CBSE board results were announced last week, students who bravely faced the exams despite the threat of Covid19 pandemic need appreciation and support. CBSE’s decision to not come up with a merit list is a welcome step and gives students a semblance of weathering the storm together. There were so many students scoring above ninety percent with some even getting a perfect hundred that scoring less than ninety had almost become a joke and point of ridicule. ‘Getting ninety and above is so easy’! Sarcasm has its way of saying things that can’t be said otherwise- exams are not evaluating child’s real strength and schools are not providing life skills to children for the world we live in. While the hard work of the students needs to be celebrated, we cannot take our eyes away from the deteriorating standards of our school education and how ill-equipped they are in providing twenty first century skills.
Draft New Education Policy 2019 under the chairmanship of K Kasturirangan had pointed out that India could risk losing ten crore or more of our students to illiteracy due to poor performance in foundational literacy and numeracy. This number might greatly rise as students under the risk of losing education due to the Covid19 pandemic are still being assessed. Education of our children has suffered the most during the Covid19 pandemic and exposed the huge gaps in access that divide the children economically and geographically. The pandemic has given educationists and policy experts a reason to step back and look afresh on the status of our education. Kasturirangan report talked of making India a ‘Knowledge Economy’ and the fact that our country’s demographic dividend is fast depleting leaves us only over two decades to work on it. Truth is that Prime Minister’s vision of Atma Nirbhar Bharat cannot be fully realized without a focus on improving quality of education and this reality isn’t lost on our policymakers. Attempts are being made to make changes, but they are too few, too slow. Hence this crisis needs to be used as an opportunity to bring radical changes in the school structure and curriculum and free our students from the rat race of marks and ranking. After all the students are not merely ‘another brick in the wall’.
In this context two suggestions of the Kasturirangan committee need special focus and implementation. These include shifting from the ‘10+2’ format to ‘5+3+3+4’ model and introduction of ‘School Complex’.
The ‘10+2’ model of schools that we currently see came about as a recommendation of the 1966 Education Commission. It brought in the much required uniformity in the school structure across the country but introduced an inherent rigidity in learning which does not go well with twenty first century skills. This system institutionalized rote learning and equated marks with abilities. Kasturirangan committee suggested we move to a system more conducive for today’s age where the skill of ‘learning how to learn’ is the cornerstone of future jobs. The model of ‘5+3+3+4’ gives time to a student to focus more on foundational skills of literacy and numeracy. Initial five years till grade 2 shall involve activity based learning and improve the cognitive skills of the child. Manjul Bhargava, member of the committee and a fields medal winner says in an interview, ‘The Indian education system at the moment does not give too much attention until Grade 1. But the fact is that 85% of a child’s brain development happens before the age of six. One really has to stimulate children’s mind even before the age of six.’ School till grade 5 will focus on preparatory stage and introduction of core concepts. Structured curriculum will be introduced only in grade 6 with building upon concepts till grade 8. The last four years will involve abstract learning. Introducing concept like gap year to this structure will give a student wholesome experience where they will be better prepared to choose a career.
Similarly, Kasturirangan committee talks of the concept of School Complex. The hard fact of schools in India is that we do not have enough schools preparing kids for higher education. There are only 1,12,637 intermediate or senior secondary schools out of total 15,22,346 schools in India which is just over seven percent. The committee suggested to introduce school complex with a secondary school as the center and primary and upper primary schools as its branch, much like a hub and spoke model. This change in conception of a school from a building to a complex will itself be path breaking. Schools can no longer remain isolated structures with high walls that have no relationship with the society they are part of! The school complex will cause sharing of crucial infrastructure related to sports and labs and bring in greater partnership with the society.
As the saying goes, ‘extra ordinary times require extra ordinary measures’. The challenge of quality education that India faces requires drastic measures. The decisions we take now will be responsible for where we are as a nation a decade later and what happens to the future of of our children. Losing ten crore or more of our children to illiteracy is too big a risk for any nation and we Indians cannot afford this to happen to our future generations, we cannot let them down.
(The article was first published on DailyO platform.)