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Formal Education in India

Written by Anvita Tripathi

Illustrated by Anoushka Damani

The Indian Education System, which currently ranks at 35 in worldwide education as per WEFFI, is an order that is responsible for the formal education of about 164.5 million children that differ from each other in an astoundingly large number of ways like economical and social background, belief, faith and even the daily nutrition that they receive (not to mention the learning capacity and ability of each child). And out of all of these differences, it’s arguable that one of the not so many things that brings them together is the ages old Indian Education System. So, how exactly is this system coping with its responsibilities? Is it being able to fulfill its promises to the Indian children? Do students and even teachers, for that matter, even have faith in it? A truckload of questions appear before anyone navigating through India’s education system. And to answer the best ones, Anvita Tripathi brings you yet another edition of ‘Formal Education: The World Tour’ focusing on the grand education system of the even grander Indian subcontinent!

1. What are the priorities and objectives of the education system?

As of the current education system of India, the main focuses are quite simple and cover a broad spectrum of places that are in serious need of attention. For example, the latest National Education Policy that was introduced in 20020 focuses on points such as increasing social mobilisation to promote basic education and emphasis on pre-primary education. The Indian education system is decentralized with the district as the unit of planning for implementation of elementary education and adult literacy.

One of its remarkable features is its focus on the nutrition of the students learning through the system. For example, through programmes such as the ‘Mid-day Meal’ Scheme, the Indian system is serving as an active source of food and nutrition for tens of thousands of children falling below the poverty line. The Mid-day Meal Scheme is a school meal programme in India designed to better the nutritional standing of school-age children nationwide.

India’s commitment to ensuring the Universalisation of Primary Education is reflected in the Indian Constitution itself. Under Article 350, it is written: “It shall be the endeavour of every state and of every local authority within the state to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups.” Evidently, the same values, principles and priorities as the ones in the ideals of the Constituent Assembly have been observed in the India Education System. How well they are being followed are for another conversation altogether.

2. How accessible is this system to the Indian children?

Education in India is a fundamental right of every child ranging from the age of six to fourteen. And although this right is exercised and enjoyed by a large number of children in the country, the system hasn’t yet been able to encompass a number even close to the child population of India. However, the active progress it has been making over the years is undoubtedly staggering. According to gross enrolment (GER) data available at the national level, India has achieved near universal enrolment in primary education in most areas. The average GER across all India was 108.5% at the primary level and 70.5% at the upper primary level in 2004-05.

The reality of girls’ exclusion is further complicated by caste, religion, ethnicity and age. Girls from poor, SC, ST and Muslim communities tend to be much more disadvantaged than their male counterparts, and a larger proportion of girls than boys from these groups are denied access to schooling.

Rural schools cater for the vast majority of students nationally (85% of total enrolments in primary schools in 2005). Yet rural schools tend to have poorer resources such as school infrastructure, teaching materials, fewer teachers per school and higher dropout rates.

Out of school children: There has been a steady decline in the number of out-of-school children in India. Data reported in the CAR suggests that in 2001, about 44 million (or 28.5% of the total child population) were out of school. By 2005 estimates varied from a low of about 7 million to a high of about 30 million. The differences in estimates arise from different methods of sampling and accounting for repetition, drop out and over age enrolment.

Not all children who complete primary schooling enter the upper primary stage. Data collected on all-India basis under the District Information System in Education for 2005-06 showed that: on average, 16% of children who reach Grade 5 fail to make the move from primary to upper primary school. Similarly about 15% of children who reach Grade 8 fail to make the move from upper primary to secondary schooling because of a lack of schooling facilities near their homes, the direct and indirect costs, and because they haven’t reached appropriate attainment levels.

3. Are the Indian people content with this system of education?

As per multiple studies and surveys that have been conducted over the past few years, the responses given by Indian students are both in agreement and disagreement with the ways of the system. While students are happy with certain factors of this system, they are not quite on board with its other sides. It is concluded that in public institutes students are satisfied or highly satisfied with teacher’s regularity, their behaviour, Parking space in the institute, Fee structure of the course and Library of public institutes. On the other hand students express their dissatisfaction regarding labs, IT tools, Placement, Sports facilities and extracurricular activities in public institutes.

One very prominent area of conflict remains the standard of education in India’s Government Schools. Even if we do excuse the lack of adequate facilities and financing, the standard of education that these institutes give their students is staggering. Quite often, the teachers that are seen in the classrooms aren’t qualified for the job. In some cases, they aren’t even high-school passouts. The only reason that they hold their posts is because they are among the most educated in the village. Their qualifications, however, are questionable.

4. Teacher’s Cut: What are the thoughts of the other side of the classroom?

As it turns out, India’s teachers have just as much to say about the Indian education system as students do, if not more. Teachers across different boards and backgrounds have expressed their need for a certain degree of overhauling through various platforms such as social media and even newspaper articles.

For instance, one among many teachers, Ms. Heena Attar, expressed her ideas on summative assessments through her popular blog. In her blog, she says, “Summative tests must be given less importance as it only tests the memory of a child and also encourages route learning. I firmly believe that we should teach children through practical and hands-on activities and ‘learning by doing’ principles.” Another teacher, Ms. Ashra Khan, took up the matter of the currently suffering student-teacher ratio. She says, ”The most important thing I feel as a teacher is, the number of students in a class should be limited in order to provide quality education. Increase in quantity leads to a decrease in quality. Overcrowding in a classroom is an important issue which needs to be taken care of.”

The words of these educators are more than enough to convince anybody of the immediate changes required in the system. And with the full support of the Indian students, it’s fair to say that it’s about time we had some changes. But can we say that the tide of change is too far away? Probably not. Only last year, the Indian authorities launched the National Education Policy. This Policy added innumerable benefits to this system such as a bigger scope for accessibility and flexibility in streams. But even though miles of progress have been covered, there’s so many worrisome sides of this order that need to be looked into. But as it is said, all in good time, my friend.

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