prime concern: Education
Not all’s well in the classroom
By Aditi Tandon
The discourse in India’s education sector has finally begun to change. For the first time in 65 years of Independence,  policymakers are asking a question that many feel they should have asked right from the start: What goes on inside India’s classrooms?

last word: Gurvinder Singh
A golden feather in Gurvinder’s cap
By Nonika Singh
blind horse metamorphosed into a Golden Peacock for Gurvinder Singh, the young, hands-on and grounded director, standing tall but with feet on terra firma. Rarely has a filmmaker created such a stir. That too in the realm of Punjabi cinema, in which a handful of films mired in stereotype formulas are anyway made.







prime concern: Education
Not all’s well in the classroom
By Aditi Tandon
Many government schools don’t even have proper classrooms
CENTRE OF LEARNING: Many government schools don’t even have proper classrooms.

The discourse in India’s education sector has finally begun to change. For the first time in 65 years of Independence, policymakers are asking a question that many feel they should have asked right from the start: What goes on inside India’s classrooms?

Studies have revealed that learning outcomes for children in Indian schools are far below the corresponding levels in other countries and their learning trajectories remain flat as they move up. The trend reflects weak teaching processes, where instruction remains an uninteresting routine marked by little happy engagement between teachers and students.

The starkest finding of three consecutive Annual Status of Education Reports published by Pratham, a community-based organisation, reveals more than half of class V students across India’s government primary schools can’t read basic class II text. This is disturbing as 80 per cent children aged between 6 and 14 years are enrolled in government schools.

The government had known for long that school learning was a problem, only it was silent about the rot. The school curriculum development body, NCERT (functions autonomously under the Ministry of HRD), conducted two rounds of national learners and achievement surveys that reflected poor learning at all school levels.

While 61.89 per cent of class III students knew their maths at the end of 2008, only 48.46 per cent in class V and 42.71 per cent in class VIII knew the skill. In languages, 67.84 per cent class III graders had the articulation and expression skill at the end of 2008, as against 60.31 per cent class V students and 56.57 per cent class VIII students.

The NCERT says learning levels across two surveys of 2003-04 and 2007-08 improved considerably. But subsequent independent researches by Pratham (2009, 2010 and 2011) and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that conducts annual learning assessment of students across the world through its programme for international student assessment (PISA), proved otherwise.

PISA findings shocked India’s policy planners who participated in it for the first time, only to know that 15-year-olds in the country’s best states — Tamil Nadu and Himachal — finished second last, beating only Kyrgyztan in the rankings of 73 nations for reading, maths and science abilities.

These researches could not have come at a better time, considering India is finalising its 12th Plan strategy, which for the first time acknowledges that despite high levels of enrollment, the value added by formal education is still very low.

Weak learning outcomes

Poor quality of education, resulting in weak learning outcomes, is a challenge for the education sector today, admits the strategy, saying the major focus of the Plan will be to measure and improve learning outcomes, with a clear recognition that increasing inputs (schools, classrooms and teachers) will by themselves not be enough to ensure quality education.

“Quality is going to be the focus. We have to ensure that measurable learning goals are defined and mechanisms evolved to test them,” Kapil Sibal, former HRD Minister, had said ahead of the Cabinet reshuffle.

The plan is to devote resources to develop objective, achievable measurements of students; promote learning; and encourage states to define learning goals and measure them independently. National performance standards for teachers are also being mooted, along with a system of performance-based appraisal on a teacher’s competency and efforts to transact learning-related processes in class and improve outcomes.

Exercising caution

Experts are, however, wary of the heightened stress on learning outcome testing of students. They fear the system might result in the sort of backlash the US is witnessing against the “no child left behind” policy of former President George Bush, which focused on student testing to improve quality. But it became a means of punishing teachers, cutting their salaries and transferring them for poor performance.

“We must be careful considering our low capacity to train teachers to deliver such standards,” says educationist Vinod Raina, member of the HRD Ministry committee that drafted the Right to Education (RTE) Bill. Raina, also a member of the Central Advisory Board of Education, is for low stakes testing of students like the continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE), as advocated by the RTE Act and adopted by CBSE schools. The Planning Commission is proposing a high stakes testing meant to influence policy.

But the strategy is clear in its objective of going all out to test outcomes to improve them and use reporting of learning outcomes to have states deliver quality education. In the process, flaws in the system of instruction have been acknowledged, enabling rectification. There is realisation that focus on access has led to the neglect of learning which sustains through the school and manifests in dangerous forms later.

Scientific talent declining

Government data shows that science and maths education at secondary and senior secondary levels is very poor. As many as 80 per cent of all students who fail in class X boards do so due to poor knowledge of science, maths and English. This results in low transition rate of students from class X to class XI science, as reflected in the less than 12 per cent share of students in undergraduate science streams.

Catching them young

Krishan Lal, president, Indian Science National Academy, says: “If you want students to develop a scientific temper, you must allow them to flourish when they are young. School curriculum needs to be reviewed urgently for it to become interesting rather than mechanical.”

Policy planners are thinking of exempting engineering graduates from GATE test (needed for PhD courses). A call will be taken by the Standing Committee of the IIT Council (SCIC), an executive sub-group of the apex decision-making body of the IITs, at a meeting on November 5.

An important strategy in the Plan will be to teach students in their home language. Evidence shows most students in the Hindi belt are unable to cope with the basic textbook Hindi as they speak Maithili or Bhojpuri at home. The focus will be on bridge courses for students whose home language is different from the textbook language, Sibal had said. His successor MM Pallam Raju has promised to “carry forward Sibal’s good work”.

The change in thinking comes at the right time, with the review of the 11th Plan showing few targets on education have been met. The RTE deadline of March 31, 2013, is set to be extended as only 4.8 per cent of 13 lakh elementary schools (class I-VIII) have all nine facilities that the Act mandates, including toilets, ramps, one classroom per teacher, playgrounds and libraries.

RTE deadline stays

HRD Minister MM Pallam Raju has announced that the government would not extend the RTE deadline beyond March 31, 2013, as planned by his predecessor Kapil Sibal. On his plans to meet the deadline in four months (schools are short of 13.5 lakh teachers), he says: "Our commitment to meet the deadline is the plan. We will inspire, coax, and threaten states to meet the targets."

UP and Bihar have already said in the November 9 meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education that they cannot meet the RTE deadline. Sibal had kicked off the process of consultation to extend the deadline, lest parents and litigants take the government to court for failing to guarantee the legal entitlements under the RTE law.


Plan targets not met

  • Eliminate dropout at primary level; rate still 28.86%
  • Cut dropout rate at elementary level (class VIII) from 50% to 20%; current rate 42.39%
  • Eliminate gender gap; parity index 0.93 (primary), 0.94 (upper primary)
  • Universalise preschool education; only 47% enrolled under in Integrated Child Development Services
  • Improve gross enrolment ratio; just 49% (higher secondary), much below China and Thailand

Areas of concern

  • Learning outcomes in schools far below those of other countries
  • Decline in learning as students move up the pyramid
  • Over half of class V students in government primary schools can’t read class II text
  • Science & maths education at secondary, senior secondary levels poor
  • Scientific temper declining
  • Only 4.8 per cent of 13 lakh elementary schools have all facilities RTE Act mandates

Teaching models

The 12th Plan strategy advocates replication of activity-based learning models of Tamil Nadu, Gunotsav model of Gujarat and Purrho Punjab model.

China far ahead

  • PhD output from science, engineering streams is 50,000 annually while India’s is 9,000.
  • Produces 12% of the world’s research publications in science and engineering as against India’s 3%.
  • Shanghai province topped reading, maths and science charts in the ranking of 73 nations. India finished second last.



last word: Gurvinder Singh
A golden feather in Gurvinder’s cap
By Nonika Singh

Sandeep Joshi

A blind horse metamorphosed into a Golden Peacock for Gurvinder Singh, the young, hands-on and grounded director, standing tall but with feet on terra firma.

Rarely has a filmmaker created such a stir. That too in the realm of Punjabi cinema, in which a handful of films mired in stereotype formulas are anyway made. But just as Gurvinder's debut film, "Anhe Ghode da Daan" (Alms For a Blind Horse), which has won accolades ever since it got its first award at the 5th Abu Dhabi Film Festival, picks up yet another coveted honour (Golden Peacock at the International Film Festival of India, Goa), the young filmmaker himself remains rather reticent about his achievements that many hail as pioneering.

Subject of intellectual discourse

Gurvinder is grateful to the power above. He is touched by the numerous fan mails and hundreds of congratulatory messages that are pouring in, including those from men of eminence like Punjabi poet Surjit Patar and Prof Bhupinder Singh, since the award was announced on Friday.

He is surprised and flattered that a man from Fazilka has penned a paper on his film. However, as he takes a bow, what gladdens his heart is not personal glory, but the fact that Punjab finally has a serious audio-visual cultural text that can be debated and can be part of the intellectual discourse.

So, what is it about this film that has bowled over critics, made it stand out at festivals abroad and in India, earning him the National Award for Best Direction, too?

"A critic's delight, multilayered and dense" is how Rana Nayar, eminent translator and professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh, sums up the film that voices the concerns of the oppressed Dalit community.

The film bristling with angst and anguish of the marginalised classes speaks in the language of silence. The manner in which Gurvinder has established the relationship between silence and language is what Nayar gives full marks to.

Even celebrated writer Gurdial Singh, on whose novel the film is modelled, agrees. "After watching the film, some people came to me and said 'oh, the girl in the film has just one dialogue'. To them my reply was if you want dialogues, read the book," Gurdial says, adding without hesitation that the film creates a more astounding impact than the book.

Jury’s citation

But is it only because of the difference between the two mediums? This is not the first time literature has been adapted on the silver screen. The theme of oppression has been translated in cinematic language umpteen times. But as the IFFI jury's citation reads: "It's the unique and personal way in which oppression has been created." It's the cinematic treatment that elevates the film and puts it in a different category altogether.

Yet to be fair, the film, which received a tepid response at the box office, has not always reached out to viewers. Gurvinder disagrees, with the presumption that the audiences can't relate to the film. "Probably, they can't articulate what they see, but they are bound to find a connect as the film is rooted in Punjab's ethos," he says.

To the sceptics who think he has made the film for festivals, Gurvinder's repartee is: "I am making cinema as a discipline, and for the discipline of cinema, to carry it forward."

Yet, the man who has put Punjabi cinema on the international map neither grew up in Punjab nor with the dreams of making films. It was while doing his postgraduation in Pune that he started visiting the FTII. As the floodgates of the treasure trove of cinema of the world—of the kind most of us are not even aware of—opened to him, he was struck by the immense possibilities of cinema.

Satyajit Ray of Punjabi cinema

At the FTII, he was shaped by the sensibilities of filmmaker Mani Kaul, but not by way of imitation. Gurvinder's fine poetic sensibility and understanding of literature is what Nayar swears by, hailing him as the Satyajit Ray of Punjabi cinema.

Noted Punjabi writer Waryam Singh Sandhu calls the film the gift to Punjabi cinema. Could it usher in winds of change?

Though Gurvinder hopes Punjab's culturalscape would change to incorporate more meaningful and purposeful artistic expressions, Nayar has doubts that Punjabi cinema will see more filmmakers like Gurvinder. And what of Gurvinder? Is he likely to be bogged down by the weight of expectations? Gurvinder stands unperturbed, unmindful of the halo around him. Beyond the recognition, he is now looking ahead at his next film based on Waryam Singh Sandhu's short stories.

Those ready to dismiss him as a one-film wonder, should know that his next film, "The Fourth Direction", which will chronicle the predicament of the common man during the dark days of militancy in Punjab, has won the Paris Project Award at the 10th Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum at the script stage itself.

And what if his second film fails? Gurvinder says: "There is always a third film. Besides, the first one will always remain!" Indeed, it will remain so - not just as a milestone in his career, but also in the annals of Punjabi cinema.



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