to give liberty for a school to evolve it’s own curriculum. Why is the status like this?????

I believe that the centre is going in the wrong direction. The way to go is to de-centralise and not to centralise. There seems to be a craze of bringing in a ‘common standard’ as if that is the best. Please….. Certainly not. Anyone can tell that averaging out a set of data does not give you the highest value. It brings up the value of those which are below the average but also brings down those which are above it. We do not want to just settle for ‘mediocrity’ in our education system. We want to ‘excel’. Right? So, the solution is not to set a ‘common standard’ but a ‘common minimum standard’.

I have gone through the NCERT books. They are really good. I wish all the state curriculum come upto that standard at least. The emphasis on social science, on economics etc even at 10th standard is really good. Before one learns ‘natural sciences’, I believe that one should learn the ‘social sciences’. We are to first co-exist with others well, get ourselves to a fairly good ‘standard of living’ and only then do we get the freedom to think about ‘natural sciences’ in their true spirit. So, the NCERT books can really set a good ‘common minimum standard’ but if we say that no one should do better than that, that would be absolutely counter productive.

The vast majority of our Indian children today do not get quality education. This is a well known fact. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) prepared by the ASER Centre (http://www.asercentre.org/) clearly illustrates how even 5th standard students in most cases have a learning level of just about what a 2nd standard student should have. Hence, lifting all those children to a standard of learning as given by the NCERT books would be a great move. That certainly should be our focus. Given that fact, this certainly should not stop those wanting to innovate and get better than that. Each school can be allowed to follow their own curriculum, provided it meets the minimum standards that the state sets. That is the right way to go. What does that mean? Absolute de-centralisation. This is when we will achieve ‘excellence’ in some pockets. Never will we achieve ‘excellence’ throughout the system. That cannot happen. Only a few will go to the top (although the upper limits will continue to keep rising) but even that is possible only when downward pulling forces cease to exist. Talking in a mechanical engineer’s terminology, the education system should act like a ‘one-way spring’. It should pull up those who are below but not pull down those who are above. I hope that by now, I am making enough sense. The RTE should impose the need to use a good curriculum but not say that the curriculum proposed by the state body should be the only one to be followed. Similar arguments can be made on other counts like infrastructure etc.

If we need de-centralisation, then we clearly note that it is not the central government which should be the biggest player but the Panchayats. I recently read about a village in Karnataka which has become very famous for providing teachers to many parts of the state. Apparently, there the ‘teaching profession’ is highly respected. Every family aspires to have teachers in it. This certainly is a community effort and by no means a government effort. The government can only be a service provider which ensures minimum delivery. Taking a system to heights depends on the people. Without a strong will at the Panchayat level, ensuring good quality education to all our children would remain a dream. It is thus essential to put the responsibility with the Panchayats. It need not be only on implementing the curriculum given by the state but probably also on altering it for the better. We do know that each locality has it’s own specifics in India. Within a single state also, we have so much diversity. While one grows more rice in the south of karnataka, the north of karntaka grows more of ragi, bajra etc. Language varies within a state too. If the local community want a little more stress on such things in their schools, then why not? A little flexibility can exist and in my view should exist. That is when, one feels that education is relevant to the local community.

No one likes to be dictated to. In a democracy, there is no room for dictation from the top. This is probably the reason most states are still very slow in implementing the provisions of the RTE. Probably, if states had evolved their own legislations based on a ‘common minimum draft’ given by the centre and on the basis of Sec 21A and Sec 45 of our Constitution, we would have seen a better result. I hope that the Education Policy, 2012 takes that route.

This is also what I feel about the single common entrance test for engineering across the country. Makes no sense to me. While I agree that writing multiple written tests, one each for each state and each deemed university is not the right way, I have my reservations about a single common test. I will not outright reject it as a possibility today but think more about it. After all, the GRE is a single common entrance test which is accepted by all universities across the US … So, may be… I still doubt it would work though…

To conclude, I think we should set minimum standards but not single absolute standards. I have heard of children having been raised without ever being sent to school and yet doing great. Learning happens in a multitude of ways and to say that our current schooling system or even a better one to be formulated by the state would be the best is to only fool ourselves and condemn ourselves to ‘Institutionalised Mediocrity’ and stay far below ‘excellence’. May we realise this and head towards ‘excellence’ while assuring at least a minimum level for all.

Jai Hind !!!

Karnataka Jnana Fellowship – My experience…

Can instinctive action mislead us? Or will it always lead us to the right path?

This is the question that occupies my mind now. That is because, I have acted purely on instinct in the case of the Karnataka Jnana Fellowship. I saw an article in the newspaper sometime in June this year and immediately went over to the computer, went to their website and applied. The force of instinct was so strong I could not resist it. I did not try to resist it either. One part of my mind was asking though whether I was doing the right thing. I asked back. “Why not go ahead?”.

Recently, i did a little bit of financial calculations too. This project if we can call it one (of taking up Jnana fellowship, if I do get thru) has a negative net present value (in financial terms) of a significant amount of money. In simple language, it was a cost to me and not a financial gain. Do I still want to do it? Yes. It is corporations which look at profit and loss. Government looks at cost-benefit balance. I too had to see a cost-benefit balance. Benefit not only to me but benefit to the community at large. After all, living for oneself is so boring. I have written in one of my earlier blogs too (my previous blogspot blog) about why it should be the aim of every individual to ‘give more to society than he/she draws’. This was my chance to give. I cannot let this go… At least, I had to give it my best shot…

I was fortunate enough to get through till the interviews (past a lot of scrutiny and a good written test) which happened yesterday. A full day at Vikas Soudha… Starting about 8:30 am when I got in till about 6:45 pm when I got out, the time I got before the panel of eminent people asking me what I could do if I were selected was miniscule. Whether I managed to convince them, the result will tell. The lessons I learnt from this whole experience though were great. Never before had I sat before a panel of about 15 members. One does not get time to think (being a bit of a slow thinker had me a little troubled). So, it clearly boils down to what is deeply embedded in our minds. Only those points will come forth. Its a test for our ability to stand our ground and not let our thoughts be hijacked by what is being asked. Its a test of conviction, of strength of belief. Quite rightly so. It is an experience that has brought in more energy, conviction and strength to me. My instinct to work with the community at large has only grown stronger.

One aspect to be highly appreciated is the strength of the process the Jnanaayoga followed. The transparency levels have been very high. Sometimes, I wonder if it was a little too high. Criteria for selection was very clear, although I was a little surprised at the weightage given to our 3 answers on purpose given during the application. Arrangements were great. They have shown how well things can be conducted from within the government too…

Lastly, let me come to what occupied me over the whole day minus the interview time and the little time I took out while sitting there to prepare. This truly was energising. Never before have I got to know more than a dozen people in a single day. This was such a day. A very unusual day for me. I have at least 8 new contacts in my mobile now. I met people working on enhancing science education, on youth related issues,  those teaching management, those training teachers, teachers, people running a school, those working on getting the soil right for horticulture, …. Civil society is not sleeping. By no means. Each one has a passion and is striving to contribute in their own way, with a positive approach. Cool !

We discussed at length on each of our experiences and on the possible road ahead, in the education field mainly but even on horticulture. Like minds coming together… If I said that we came up with solutions, that would be obviously wrong. If solutions to the problems plauging the primary and secondary education were simple, it would have been set right long back. We even came up with plans on working together outside the fellowship scheme too.

I wish to say one thing at the end. Lets get the cynicism out. Lets get to work, whether inside the government or outside but towards the welfare of our great nation. If we think that putting the education system right is a 10,000 km journey and give up, we will never complete the journey. We have to walk our talk… Good thing is that we are not alone in the struggle. If one goes out there looking, one would find so much of good work happening. So many are working. Lets give our bit…

Jai Hind !!!

Addition on the 30th Sept, 2011: After the results came out…

Its been a tough day… a day of gloom….. The fact that I did not make it kept haunting me through the day and still is haunting me. I understand that the other person who made it to the department I was looking to get in to, is more qualified than me and quite likely has more experience. That is comforting…. Still, at a personal level, its a loss that is somehow difficult to get adjusted to. I am sure that the commission has done a very good job of screening people and all those who are in deserve to be there. I still cant reconcile myself to the fact that I didnt make it… This is the battle thats been going on all day.. One moment this way, one moment that way…. :-|.

Quite clearly, my inability to hold my ground during the interview let me down. I got drawn a little away (towards pre-primary education) from my focus area (child protection) and i was less guarded in the new territory…. and got shot down… I will remember to hold my ground next time, probably in another context..

There is the NGO platform for me in any case…….. and I pledge my support to those who are in. Am here to help if required.

Jai Hind !!!