Primary education lays the foundation for education at higher levels and if the foundation is weak then the student finds it very difficult to cope with higher levels of learning, as he grows older. This is the main reason why Haryana is not producing adequate number of students of the academic caliber required to compete with students from other states in this digital age.
It is important to review the present state of the education system and its success in the state.
A broad review of the challenges in school education in Haryana
On studying the Annual Status of School Report 2010 (ASER 2010) put out by the Department of Elementary Education, Government of Haryana, one can see the student academic progress between the years 2007-2010.
Children start their education process from pre-school and move onto nursery as the first step to formal education. According to ASER 2010, if we look at the students in class I i.e. the 2nd year after nursery and see their level of proficiency in reading basic text, we find 18.60% can't read at all, 42.4% can read letter but not more, 21.9% can read word but not more, only 8.5% can read Standard I text. This is quite dismal and worrying as the statistics are not good for all classes right up to Class VIII, as per the report. The problem starts at the nursery level and continues to be a challenge as the student progresses to higher classes.
When we compare the performance of the state government-run schools vs private-run schools, we find the government-run schools are under-performing on all parameters as compared to private schools. However, it must be noted that the private schools, though better than government schools, are not performing to the desired standard that is required to produce students of a high caliber.
If we look at the figures for a period 2007 to 2010 and look at the performance of students of class III, we find that around 54% of the students can't read text prescribed for class I. While 28-30% students can't do the same either, in private sector schools. Similar trends are seen for parameters like basic number recognition, addition etc, and critical thinking plus everyday calculations.
So clearly there is a failure on part of both the government-run schools as well as the private ones. So what is holding back the system and why are the caliber of students so poor, despite having spent so much time at school?
There are several reasons for this poor performance and it starts from the nursery level. Let's look at the challenges faced by parents and children.
State government-run primary schools
Unfortunately, for all successive governments in Haryana, especially the current one, primary schools have been viewed as sectors where you can address the political pressure for jobs and get people recruited, irrespective of their qualification, training or suitability as a teacher. While this should have been viewed as a serious activity, as this lays the foundation for a child, instead this has become the first step of failure in the education system. And this borne out by the ASER 2010 report.
The quality of teaching staff is extremely poor and most lack the aptitude and interest in teaching, as many take up the job for salary rather than contributing to the child's future. This along with the fact that the teachers do not know how to differentiate between children with different abilities of learning nor are they trained to handle them. The teachers are clueless about modern methods of teaching using latest teaching aids. Most lack in motivation to take any initiative to make teaching an interesting experience.
The schools have very poor infrastructure and most are in a poor state of maintenance. The toilets are terrible with most children preferring not to use them. The schools lack electricity through peak summers and the children have to sit through the heat in bad conditions. All of this contributes to an extremely poor environment that discourages any motivation to learn.
Privately-run primary schools
While the standard of teachers are slightly better in these schools, they lack adequate numbers of good quality and talented teachers since the salary offered is usually pretty low. In addition, the management of schools are driven by keeping costs as low as possible, therefore they cut corners when it comes to teachers training and quality.
As the new government rules, all private schools are supposed to earmark 10% seats for students from Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and 20% in schools where subsidized land has been given by the government. Despite these provisions, schools try and recruit in the open quota to collect the maximum fees.
Then again, whereever there is a shortfall in the targeted collection, on account of students of EWS category, the school resort to collecting additional money from parents on some pretext of the other. All of these impact the overall teaching quality to young children when the maximum attention should be given at the foundation stage itself.
Parents also suffer at the hands of unscrupulous management who don't have any hesitation collecting money from hapless parents under the garb of capitation fees that they collect under the management quota. Many are also reported to employ touts who act as front men on behalf of the school management.
Given the fact that there are too many students seeking admission against very few available seats, the schools are resorting to an interview system, which mostly serve as opportunities for the management to demand money from parents that seem to be able to afford it.
Lack of action from State Government
The Hooda administration is fully aware of all the problems mentioned above in the government and private schools but has refrained from taking any action against the managements, as many of them are politically influential and also use school admissions as an opportunity to favour select persons.
Instead of playing politics with school children, the state government should have been focusing its attention on improving the overall teaching quality, methodology and introducing modern teaching aids to make learning an interesting process wherein the children look forward to coming to school. This along with significantly higher investment on improving and maintaining the physical infrastructure of primary schools was urgently needed but never materialised.
This administration had 10 years to change the face of education in Haryana but has done very little in terms of improving the environment for learning in schools.
It's time for a new approach to school education, at all levels. It's time for a Naya Haryana to take shape, one that will make Haryana a foremost state for learning and development.