Concern spreads to schools

New Delhi, Feb. 6: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today voiced concern over poor teaching standards in schools and learning outcomes that were "far below" expectations, continuing his criticism of India's education system a day after he highlighted flaws at the higher level.

Addressing the golden jubilee celebrations of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS), Singh said the government had enacted the Right to Education Act, which ensures legal right to education for every child, and cited the midday meal scheme that had reduced dropout rates.

"But the standard of teachers and teaching is not up to the mark and learning outcomes are far below what we want them to be," he said, adding that dropout rates were still "high" after the elementary level.

"Some major concerns relating to equity also remain to be addressed," he said, referring to inclusion of every section.

The comments, that outlined the challenges ahead for schools, followed a day after he told a conference of vice-chancellors that higher education institutions were not keeping "abreast" of changes and producing graduates who were not employable.

Singh's views today came a few days after an NGO, Pratham, showed a declining trend in learning outcomes among children in its Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). The ASER study, conducted over the last seven years, found that in 2010, 46.3 per cent of all children in Standard V could not read a Standard II text. The percentage increased to 51.8 in 2011 and to 53.2 in 2012.

In 2010, of all children enrolled in Standard V, 29.1 per cent could not solve simple two-digit subtractions with borrowing. The percentage increased to 39 in 2011 and to 46.5 per cent in 2012.

Policymakers and educationists agreed with Singh's assessment. Junior HRD minister Shashi Tharoor said the problem of learning outcomes among children was because of the poor quality of teachers' education programmes. "There is great deficiency in teachers' training practices," Tharoor, who heads a panel to suggest ways to improve teacher training courses, told The Telegraph. "It is important to address the issue."

A Supreme Court-appointed panel headed by former Chief Justice J.S. Verma had also articulated the problem, he said. "In certain states, the Verma commission found that education offered by just 10 per cent of teachers' training colleges was satisfactory."

The Verma panel had recommended pre-entry testing of candidates for admission to teacher education programmes, increased investment in teacher education and audit of schools. The recommendations are under the consideration of the government.

A study by industry body CII found that teacher training institutions were not using technology. "We have suggested improvement of quality of teachers' education by use of technology and better… curriculum. There has to be clear-cut career progression for teachers so that talented people will come for teaching," said Sougata Roy Choudhury, director, school education, at the CII.

Madhulika Sen, the principal of Tagore International School in Delhi, said government institutions were not run properly. "You have 60 to 70 children in one class, there is no accountability on the part of teachers and teachers are often sent on election duty," she said. "How can you expect quality education?"

At the KVS event, the Prime Minister emphasised the need for "an educated and skilled workforce" that would help the economy "expand and become more productive".

Singh asked the Kendriya Vidyalayas to help set benchmarks for schools located in areas near them.