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Any progress to report?

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September 8, 2015

Any progress to report?

An education system is like a free flowing stream. Ideally it should never remain the same. Owing to the exigencies of time it should be as dynamic as possible. The moment a stream’s flow is interrupted, its demise begins. So how healthy is our education system? Is it a stream in its youth, full of vigour or is it one that has run its course.

The Annual Status of Education Report(ASER) is an ideal place to start to know about the present state of education in India. ASER is an annual household survey to assess children’s schooling status and basic learning levels in reading and arithmetic. ASER 2014 covered 577 rural districts and is the most extensive survey done in India on education. ASER findings do not provide a happy reading. ASER findings have been reporting low levels of learning amongst the 5 to 16 age group in rural India since 2005. The worrying fact is that these are floor-level tests (basic twodigit carry-forward subtraction and division skills), without which one cannot progress in the school system.

Some key findings of ASER:

  1. The most significant finding is that learning levels across the country, whether in public or private schools, have not improved.
  2. Another important finding shows the increased shift towards private schools. The private school enrolment percentage which was only 16 percent in 2005 has gone up to nearly 30 percent. This number is likely to reach 50 percent by 2020. The enrolment in government schools has declined during the same period, understandably so. The poor quality of government schools and the public perception towards it are contributory factors for this. One interesting fact is that this trend of preference for private schools is seen in rural areas too which receive SSA funding and where other Government programmes are also in place. This reveals the ineffectiveness of the Government’s efforts in this regard and a retrospection of its strategy is required.
  3. While the percentage of Class V students who are able to read a Class II text

increased slightly from 47 percent in 2013 to 48 percent in 2014, the percentage of Class III children able to solve simple two-digit subtraction fell from 26.1 percent in 2013 to 25.3 percent in 2014. So statistics reveal that our education system is having many ebbs and flows. There are many areas in which significant improvement can be done.

CBSE’s recent introduction of PSA (Problem Solving Assessment) is a welcome change and a long overdue one too. It is basically a litmus test for assessing a student’s learning levels. It tests their comprehension and arithmetic skills as well as basic understanding of the subject.

The following areas are assessed by PSA:

  • Quantitative Reasoning (found in mathematics, science and technology)
  • Qualitative Reasoning (found in humanities, arts and social sciences)
  • Language Conventions

One constant criticism of our education system has been that it seldom prepares one for a job. Entrepreneurs and Business heads have long been complaining about the lack of employability of our work force. In any recruitment test (be it conducted by the government or private entity) the creative and critical thinking, decision making, problem solving and communication skills of the candidate are assessed. These are precisely the skills PSA is trying to assess.

Many students lose touch with Maths and English language depending on their stream of higher education. After graduation, when they enter the job market they usually find these recruitment tests a hard nut to crack. But if you are imparted training from your school years, then it will definitely hold you in good stead. The immediate advantage of PSA is that the test items are so designed that they will help in improving the scores within the core school subjects as the Problem Solving Assessment (PSA) test items are designed to improve generic and higher order thinking skills.

PSA tests give teachers the opportunity to innovate their teaching styles and include more interactive and problem solving activities in their classes. More emphasis should be laid on assessing a student’s ability to process, interpret and use information rather than assess student’s prior subject knowledge. This will help make the class livelier and will be a welcome departure from the usual one-way traffic. The curriculum across boards should be subject to timely changes and give teachers more leeway to innovate and improvise. So how can teachers innovate? To start they can distribute Hannah’s sweets. Now you may be wondering who Hannah is. Hannah’s sweets is a mathematical problem which puzzled the British Mathematics students who took the GCSE exam. They took their anger to twitter and other social media sites and the question got trending. Here’s the question– There are n sweets in a bag. 6 of the sweets are orange. The rest of the sweets are yellow. Hannah takes at random a sweet from the bag.

She eats the sweet.
Hannah then takes at random
another sweet from the bag.
She eats the sweet.
The probability that Hannah eats
two orange sweets is 1/3
(a) Show that n2 – n – 90 = 0
(b) Solve n2 – n – 90 = 0 to find
the value of n
Will our children find Hannah’s sweets sour? There is only one way to find out.

Teachers can keep an eye out on the internet for questions like this. They will be an assessment of our students against international standards. Teachers should try new things to keep the class more interactive and shed the monotony. Problemposing tasks are one innovative measure. Students can be asked to frame questions on some given data. Researches have shown that Problem-Posing and Problem-Solving abilities are inter related. A student good at problem-solving will be a good problem-poser and vice-versa. The kind of questions framed by the students will throw light on their cognitive skills.

Staff meetings and Parent- Teacher meetings can be made platforms for discussions on improving the learning levels of students. As statistics show, Government policies and programmes from the top are not yielding the desired results. The focus of such programmes has been skewed towards quantitative results like enrolment percentage and the likes. When it comes to ensuring the quality of education, the onus lies solely on the teachers and they are the most reliable entity at that.

Melinda Gates has aptly summed up the situation – ‘Kids are falling through the cracks and nobody notices it. That to me is what’s wrong with the school system.’

Kiran Gandhi is a freelance writer with a degree in engineering. He mostly writes short stories,sports articles and on education related topics. He blogs at Kirangandhiblog.wordpress. com. He can be reached at

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