The Financial Express

Gap between schooling and learning  

Nilratan Halder     | Published: March 07, 2019 22:24:14

Gap between schooling and learning   

In its World Development Report (WDR) 2018, the World Bank has extensively focused on education in the section subtitled, "Learning to Realise Education's Promise". How countries perform in terms of children's education has been thoroughly assessed by the World Bank Group in order to shed light on what makes a country successful and what goes wrong with another. Collectively, the developing countries perform poorly. On an average 60 per cent primary students do not attain learning proficiency on an expected level. But the gaps in schooling and learning are outrageously wide from country to country.

If Bangladesh students learn in 11 years equivalent to just six and a half years' global benchmark (how it has been measured so accurately is however not clear enough), South Korean students by 1995 achieved universal enrolment of high-quality education. War-torn in the early 1950's, it had very low literacy and today its students perform at the highest level of international learning assessment. Vietnam is another highly successful story. In 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) it was found that Vietnam's 15-year-olds were 'performing at the same level as those in Germany'. But the South East Asian country had to fight the world's longest independence war and it is a lower-middle-income country.

Clearly, investment in education is a crucial factor. If a fifth grader cannot have the language proficiency of a second grader and sixth grader lacks the numerical ability of a third grader, the immediate reaction would be to find fault with schooling. But the WDR has delved deep into the social background where biological deprivation on account of poverty coupled with environmental constraints holds back a child's physical and mental growth. Schooling, obviously, is poor in most cases but whatever is taught the children from poor families fail to learn. In the first place, they come unprepared -if they attend schools at all.

Time and again, it has been suggested that quality of teachers matter. In this country, teachers are not trained adequately although the training period is not short. There are countries where training period is shorter but effective enough to prepare them for doing their job competently. In this country, education has been subjected to various unnecessary experiments without really making it suitable for the purpose. The examination-based education has further thrown it into confusion. Today, commercial coaching has spread its root at the primary level courtesy of the primary school-ending public examinations.

Here the focus is on achievement of higher grade and children are burdened with books so much that they tend to consider schooling a torture. But learning should have been an enjoyable exercise and experience. The notion that young people have to be competitive and selfish enough is injected in them to poison their minds from an early age. An all-round development of human minds remains illusive under the current education system.

Even then it was found that a worker from Bangladesh spends more years in education than one from France. This points to the fact that something is seriously wrong with the early education in Bangladesh. The deficiency in nutrition among children from poor families, low level of teachers' training, lack of job satisfaction for teachers have been exacerbated by inadequate investment in education and society's lack of active participation in governance. Instead, political cronies have made the matter worse when it comes to good governance of school administration. Even corruption at this level has been pervasive enough to push back progress made in schooling in the past.

The challenge is daunting no doubt but not invincible. If right approaches are made, things can gradually improve for the better. As a first step, children from poor families have to be helped out of the poverty trap under a social programme. A feeding programme may help avert stunting of children in such families. Mere enrolment will produce no positive result unless their sound physical growth is assured. Bangladesh has attained a financial status where poor children can be given special treatment for their physical well-being.

The next thing is to ensure that the class rooms become participatory, attractive and enjoyable. At no point should teacher-student relations be grounded on fear and suspicion. The onus is, of course, on teachers who will take to the profession for the love of it. Their effort must be helped by appropriate syllabi and academic and extra-curricular activities. The atmosphere should be congenial to developing the latent talents of each student so that they do not have to pay heavily for wrong selection of specialised subjects in higher classes.

Last but not least is the involvement of society with management of schools where no political intervention will be entertained. Students will be at the centre of things and their welfare will be at the top of the agenda. Local people with credentials for education and love for young ones should be involved with such social responsibilities. If society does not take this responsibility and the government does not take it into confidence, the country's education cannot attain the quality Vietnam and South Korea have done within a short span of time.


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