The 52nd International Literacy Day just gone by is the right opportunity to look at literacy beyond the ability to read and write but help us become more active citizens who are aware and more conscious of our rights and duties et al.
To that extent, the development discourse has moved from ‘roti, kapda aur makaan’ to basic social infrastructure like health, education and livelihoods to the creation of more aware, active and responsible citizens (National Curriculum Framework – NCF 2005).
Some development efforts which will help improve learning outcomes in the country (it is important to start looking at the quality of education through a larger lens rather than just the basic ability to read and write) are:
* Increasing ‘community’ ownership of the government schooling system. Middle and upper middle class India owns a lot of the decision making process around education in general and around government schools from a policy perspective but has nothing at stake in this system since their children don’t go there. So, how will the system ever improve if the people who are sending their children there remain faceless and voiceless?
* Revamping the teacher education (TE) system. It’s time to relook at the ownership of TE institutions today and work on removing political ownership and patronage. We should focus on revamping curriculum and pedagogy to bring modern and innovative elements within it and making it a lot more rigorous.
* Developing centres of excellence for teacher education. These centres will become Institutes of Eminence or National Importance to ensure that all possible attention, autonomy and resources are given to make them world class. The centres can be leveraged to help improve the quality of other TE institutions.
* Create a national discourse and imperative around the importance of good quality school leadership. This will help in improving and maintaining school quality, nurturing a learning culture within schools, maintaining teacher motivation, ensuring respect for and involvement of all stakeholders.
* Develop methods of identifying and grooming potential school leaders/head teachers. We need to look beyond the parameters of years of service and performance as a teacher. We need to explore the idea that a great schoolmaster may not necessarily be the most senior or the best teacher.
* Work on improving the social image and status of teachers. We need to investigate why the idea of a teacher as a highly respected person in a village/town has significantly deteriorated and devise ways and means of reinstating this. There could be multiple levers at play here, including the ease of becoming a teacher and, therefore, the kind of people who are choosing to be teachers, the pay that a teacher gets and the like.
* Start treating teachers (especially government school teachers) as the most important stakeholders in the government education system. Don’t treat them as the lowest rung of the ladder, not as people who are simply the transactors of thoughts, ideas and policies that people higher up in the ladder device. It’s time to make teachers a core constituent in co-creation and co-designing curriculum and pedagogy for children who will also help incorporate local flavor and realities in the learning process.
* Work on expanding the idea of good education. There is need to xtend it beyond rote learning of concepts. It should largely focus on cognitive development to a belief that values the uniqueness of a child and the celebration of different definitions of ‘intelligence’.
* Extend the scope. With the Right to Education (RTE) Act now making primary education compulsory, there is need look at extending its scope to include pre-primary education (which is not there in all states).
* Understanding a better education. With the RTE now getting a larger number of children in school, there is need to increase focus on developing a common understanding of what better education looks like through a collaborative process. Also we ned to look at allocating a higher percentage of GDP towards ensuring quality along with quantity.
(Gaurav Shah is Founder and Dean of the Noida-based Indian School of Development Management. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>)