What are the areas of common ground in the ongoing debate on improving school education in India to provide a quality education for all children? The points of contention seem to get more attention and are often amplified in the public debate, while the points of agreement are forgotten.
I’ve tried to list out the areas of agreement, which can be termed 'axioms', that could serve as the common ground to build on.
For clarity on what I mean by axioms, the dictionary definitions of axiom are as follows:
- a statement or proposition that is regarded as being established, accepted, or self-evidently true. (Oxford)
- a statement or principle that is generally accepted to be true, but need not be so (Cambridge)
- a maxim widely accepted on its intrinsic merit (Merriam-Webster)
- a statement accepted as true as the basis for argument or inference (Merriam-Webster)
- an established rule or principle or a self-evident truth (Merriam-Webster)
A couple of caveats - the axioms listed below are not in any specific order of importance or in any sense complete. Some of the axioms listed below may not reflect the current ground realities. The axioms focus on areas of common agreement on the way things ought to be, rather than the way they are now.
Axioms of education reform in India
- Every single child must have the opportunity to get a high quality school education upto the age of 17 years (class XII level).
- Education is a public good. The Government must fund the education of every single child till completion of high school.
- Children of all backgrounds must be encouraged to be in school together. Stratification of children based on any criteria like class, income, caste, religion etc. should be discouraged.
- A substantial majority of parents today want their children to get a school education. Parents are willing to spend a good part of their income to give their kids what they perceive as the 'best education' within their means.
- More and more middle and upper class parents in the urban areas, and in rural areas too in recent years, are sending their children to private schools.
- An increasing number of poorer parents too are opting to pay to educate their children in private schools, even when there are government schools nearby providing free education, free uniforms, free noon meals, free notebooks and textbooks etc..
- The existing number of schools in the country (including both government and private schools) aren’t enough to educate all our children - we need many more schools.
- The existing number of teachers aren’t enough to educate all our children - we need many more teachers.
- Teachers matter – teachers play an important role in guiding, inspiring, and helping children learn and live up to their potential.
- Outcomes matter –
- all children should have learnt the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic in primary school, and
- all children should have an acceptable level of mathematical and scientific literacy and reading comprehension, and be able to think critically and express and articulate their thoughts and ideas, by the time they leave high school.
- Every school must be accountable to the parents of the children studying in the school as well as to the larger local community for the outcomes mentioned above.
- The focus of the State has so far been largely on inputs (more spending, more schools, more classrooms, more facilities in each school, more teachers etc..) , but it has to shift to ensuring the outcomes mentioned above.
- A substantial majority of parents strongly believe that English medium education is the key to a brighter future for their children, although many studies show that children learn better when taught in their native language, especially in primary school.
- Our current evaluation system, especially at the school leaving levels, is a test of the ability to provide expected answers to template questions, rather than a test of the levels of understanding and learning, or skills like critical thinking or expressing ones understanding in one’s own words.
- The one and only job of teachers must be to educate children. Teachers should not be drafted by the Government to do other unrelated work like conducting the census or organizing elections etc., which takes away weeks and months at a time from their core activity of educating children.
- Education must be regulated by the State to ensure that all government and private schools maintain basic infrastructure and quality standards as well as minimum standards for learning outcomes.
- Profiteering by schools (making profits through illegal or unethical means or exploiting the desperation of parents and charging fees far beyond costs) should not be tolerated. Schools that are found to be profiteering should be penalized after following a due process.
- An educated citizenry is a must for India to develop and grow economically and socially. Conversely, an uneducated citizenry can lead to social, economic and political disaster, especially so in today’s India, given the large percentage of young people with very high aspirations.
- Although it has been a stated goal of allocating 6% of GDP for public expenditure on education ever since the Kothari Commission proposed it in 1968, we have never been able to spend more than 4.3% of GDP on education till date and haven’t spent more than 4% of GDP in the past decade.
- Given the current economic situation in the country, the amount of public funding available for school education is likely to be less than desired for the foreseeable future. Private funding of education is likely to increase in the future.
I'm sure there are axioms that I've missed. What are they? Some of the axioms listed may not seem as axiomatic to you as to me. Do chime in with comments, if you feel so.
In the next post, I will list out the points of contention in the ongoing debate on what needs to be done to achieve universalisation of schooling in India.