The TSR Subramanian Committee does not hold back its punches when it says India’s education system is in disarray. This is the third education policy that a committee has come up with since independence. The previous two were failures. Not because the suggestions enshrined in them were faulty, but because they weren’t implemented.
The TSR panel has made some good suggestions targeting the many ills that plague our education system. But it fails to tackle the core injustices and sectarian minefields that surface every now and then. However, to be fair to the panel, that wasn’t its mandate. Its principal focus was on improving the quality of education by creating conditions that improve the standard of teaching, learning, assessment and promote transparency in the management of education. And the team has done a decent job at that.
Let’s see what some of the best suggestions are and how they could be potential game-changers.
How to improve governance in education
At every level, the administration and management of education is in tatters. Why are substandard teachers recruited? Why only a select few of them get their preferred postings and others are subjected to transfers? Why is it not done on merit? Why is there no system to measure a teacher’s performance? Why do undeserving institutions get accreditation rapidly? One factor that explains all this is “political interference”.
Arbitrary procedures and purchasable approvals define the governance at every level. How do we solve these problems? Here’s what the team’s suggestions are.
# Teacher Recruitment
# No distractions on campuses of learning
This writer had suggested here that the whole notion of student activism and party politics in campuses is wrong. Politics, if allowed in campuses, should be restricted to only protesting and discussing issues related to the university or hostel problems of students. The TSR panel seems to be well seized of the issue.
These are welcome initiatives and one hopes that the Human Resources and Development Minister would follow up on these so that universities are defined by their academic atmosphere instead of protests, gheraos and dharnas. This would ensure that students who work hard and spend a lot of money on securing admissions to these colleges aren’t robbed of their ambitions. The primary aim of any educational institution is to impart knowledge. Everything else is secondary. Kranti can wait.
# Expenditure on education
It is not clear from the report whether the committee is recommending six percent spending outlay for states and centre or the centre’s alone. If it’s the latter, one can be sure that this wouldn’t see the light of the day.
According to World Bank data, our total (local, regional and central) government expenditure on education is about four percent of the GDP. Raising it to six percent would require concerted efforts from all states, a true test of cooperative federalism.
How to make public schools great again
# Consolidate schools, not expand.
# Skiling India early.
# Skilled tribals
Importance of introducing skills-based education in school curriculum in tribal areas cannot be overstated. The committee cites the example of the success of Dantewada in Bastar, where a livelihood college offers nearly 20 courses, both in soft and industrial skills, and has created many job opportunities for tribal youth.
Thus, the committee has recommended special focus on skills-based education for tribal areas.
# Imparting values
How to make teaching great again
# Make teaching attractive
# Making of good teachers
Who teaches the teachers? Are good teachers born or are they made? Experts believe it’s the latter. The Economist special report shows in detail how teaching can be taught.
To achieve this, the committee suggests well thought-out teacher training systems and bats for the introduction of a four-year integrated BEd course, or a two-year BEd course after graduation for those who want to pursue teaching.
The committee says that these courses should be strong in subject content and students should acquire pedagogical skills along with subject knowledge. It further recommends:
# Hiring good teachers
Those who want to take up teaching as a profession should have a clear cut path in that direction. For this purpose, the committee recommends the possibility of introducing a five-year integrated course after class X for elementary school teachers, and five-year course after class XII for higher secondary teachers.
This is very important and would achieve two goals; help stanch the flow of those graduates who, when they cannot find jobs elsewhere, enter the teaching profession as a last resort; and facilitate the entry of those genuinely interested in teaching. It also calls for:
#Making teachers accountable
# Better principals
#Making pre-schools great again
# Role of anganwadis
Three language policy
How to improve the current curriculum and examination process
The committee realises the need to move away from the culture of rote learning. For this, it makes some good suggestions:
The panel has good intentions here to give full freedom to students to exercise their choice and there should be no compulsion on them. But the committee ignored one important stakeholder: parents. Will they allow that freedom? That is the question.
This is a commendable suggestion. Indian students must develop the habit of starting work early and not wait for their formal education to end. Encouraging students to take apprenticeships is a step in the right direction. They need to develop work ethic in their early years.
How to create centres of excellence in higher education
The Economic Times reports today (29 June) that the Prime Minister’s Office is not in favour of the proposal that these new universities face a penalty in the event they can’t meet certain quality parameters in 10-15 years.
The PM’s Office is learnt to have advised the HRD Ministry that the time period must be longer for a fair assessment of whether a new university has emerged as world-class. This is important because world-class institutions cannot be created in such a short period. Some can even take one generation.
The problem gets compounded due to litigation thanks to RTI-wielding warriors whose favourite go-to place is judiciary once the exam results are out. Also, the state saves the exchequer out-go on salaries of full time faculty. But there is no alternative to hiring permanent teachers.
The committee feels that recruiting ad-hoc and part-time faculty impacts adversely the quality of teaching and research. To solve the problem of lack of teachers, the committee has suggested that, for most undergraduate programmes, the requirement to possess a doctoral degree should be done away with.
Diffusing the RTE minefield
There are so many sectarian minefields in the Right to Education (RTE) Act that one wonders whether this was done deliberately or it is just an example of horrible policymaking. Be that as it may, neutralisation of this act was one of the main demands of core BJP supporters. It’s good to know that the committee is aware of the damage the RTE act is doing.
# Bring minority schools on par with the non-minority ones.
RTE Act puts an obligation on the unaided non-minority schools to admit 25 percent of children under Section 12(1)(c) in classes. Note that the minority schools are exempt. The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of this act in the case of ‘Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan Vs Union of India, (2012) and reiterated the same in the Pramati Judgment (2014).
The panel has recommended that minority institutes should not be exempt from compulsorily admitting 25 percent students from economically weaker sections. While this is not what the doctor ordered, it’s a welcome change.
Remember, while applying the law to all the schools, minority or majority has to be a fundamental principle and will ensure parity, it won’t automatically put a stop at the scores of schools that are staring at closure due to huge financial burden they are forced to bear by financing the education of 25 percent of the total intake, for social justice.
Instead, the committee could have recommended a step towards voucher system. At least, one expected it to suggest a pilot programme. Vouchers are state-funded scholarships targeting low-income groups who can use them to attend private schools. Poor students can register themselves at their chosen schools and pay their fees via vouchers issued by the state.
One is afraid to note that such out-of-the-box thinking is conspicuous from the committee’s approach.
# Review ‘no detention’ policy.
The committee has recommended that the no-detention policy should be continued but only up to class V. Currently, no child can be held back or expelled from the school until the end of class VIII. This policy has resulted in poor learning outcomes for students. For example, this Times Of India report says that only 24 percent of class VIII students could read class II textbooks in Maharashtra. One frequently gets to read such news time to time.
Additionally, the committee notes that the number of students failing their class IX examinations has been on the increase in many states. In Delhi, for instance, the number of repeating students as a percentage of total students enrolled in class IX rose from 2.8 percent in 2010 to 13.4 percent in 2014.
Given this dire scenario, the committee’s suggestion come off as half-hearted. Maybe it doesn’t want to ruffle too many feathers. The TSR Committee says detention should be resorted to only as a last option and after giving the child remedial coaching and at least two extra chances. One is afraid this is too little and won’t improve situation much.
# Learning outcomes or infrastructure requirements
Note the ‘in addition’ part. The committee is well aware of the fact that many private schools, located in slums and other congested areas, simply cannot conform to stringent infrastructure norms set by the RTE Act. For such schools there is no space for building additional rooms or providing a playground and hence they are prone to closure. The committee should have recommended to give more weightage to learning outcomes compared to infrastructure norms.
But all is not lost. It has suggested a way out. It has recommended that states should be given flexibility to determine their own norms for infrastructure requirement consistent with local conditions. This should help, however it may not suffice.
It’s time the latter faced the music of the law too.
Reforming And Strengthening Institutions
The committee realises the importance of information technology in education. As we have learnt from the success of massive open online courses, platforms like Khan Academy, online lectures from institutes of global repute like Harvard, the opportunities and potential for a country like India in this field are immense.
IT can act as an aide to the teacher in the classroom, in remedial education, in training of teachers, for adult literacy, in higher education etc. But implementation will be the key. It’s simply not possible to reap the benefits of IT in the education sector and usher in a digital revolution without first providing the digital infrastructure to the remotest of areas. In this regard, the government is failing, as this report shows.
Lastly, it’s very hard for one to talk of education reform and not go on tirade against the coaching ‘epidemic’ or tuition culture. This committee is also not free from that prejudice. It notes that “left to market forces, it has been well established that private coaching increases disparities between classes of students; the relatively well-off segments of the student population can benefit through supplementary coaching, whereas the educationally and socially backward classes generally cannot afford supplementary coaching classes.”
Despite the lamentation, it has diagnosed the problem well. It’s a symptom and not the disease. The committee rightly recognises that coaching classes are a reflection of teaching levels in school and improperly structured curriculum encourages rote learning. One more reason is the attention that a student gets in a tuition class or coaching is far more than what he/she does in school. This is the biggest factor at play in the minds of parents behind sending their kids to these classes.
To sum up, the committee has made many good recommendations. Some would need more deliberation and discussion. Though, the report cannot be called transformational, but if implemented, it will certainly bring in some long overdue changes.
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