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Voices of Youth: How Can We Mainstream and Sustain Student Learning in India?

Garima Agarwal's picture

The state of India’s school education does not paint a very pretty picture. No doubt a whopping 97% of all children between the ages of 6-14 years in rural India are enrolled in school. However, national school attendance averaged just about 70%, dipping below 60% for populous states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. Performance was much worse. Amongst the standard 5 kids surveyed, over half could not read a standard 2 level text fluently and more than one-third could not do basic standard 2 level subtraction.

India’s problem is not so much about getting children into school anymore. We now face the far more complex issue of keeping them there and ensuring effective learning. Crumbling public infrastructure, poverty, corruption, lack of attractive compensation and training for primary school teachers and a lack of awareness among uneducated rural parents about their child’s progress at school are huge obstacles in the path to educational attainment.

No doubt, the going is uphill for the government. ASER 2011 found that less than 20% children had access to any print material at home. Also only about half the mothers in the sample had ever attended school. These children, therefore, have no help at home. It has been observed that in such cases private tuition has helped achieve better educational outcomes. Indeed, ASER 2011 found that 25% of children between 6-14 years of age were taking tuition. Parents are willing to spend this extra amount for quality education.

Given the increasing demand for tuition, let us find some way of providing extra help to students at a national scale. One way to do this is for government schools to run remedial classes before or after school. College students and young professionals can contribute their services part time to such activities for a nominal incentive. In addition to easing the burden on regular staff, this will also keep teachers on their toes.

As an alternative to government organized classes, these programs can be outsourced to social enterprises and philanthropic organizations. They can be given responsibility of specific districts in a state and be allowed to charge a nominal fee for classes. Private players are very effective at publicizing their efforts and achievements and this can help the initiative gain momentum. This might even bring in a spirit of healthy competition amongst participants and help ensure better quality of service.

Given the scope for private involvement in education, the government must move away from a monopolistic mindset towards schooling. Government schools must realize that they have to compete for students since alternatives are available. Perhaps a government sponsored coupon system for schooling can help ease the economic pressure of opting out of government schools for some parents. The point is that we need to consolidate all possible resources to ensure that our children are learning well. Government schools, private schools and NGOs can co-exist, while maintaining quality checks on each other. Social audits can help highlight laggards and high achievers in the education sector to keep consumers well informed about available options.

One of India’s biggest failings in service delivery is that of consistency and transparency. Most countries have approached education in conventional ways by building up an efficient public sector. And it has worked. The presence of new entities on so called ‘government turf’ can provide both complementarities and much needed competition.

Comments

Submitted by Ram Bansal on
My dear Garima, It seems that you have never lived in an Indian village, and have information limited to provided by government agencies looking after education of children. I was born and lived in a village up to the age of 12, then moved to a city to get educated up to Engineering Degree from University of Roorkee in 1971 but remained in touch with the village. Then, I worked in public and private sector industries, as a free-lance consultant. And now for the last 12 years, living in my village Khandoi of Bulandshahr district in U.P. with the objective of improving quality of public services to villages and taught some students in the beginning, but am now fully frustrated. About the reasons enumerated by you for low quality education, I beg to differ with you in totality. 1. The attendance shown in government schools is not for education but for cornering huge public money given free to the department in the names of stipends, books, dresses, and mid-day meals. Whole system from school teachers to the ministry level officials are involved in this racket. The real attendance is nearly 30 percent with a majority opting for private institutions. 2. There are teachers in the schools, funds and other infrastructure for education but all are misplaced. To get a real view of the situation, please visit my village. 3. Today, even the poorest people do their best to get their children educated, but the corrupt government officials don't allow this. 4. Regular primary school teachers get the highest salaries for their work of 4 hours while living in their villages. Even temporary teachers known as 'Shiksha Mitra' are also taken good care in terms of compensation and job security. Therefore, it is only the corrupt government system that is accountable for low quality of education to children in villages. Even cities are no better.

Submitted by Garima on
Dear Sir, Thank you for your comment. I do agree that enrollment numbers are not an indication of educational attainment. That is, in fact, the point I am making. With respect to corruption, it is quite likely that the situation is as bad as you say. However I am not in a position to make any claims until further research.

Most of the NGOs in India are working in elementary / primary education, with hardly any looking at the critical stage of secondary, higher, adult and technical education. This article shares an interesting thought of NGOs or social enterprises to enter into education beyond balwadi's, to be precise from 2nd standard onwards and then in secondary education, take courses to bridge the gap. NGOs can get sponsors and most importantly, this has the potential to create huge volunteering opportunity for youth, or, some nominal earning for unemployed youth who can be paid some honorarium. Wonderful. We will promote this idea across districts of India through IndianNGOs.com and DevelopedNation.org and invite NGOs to pick it up and work with or without us.

Submitted by Garima on
Dear Sir, Thank you for your response. It would indeed be useful if something like this can be actively taken up. I believe Pratham and the Naandi foundation are already involved in such programs.

Most of the NGOs in India work in primary education, the idea of getting local youth involved in bridging the gap has multiple dimensions. It will help students, it will help youth - specially they can be paid some honorarium, if they are unemployed, and it will help start a big volunteering movement across the country. We will promote the idea from IndianNGOs.com for NGOs across India and from DevelopedNation.org for NGOs in 195 countries of the world.

Many innovative models are now emerging to encourage and support learning among poor students. One such approach is "Performance Linked Conditional Cash Transfer (PLCCT)" - called Learning Rewards Model, which has been implemented in some slums in Delhi by an organiztaion called Shiksha Sankalp Foundation. The model involves monthly stipends proportional to performance in periodic grade-specific tests conducted by the organization. The stipends vary from Rs.200 to Rs.900 per month, and are subject to change every four months depending on pertformance in the next test. The organization does NOT run schools, remedial classes or tuition centers. On their own, the parents enroll shildren into tuition centers and into better schools using the stipend money. Very interesting results are being observed in this experiment, including improved learning, greater parent attention to education, increased enrollment in private tuition classes, emergence of many new private tuition centers from within and outside the community, increased interaction between school and parents etc. To learn more, you could visit their website: www.shikshasankalp.org.

Submitted by Garima on
This seems like a great idea - like merit scholarships. I will read up more from your website. I wonder how schools are monitored to give honest feedback to the organization giving these performance incentives.

Submitted by Shankara narayanan on
Ya... This is the way to improve and sustain student learning in India. We are already having lot of social sector schemes especially for education. The problem is with the implementaion. This article mentioned the existing problems and suggusted remedial measures.

Submitted by Anonymous on
how about the street children who do not have money or shelter but have an interest to go to schools and study.they collect waste material on roads and lead a disaster life.or sometimes they even work as labour and take the daily wages.this is the pathetic condition of India.

Submitted by Kris Sid on
In order for any tuition scheme to work out I believe the tuition racket needs to be addressed where it seems that teachers give minimal effort in school classes almost forcing children to pay and attend the teachers' private tuition classes. Though there may be many earnest teachers giving private coaching there needs to be stronger incentives, be they financial and/or moral, to keep even honest teachers on the right track. Somehow going beyond competion between tuition programs and fostering some healthy competition between schools or between schools and the tuition programs may prevent some of this from happening. As far as education beyond primary school is concerned, I believe that things like reservation also need to be taken into account. Widening the door of opportunity is wonderful for those historically marginalized but it does take its toll on the higher education system, the job market and eventually national infrastructure. And increasing reservation seems to be a growing trend in politics over recent years. At this point I am not advocating an end to reservation but pointing out the need to address its specific needs in education. Personally I have been involved in one such school that I believe is effective in preparing such children for higher education, giving underprivileged children not only the knowledge but confidence they need to succeed in a mixed caste world (http://www.asha-deep.com). It is apparent that teachers at this school have an inherent moral drive to give the children an education that will help them succeed in life. Can this be replicated in other schools? As you said, the battle is all uphill.

Submitted by Minakashi on
Thanks Garima for this wonderful post , In our country specially in rural areas average of primary education comparison with other countries is very short . so our government should take powerful steps to icrease the average of primary eduation in rural areas . In rural areas government should provide the free private tution services because parents are willing to spend money on private tution for quality education.

Submitted by Minakashi on
Thanks Garima for this wonderful post, In our country specially in rural areas average of primary education comparison with other countries is very short . so our government should take a powerful steps to increase the average of primary eduation in rural areas. In rural areas government should provide the free private tution services because parents are willing to spend money on private tution for quality education.

Submitted by Arun B Chandran on
Thumps up for the wonderful post. As majority of the young population after positive demographic transition in India is going to be concentrated in areas of Orissa,Bihar,Uttar Pradesh etc. This population can be a boon to India only if proper education is imparted in the young people of these area. I think its also essential to discuss on the higher education system in India. There are not enough institutions (in terms of both quality and quantity) in the country to absorb the students coming out of secondary schools. This problem is expected to increase if proper care is not given in to the issue.

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