a year ago

Can the Education Act cure mounting maladies?

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The draft Education Act now under review of the Cabinet Division for the fifth time since 2011 is supposed to help implement the National Education Policy (NEP) 2010. If approved by the cabinet ministers, it is going to be the first such law in the country. When it concerns as important an issue as education, the very idea of a supportive law for an education policy, looked objectively, is anachronistic.  

Ideally, should not an education policy be enough? If there is a need for any such legislative provision, it should be the recognition of the right to education for all, creation of enabling environment for the children of the underprivileged, disadvantaged and poor families to receive unhindered education and removal of discriminations among educational institutions and all teaching staff of different schools and colleges. All this calls for required investment first.  

Universal primary education may be high on the wish list but it has no legal sanction. Without attending the more pressing needs and important aspects, it is futile to engage in a tug of war over coaching centres, private tuition, notes and guide books. All this has turned into a chronic malady because of misplaced priority in education. No wonder, the latest draft Education Act placed before the cabinet for approval could not be decisive enough about total elimination of out-of-school learning help. In fact, even the best of teaching manuals and methods cannot rule out such extra care for the laggards.  

In this country too, private tutoring was prevalent because of the systemic weakness of schooling. Then teachers offered intensive coaching on subjects considered 'hard' to candidates of public examinations for a month or two in order to better prepare them for those exams. But this was mostly without any charge or fees. The question of commercialisation of private coaching did not arise at all. This does, however, in no way justify notebooks and guides which only encourage learning by rote without comprehension of the subject or problems. Even mathematical problems are memorised in order to reproduce those in the exam papers. Thus students score high in exams but before long forget those. In higher classes, where scholarship is the sine qua non, such students do not prevail. 

So, doing away with such intervention by teachers or tutors is more daunting for countries that have inherited a legacy of the colonial education system. Even that legacy has allowed further decline because of inclusion of purposeless contents and their contorted presentation in text books when the overriding need is to present those as legibly as humanly possible for young learners. Together with this, teachers' aptitude and love for the profession make a difference. Revision of the curricula and training for teachers should be an on-going process in order to get updated with the latest developments. As an extension of an agreeable teaching method in class rooms, tests and examinations should not prove to be a heavy burden on young learners in particular. They must develop an abiding inquisitiveness for knowledge and once this is encouraged rather than strangled by heaping on them uninspiring exercises, there is nothing to be worried about evaluation of their performances in examinations.  

Yet the reality today is that the National Education Policy with all its limitations seeks to bring about some changes for the better. After allowing decades of directionless journey where the education system has monopolised benefits for the privileged, even such changes are welcome. It should be noted here that two other streams of education---English medium and Madrasha education ---remain out of purview of the NEP. Students of the English medium schools are competing globally with remarkable success in exams. With enviable performances, these schools are, however, producing a band of educated youths, barring rare exception, with hardly any attachment to their motherland. 

So long there was no need for any education law, nor do the English medium schools need any for success. Then why does the general education system need one? The answer is simple: to remove the mounting irregularities and even criminal practices that appear to be normal now. After all, in an ideal condition, educating the young ones by teachers hardly leaves any room for aberration and crime, provided that the objective is pursuance of knowledge. Unfortunately, the virus is in the antidote.  

The teaching profession has been neglected so much and for so long that unqualified and unfit candidates have crowded the corridors of educational institutions. Meagre salaries have failed to attract scholars to this profession at the primary and secondary levels. In fact, the majority of teachers themselves needed teaching support from note and guidebooks. Thus the multiple choice question (MCQ) method earned disrepute and instead of encouraging creative urge and developing a positive outlook, the grade system has only proved counterproductive.  

This latest move to ban note and guidebooks is also likely to fall flat because there have reportedly been provisions for production of such teaching aid with special permission. The important thing is to cure the cause of the malady not the symptom and side effects. For making education agreeable and a pleasant pursuance of knowledge, the number one condition is creation of a well-equipped batch of teachers. Then the curricula have to be recast by putting in charge gifted scholars to do the job. This needs investment many times more than the around 2.0 per cent of the GDP in education. Are the policymakers ready for this?          

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