India: There is no quick fix in education


30 November 2017 | CB Sharma

Governments tend to set milestones and then tom-tom their achievements on reaching them. This approach does not work in the education sector

Governments, often after coming to power and before going for elections, get restless to show results, obviously for political reasons. We often hear of Governments declaring achievements in 100 days or on one year of coming into power. Such gimmicks may work in road construction, railways, law and order et. al. but not in education. Unlike all other sectors where the result of any initiative can be seen immediately, in education, outcomes cannot be seen in a short period of time. Any initiative has to be planned and, after introducing changes, results take time to manifest themselves. The outcomes can be positive as well as negative, and the Government which has taken the decisions often may not be in office to see the results.

In 2009, when the UPA II came back to power, it took many drastic decisions like passing the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, scrapping the Class X Board examination, introducing the policy of no-detention up to Class VIII and so on. If we try to recollect we will be able to remember that the then Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal was given charge of the department quite a few weeks after the swearing-in of the new Cabinet. It was conjectured at the time that Rahul Gandhi would himself take charge of the HRD portfolio but eventually it was given to the Minister for Science and Technology, Sibal, as an additional charge.

It is important to mention names as Rahul Gandhi, along with his mother, was the defacto Prime Minister and Sibalthe blue-eyed boy of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Sibal was, in fact, part of all the important decisions taken by the Manmohan Singh Government and its go-to man in any crisis. The Government of the day understood the importance of the ministry of HRD so the most important person from their point of view was selected for the job. However, the selection was not on merit but proximity to the centre of power. As Rahul Gandhi could not perhaps muster enough courage to shoulder the responsibility, he chose one of his most trusted loyalists in the Cabinet for the job, which would impact millions.

So, like all ministries, Sibal too wanted to show results in the first 100 days of the new Government. He went on an announcement spree. In a TV interview, he declared scrapping of the Class X Board examination. The next day, when the news was published and questions raised if it was a considered decision of the Government, the Minister declared it was his view and he will constitute a committee of experts who will give their ‘expert’ view. Obviously, the group of experts would not go against the learned opinion of the Minister. The committee duly suggested that the Class X Board examination be made optional. We have seen whole lot of children passing secondary school without writing any examination. This was a corollary to the decision that there would be no detention up to Class VIII even if children did not perform up to the mark expected. Teachers as well as students stopped caring for learning outcomes as all those admitted to Class I had to be promoted up to Class IX in eight years. No one cared if these children learnt anything or not. Now, with the Class X Board exam made optional, children could reach Class XII without writing any national test.

Seek out, meet and interact with the children who passed secondary school during this period and you will find for yourself the damage done. Subsequently, the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE) set up two committees to study the impact of both these decisions and the committees unanimously recommended that the Board examination for Class X be reinstated and the no-detention policy be withdrawn. The chairmen of the committees were Congress Ministers from two Congress-ruled States. But the damage done to learners and the system is irreparable. All those learners will suffer for life just because a Minister enforced his views. The decision was flawed and had a massive impact on many lives. Who will pay for the loss now?

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime which came to power in 2014 led by the BJP has seen the MHRD under Prakash Javadekar decide to once again make the Class X Board examination compulsory and also introduce a national test at the end of elementary school. Now, obviously, this will have an impact on the   “auto-promotion” which pleased many who only wanted to be certified as “10th pass”. Many children, who for whatever reason did not learn, will find it difficult to remain in school and still not learn. The pressure which was withdrawn from learners and teachers is back. Teachers understand and so do learners that at the end of the day learners have to make an effort to learn and teachers have to hand-hold learners. If both do not make the effort, how will learning take place?

Education is the most important sector for all citizens and Governments regardless of political hue have a duty to keep education out of their propaganda agenda. If learning is directly proportional to the effort made, both teachers and learners will have to make efforts to learn. The job of the experts in educational planning should be left to the experts and not usurped by their political masters. Changes introduced in a hurry often result into chaos and work against the interest of the learners and the nation.

To end on a note of hope, the Minister for HRD does not always need to be a politician. He/she can be a teacher as well. Hope the decision-makers are listening.