We tend to look at the education system mostly in terms of poor infrastructure, dearth of manpower, irresponsible teachers, loss of working days to hartals and curfews and other related factors. The poor performance of government schools in the board results is often compared with the private schools, which are in turn blamed for fleecing people in the name of fee and other charges. The failure of schools to provide satisfactory education is manifested in the mushroom growth of private tuition centres.
Infrastructure is a key factor given that there are many schools without the requisite number of classrooms, not to speak about laboratories, libraries, playfields, toilets and other facilities.
Lack of accountability in government institutes allows teachers to be complacent about their professional responsibilities. People who avoid sending their wards to government schools have to be bear with the arbitrary feel hikes and additional miscellaneous charges of the private schools. Our complaints have been more or less limited to these things. Of course they lend bad name to education, but we are also being irresponsible for missing out at other important issues as well like what is being taught to our children and how it is being taught.
Some years back, a survey carried by leading news magazine ‘India Today’ found that class size or school facilities such as computers and libraries made no substantial difference to a school's performance indicating that what matters most is the way children are being taught to learn.
In the era of internet and other mass media, we still rely on the traditional methods of teaching. The world has changed and so has the needs of education. With the archaic methods of teaching, our children are not going to catch up with students in other parts of the world.
The practice of ‘spoon feeding’ is still very much prevalent in government as well as private schools. The stress is on memorising and not understanding. This ‘rote learning’ approach has been encouraged by the system itself and is proving to be counterproductive. As a result, students appear to be learning mechanically rather than truly understanding the concepts.
While they perform well in questions where the answers could be mugged up from textbooks, questions requiring comprehension or application of concepts prove to a tough ask for them in most cases. This shows a disproportionate and unhealthy reliance on rote learning. Ideally, a student should be taught in a way so that he or she is able to apply the knowledge to real life situations. However, our teachers rarely work on this aspect of their job. As a result, students progress from one class to another without fully understanding many fundamental concepts. This also hampers development of their thinking and analytical abilities.
Furthermore, instead of being adaptive to their needs and capacity, students are forced to cover unrealistic syllabi. The students are made to learn too much, too fast, which only add to their stress. We forget that the goal of education is not to cover the syllabus but to impart knowledge and understanding. We also place too much stress on high scores in board exams, which can sometimes stunt the creative growth of a child.
To address all these weaknesses, our state is in a dire need of comprehensive reforms in methods of teaching. It is also important to make some long due changes in curriculum and the examination system.
In the contemporary times, we need to prepare students for adapting to different job tasks and to constantly think out-of-the-box. A number of new careers have emerged over the last decade which require specialised skills. It is important for the school education to be flexible and innovative to help students meet these challenges.
Our 'chalk and talk' type teachers need to make classroom learning much more interactive. The laboratory approach in subjects like Mathematics and Science works better than the text book method, which can also ensure that students can apply the lessons in real life rather than being just passive receivers of information. The exams need to shift from rote questions to those that test understanding. This will also make teachers focus more on learning with understanding rather than by rote.
All these changes cannot take place overnight. They need concerted efforts from the policy makers, academicians and teachers. It is high time we think more seriously about what we teach and how we teach before it is too late for our children to catch up with the rest of the world.