The ‘Cancer’ of Tuitions

In the South Asian culture, unfortunately, the desire to push children ahead in what is seen as a cut-throat, viciously competitive world has manifested in many undesirable approaches that plague the education system and undermine children’s ability to develop holistically with high quality 21st Century skills. Of all of them, few are as malevolent as tuitions. The premise is simple – if my child is to be a winner, then they must just simply spend more time each day being taught, so that they will know ‘stuff’ better and thereby score higher in examinations.

I’ve written on this subject off and on in the past. I believe it makes children jaded towards learning, reinforces a sense that learning is something ‘done to them’ and maybe worst of all creates a perception that learning is purely about quantity, leading to neglect of quality. When a child knows they are going to be taught the same material at least twice in different places all too often this leads them to treat school as their ‘social club’ – a place to have fun with friends and try to get some light relief in their lives. This undermines the value of school, exacerbates discipline issues and is most detrimental for those children whose parents can’t afford the tuitions.

Who delivers these tuitions after school hours and at weekends? All too often the smae teachers who claim to be so committed to the children’s development. Too many of them can’t resist the extra money over and above their teacher’s salary. In major cities parents have been prepared to pay high sums for these tuitions leading to some teachers earning a good deal more than school Principals!!

The Right to Education Act may have had many faults. However, this was one issue on which the Act was very clear and sought to deal with the issue simply and head on. Section 28 of the Act states:

“No teacher shall engage himself or herself in private tuition or private teaching activity.”

Now, when I read that it seems clear, unambiguous and pretty absolute in its terms. Therefore, I struggle to understand why this is apparently insufficient and inadequate to empower authorities to nip this in the bud and bring an end to the menace. However, simple unambiguous words seem to still leave scope for watering down and ambiguity as evidenced by this story from Times of India. despite the simplicity of Section 28, the article suggests that a blanket ban on tuitions only applies to teachers from government schools and colleges. In the case of private school teachers it reintroduces from nowhere the old waffle about teachers being allowed to take tuitions as long as they don’t do it with the pupils of their own school.

Times of India – Tripura High Court Ruling

As long as such ambiguity is permitted this isn’t going away. teachers will collectively have a vested interest in ensuring that the quality of teaching in schools doesn’t reach such a standard that parents feel their children don’t need tuitions. They may be prohibited from working with the children of their own schools but their financial interests can easily be served by looking after each other’s interests. I’ve even come across instances of teachers in schools openly suggesting that a parent should enrol their child for tuitions and giving the names and contact details of their accomplices.

There is a reason, anywhere in the world, why school doesn’t go on for 11 hours a day! Children need time to pursue interests beyond the realm of school, to reflect on their learning and to relax. They also need the vital personal growth that just simply comes from being a child. It’s high time the word as well as the spirit of the law is enforced.

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Education and Politics

I usually steer clear of writing here in the blog on matters which are overtly political. However, this is something on which I feel so strongly, that I feel duty bound to make an exception. The following story is a tragedy to my mind, on at least two levels:

India Today – RTE Budget Slashed

Firstly, we have a government in power here who staked their reputation (supposedly) on what they described to be the most important legislation to impact education in the country in 60 years, but who then callously fail to allocate adequate budgetary funds, and then cut them even further. This is a completely cynical act when you consider that they are bending over backwards to fund things like Aadhar and cash in hand transfers in the short term, believing that with these they will be able to buy the loyalty of voters enough in the next 12 months to retain power in the next election.

Education policy for a country, especially when it’s a country the size of India with an education system so desperately in need of change, has to be a matter for long term planning and commitment from a government that genuinely cares about whether or not the country provides something approximating decent education, as a matter of right, for all. However, here’s all the evidence that the current government are neither serious or genuine in their intent to support the necessary changes in education.

One of the reasons for the passing of RTE (besides a tool for petty local officials to use to manipulate and torture those in the private education sector) was to move India closer to complying with its commitments and obligations under the United Nations Millenium Development Goals. However, this cynical slashing of the budget carries all the hallmarks of lip service and a lack of genuine commitment to meet the needs of the population (even if they are in the best interests of the nation in the longer term)

There’s a second level on which this story disturbs me. It was published on 17th December and yet I have heard barely a whimper in protest from my peers in the education fraternity or from the public as a whole. It’s an over-used saying that you get the leaders you deserve. I have to wonder whether a country that couldn’t even summon the energy to debate and discuss the RTE when the Act was first passed, will sit idly by while the government reneges on every commitment and promise they have made to change and improve the education system to ensure movement towards a fair and reasonable education for all may indeed deserve the government it has got.

The news since 17th December has been dominated by the uproar over the Delhi rape case. Even as the uproar and outrage continues, rapes continue to happen across the country and atrocities against women continue unabated. Discussions of death penalties and chemical castration are not going to provide long term solutions. Just think, anyone committing a rape, sexual assault or even ‘eve teasing’ today is doing so in the full knowledge of the anger and hatred being expressed across the country towards the perpetrators of the Delhi attack. Education does have the potential to bring long term change, to effect long term attitudinal adjustment and gender parity. However, are either the politicians or the population ready to engage in anything more than sticking plaster solutions and knee-jerk reactions? Whilst I can understand that it might take some time for the public mass dialogue on education to become serious and genuine, where are all the voices of the educators, the people in the country who claim to be the ones who both care about children and their needs as well as having the knowledge and skills to bring meaningful change?

Special Needs in Mainstream Education

The Right to Education Act here in India attempts to achieve many ends, regrettably most of them political rather than educational or driven by research-based knowledge of what is good for society. Here, I want to focus on the intention of the Act towards those children with Special Needs (defined in the broadest sense to include those with physical, mental or learning difficulties).

The Act is very simple and straightforward – indicating that every such child should be granted a place in a standard, mainstream school, public or private. At face value this may sound fully justifiable and pursuant to a just, fair, inclusive society. However, before coming to such a conclusion I feel we should be willing to learn from the experiences of other countries (especially when it is an acknowledged fact that their was very little conscious research behind the provisions of the RTE).

In UK, in 1978 Mary Warnock (now Baroness Warnock) chaired a committee on Special Education. The results were far-reaching and radical including a massive shift in focus on educating learning disabled children in mainstream schools.

This trend went on for over 20 years with Baroness Warnock as being a champion of Special Needs rights. However, in 2005 Baroness Warnock shocked the special needs community when she expressed dissatisfaction with the very system that she had helped to create. She went so far as to call it ‘appalling’. By that time, the situation was that so many children had been moved out of specialised schools in to mainstream ones that only 100,000 children remained in the special schools. This meant that many of those children faced very long journeys to and from school. Warnock suggested that all that had been done had been with the very best of intentions, with compassion, intellect and respect for the rights of those with special needs.

However, whilst ideologically sound, the practical outcomes had been an inability to achieve the laudable aims desired. As well as the challenges for the 100,000 students mentioned above, her research indicated that what had been done also failed to meet the needs of the children who had been ‘mainstreamed’. Too often, in what were still largely conventional classrooms in most mainstream schools their special needs were not being adequately met. However, the financial and academic attention given to attempting to meet their needs had often reduced schools’ abilities to meet the needs of all their other pupils. In short, the policy hadn’t really met anyone’s needs very effectively. As a result, Baroness Warnock advocated a reversal of the policy and the establishment of more special schools.

Let us not forget that all that happened in UK – a country that was starting with a mainstream education system that was far better equipped materially and professionally than the public or private schools of India. This was brought home to me when the Education Secretary of Delhi was seeking advice on how to employ/ recruit and/ or train an enormous number of Special Educators to meet the requirements of the Act and orders handed down from the courts.

Most schools in the country lack even the most fundamental and rudimentary tools of inclusion, such as ramps, level ground surfaces, adequate space in classrooms for wheelchairs, audio sound loops in classrooms for the hearing-impaired or safe environments for the visually-impaired. The vast majority of mainstream teachers need to undergo extensive sensitization and inclusion training, along with training in differentiation skills to meet disparate needs of students in a single classroom.

In the circumstances, I believe that a realistic and practical strategy is required, with the following elements;
1) a start should be made on closing the training gaps of teachers, perhaps with a ‘Foundations of Inclusion’ certification course that all would be required to complete within 5 years,
2) expansion of course offerings to develop specialised skills of special educators,
3) Direction of specific funds earmarked from Education Cess (there must be some reason we’re all paying that money!) for establishing Special Schools in all major urban areas and districts with departments/ subsidiary units specialising in different needs (sight, hearing, physical, mental),
4) defined time limits for all public and private schools to address certain core fundamentals for basic accessibility for inclusion, including ramps where possible (otherwise lifts), special toilets etc.
4) A rolling programme, linked to point 1 above in timing, to mainstream children (in both public and private schools), where their conditions place them in the mild to moderate part of the spectrum in terms of their learning difficulties AND where assessment concludes that they can function effectively in large group inclusive learning environments.
5) Where the child does not meet the definition under point 4. above, guaranteed provision of a place in the Special Schools set up under point 2. above.

Just because a Minister sitting in Delhi says something will be a particular way, doesn’t make it so. We have to start from where we are, not where we wish we were. Otherwise, pie in the sky, unrealistic programmes dictated from on high will simply mean lot of ideological angst and guilt whilst little changes practically and those with learning difficulties continue to be treated as marginalised members of society with their needs completely unmet.

I welcome others’ thoughts and views.

How Not to Win Friends & Influence People

The private unaided schools of India are under assault from many directions.

The government, both Central and states are showing every sign that they intend to place the lions share of the implementation burden for The Right to Education Act on the private schools, with little real careful research on all the implications of such experimental social engineering. Particularly since the saga of the Sixth Pay Commission (the pain and the court cases are still going on), the media and press have shown themselves very ready to parade simplistic criticisms to paint the unaided schools as the enemies of the people, as a greedy scourge upon the public.

The schools have really done little to help themselves. The profession is deeply mistrustful (partly due to supply/ demand disparities for quality teachers), meaning that individual schools are all too ready to act in ways that may serve their own short term interests, but which weaken the overall position of the schools collectively.

In the meantime, the government and media take full advantage of the fact that there really is no common voice. For the honest schools that try to operate within the law, strive to deliver quality in education and put children’s interests first it can be difficult to align with all the other schools, knowing that some of them habitually engage in immoral, illegal and wrong practices. Nevertheless, the overall net result is increased vulnerability.

This story from NDTV really highlights just how vulnerable the schools are and how individual schools are contributing to the situation:

NDTV story re Pre Schools

My biggest fear is that this can ultimately lead to scenarios in which the biggest losers will be children and teachers – innocent victims in tragedies that really don’t need to happen. Then, the ultimate loser will be the country as a whole. Failures in the private schools education system can only increase the existing failure to produce sufficient talent to fuel the country’s economic growth

Demographic Dividend or Liability?

Here’s an excellent article that sums up very neatly the issues that will most determine whether a vast young population will be beneficial or detrimental in India’s future:

India Knowledge @ Wharton Article

I believe the writer is correct to conclude that the determining factor between success and failure (disaster?) is education. However, he makes the mistake of focusing entirely on the needs to rectify structural defects in tertiary education, ignoring the vital importance of Primary and Secondary education. Ultimately, Universities must work with the ‘product’ of the schools. Poor school education will churn out vast numbers of youngsters who lack the core skills or desire for real learning necessary to fully benefit from a university education.

When surveying the field currently and assessing the quality of primary and secondary education available in the country, there is cause for considerable concern. The HRD Minister frequently talks of the private sector schools as just 7% of the Indian schools. However, when the small ‘bottom of the pyramid’, unofficial schools are taken in to account it’s considerably greater. Estimates suggest that potentially, as many as 35% of all Indian children are currently being educated in the private sector. Even the humble rickshaw puller would rather find the money to send his child to a private school than be dependent on the moribund government school system. Nevertheless, contrary to all the indications in Right to Education Act implementation, the future solutions lie in root and branch reform of the government schools. Plenty of money is available, but the will and motivation to deliver honestly and to a desirable quality standard has to be developed. In the meantime, overzealous social reformers must not be permitted to destroy the pockets of excellence and good work being achieved in the private sector. Bring private schools down to relieve the embarrassment of the government sector is the best way to ensure a demographic timebomb for the future in India.

Right to Education Act – Information

Here’s a useful link to a ‘one-stop’ site gathering information on all sorts of aspects of the new Right to Education Act. It includes the rules being promulgated in each State, news articles and editorial commentary. It also has information on forthcoming education conferences etc.

RTE Portal
(Click on link above to enter site)

All Piglets are Equal

An interesting perspective on issues happening in Indian school education, especially the impact of Right to Education Act in Delhi.

The writer has identified a risk we already fear specifically relating to a school like ours. Interesting questions – if he’s right and political pressure seeks to make a mockery on EWS admissions in to our school, what should our/ my responsibility be? Give in and let the ‘powers that be’ dictate crooked admissions processes, or stand up to them? And, if we do the latter, will anyone come and bale me out?

Mohit Satyanand Blog Post

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