Par Krishna Bhardwaj
Can one accept it as reasonable that a child who is assumed to have attended school for at least 6 years emerges from it unable to write his name?
“The casualties that are thrown up by the schooling system from time to time are occasions for studies to be conducted, not to make culpable any or all the parties involved in the grooming up of our children. The studies should rather be directed to elicit concrete and applicable solutions to be applied before all is reduced to waste…”
The results of the Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) were published this week. Some 30,000 candidates had participated in this highly competitive examination of the end of primary schooling which opens up the doors of secondary institutions. Results show the same rate of performance as in past years with a little less than 70% of the candidates getting through at different degrees of personal performance. Accordingly, 30% or slightly more have not been able to make it.
We should not be swayed simply by this high rate of casualty in primary education. There is more to it than meets the eye. It is a national tragedy already that there are so many failures. What is more important is the loss of confidence occasioned by such failure in children most of whom come from poor family backgrounds. A consistent failure performance of this order over years has a cumulative effect on the morale of the student population; it goes on adding to numbers of those who finally agree to put themselves in the ranks of those who are henceforth deemed not to be able to “achieve”. It is a heavy price to pay for a society which puts a premium on achievers. It is at the root also of a deeply held feeling of injustice inasmuch as not enough efforts were expended to raise the most handicapped of our children and the families associated with them by putting more resources where there are greater difficulties. Our system, on the contrary, puts more and better resources where there are fewer handicaps. Despite repeated failure of the sort, we have not been able to devise a system that produces better outcomes at this tender age for children.
Can one accept it as reasonable that a child who is assumed to have attended school for at least 6 years emerges from it unable to write his name? Yet, this is a fact for many of the kids who do not make it at the CPE. One wonders whether, instead of simply teaching according to a pre-set curriculum, some dedicated mentors should not have been making regular rounds of schools to ensure that basic skills of literacy and numeracy are attained at the very least by every child engaged in a primary schooling cycle of 6 years. We have a system that has cared the least for such constant follow-up; otherwise, there is no logic on earth to explain how a young child emerging out of a 6-year teaching cycle has not even been empowered to write his own name.
Let us go one stage further. Already, at the CPE level, 30% of the original student population was eliminated altogether from the formal schooling system. The remaining who pursue their schooling up to higher secondary level fare no better. Thus, starting from the original recruitment of about 30,000 students at the primary level, there are barely some 10,000 left to take part in the Higher School certificate examinations which is the last lap in secondary education. A number of cases of school-children found roaming about in the strangest of places during school hours have been reported. This means that there is inadequate effective monitoring of attendance of classes by all concerned. It also means that classes are not acting sufficiently like strong magnets for certain young men and women for them to decide rather that they would be having more interesting things to do outside the classrooms. Somewhere, teacher dedication has gone missing. When there are situations like this, social problems are not too far off. This also means that there is insufficient build-up on the capital investment that was made during the initial years.
We have a well-meaning Minister of Education. The casualties that are thrown up by the schooling system from time to time are occasions for studies to be conducted, not to make culpable any or all the parties involved in the grooming up of our children. The studies should rather be directed to elicit concrete and applicable solutions to be applied before all is reduced to waste. We would normally have expected the University to carry out research to help us solve an enduring situation of failure in the schooling system. It may well be that the University has something to say on those problems and issues. But we need to know what are the solutions proposed. We need to discuss those ideas in public instead of continuing to add to our chapter of failures. We believe the Minister realises the consequences of misdirection taken in various respects which need to be remedied.
It is time to take actions to reverse an unhealthy situation that has lasted too long for it to have any positive consequences on the future of the nation.
* Published in print edition on 17 December 2010