India Today /Archive /February 4, 2013 /
Vinod Raina January 25, 2013 |
It is ironic that last week while an NGO was releasing its annual test scores of Indian children (the ASER report) to the media, teachers at Seattle's Garfield High School were protesting against the standardised Measures of Academic Progress (the MAP test) in America's public schools that is intended to evaluate, like the ASER testing, student progress and skill in mathematics and reading. The Seattle teachers are not alone in opposing such testing; for example, 880 districts that educate more than 4.4 million Texas students have adopted a resolution opposing
The ASER testing is still not at the same high-stakes level as the MAP testing, but with the Planning Commission controversially endorsing testing for improving children's learning in its 12th Plan, with incentives to those who do well, India can
be seen to be moving towards a testing regime that is at the core of the increasingly discredited regime of America's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) programme.
So what do ASER tests tell us? That children are not learning as well as they should. That unfortunately is not a new discovery. As far back as in 1974, when we were confronted in the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme that children could not be taught measurement in science in Class VI because they could not understand decimals that they should have learnt in Class IV and V mathematics, we began systematic testing in maths and languages to uncover the gaps. In a major survey in 1986 covering 10 districts and about 10,000 children from Class III to XI and primary schoolteachers, we found only about 52 per cent teachers
could understand decimals adequately.
So how is this different from ASER testing? They were part of action research to find out why children don't learn, and
to use the findings for creating appropriate teaching-learning materials and appropriate inputs for teacher trainings, and not as media events.
So should we test more and more or devise methods to ensure that children do learn? There seems to be a line of thought that increased testing will itself ensure increased learning, which was the basis of testing-based approach of NCLB that is proving to be wasteful, stressful and expensive in the US. Some of the reasons for lack of learning are also fairly well-known, and they are not just absent teachers.
- The inappropriateness of the language and contents of teaching-learning materials,
- the lack of understanding about age-concept relationships in the textbooks, and
- child-unfriendly transactions in the classrooms are at the heart of the problem.
Untrained, demotivated or absent teachers complete the picture.
The task of correcting these deficiencies falls on academic institutions connected with school education.
But they have been systematically impoverished and demolished through policy initiatives; the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan kept them out of the project ever since it was launched in 2000, an anomaly only just recently corrected through the RtE.
The SCERTs and DIETs, chiefly responsible for these
tasks, have been made to atrophy in terms of appropriately trained manpower, and
their tasks have been performed by consultants and NGOs first under the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) and later under the SSA (the Rajasthan government's books are currently being prepared through an MoU with a bank (!), that has further sub-contracted the work, while its State Institute for Education and
Training lies dilapidated in Udaipur). Through another policy brilliance, state after state of the country was encouraged to let its regular teacher cadres die, to be replaced by untrained contract teachers. Taken together, these are at the heart of
the problem why children do not learn. Ensuring children learn, desperately requires institutions charged with the responsibility of doing that to be resurrected. NGOs cannot replace these institutions, and testing will do nothing if these
institutions remain dysfunctional.
That children in private schools seem to do better than those in government schools has been the bane of NCLB testing, and now in ASER testing, since the scores are not weighted in terms of socio-economic backgrounds of children. Children who have home support in education are mostly in private schools; that they seem to do better has more to do with this fact than necessarily in differences in quality of schools. We must, of course, take good ideas from anywhere in the world.
It is well known that the best learning levels of children are from Scandinavian countries and from countries like South Korea and Japan. In spite of enormous financial inputs, US has not been able to catch up with them. And these countries do not rely on external testing. It would, therefore, be better that instead of importing
discredited ideas from the US, we adopt the methods of these countries; whichchiefly rely on inclusive classrooms for increased learning levels.(Vinod Raina is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies,
New Delhi, and a member of the Central Advisory Board for Education)