In the decade after passage of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, while the target of 100% enrollment in primary schools has been largely met, the problem of qualitative improvement in learning remains. Now, a new study released by NITI Aayog suggests changes to traditional strategies for improving the quality of school education by a multi-pronged approach.
Despite years of effort and projects on changing syllabuses, teacher training as well as student assessments, the situation has not improved due to structural flaws. “India today suffers from the twin challenges of unviable sub-scale schools and a severe shortage of teachers which makes in-school interventions only marginally fruitful,” says the study co-authored by Alok Kumar, adviser, NITI Aayog, and Seema Bansal, director, social impact, Boston Consulting Group.
Because of an emphasis on enrolment, India adopted the strategy of building schools near every habitation, resulting in a proliferation of schools with tiny populations and inadequate resources. “India has almost 3-4 times the number of schools (15 lakh) than China (nearly 5 lakh) despite a similar population. Nearly 4 lakh schools have less than 50 students each and a maximum of two teachers,” says the report. Around 1.5 crore students study in such unviable schools.
Vacancies compound the problem. India has a shortage of more than 10 lakh teachers. The teachers that exist are inadequately distributed. “It’s not uncommon to find surplus teachers in an urban school while a single teacher may manage 100-plus students in a rural school. Some states have a shortage of more than 40%,” the report maintains.
“It’s a perennial problem in Odisha. Apart from academic work, teachers are also engaged in managing midday meals, conducting surveys and in administrative and election duties,” said Khageswar Pal, a teacher in Mayurbhanj.
The report suggests consolidating several such schools within a short distance of one another and providing transport and allowances. School consolidation, pioneered in states like Rajasthan and Jharkhand, has reaped rich dividends through improved learning environments and even improved enrolment.