Primary Education in rural Haryana - A Glimpse
A. N. Maheshwari
An impression is carried that India has had the tradition of giving education an important place in the society. Weakness in the educational system, especially of its reach, that was seen at the time of independence could be attributed to the lack of support given to it by the colonial government. In a few months India will be celebrating 50 years of governance by the people of this country as the largest democracy of the world. In the constitution of the republic the state had taken upon itself the responsibility of providing free and compulsory education to all children in the age group 6-14 years. Although, in the past fifty years there has been an unprecedented expansion of education, especially at the primary level, yet the attainment of the constitutional commitment has remained elusive. Perhaps, the situation is like that of a runner whose goal line is receding away at a speed greater than his own.
In the wake of the 1900 World Conference on Education for All and the Delhi Declaration made by the nine high-population countries of the world at the Education for All Summit held in December 1993 there is serious thinking in the country for making primary education compulsory. It is important to find what exactly is taking place in the rural primary schools. Of the 8,25,707 primary schools 6,99,616 are rural. In these schools 73,435,414 children study. They are taught by 1,342,249 teachers. These numbers, given in the Provisional Statistics of the Sixth All India Educational Survey on a base of 30 September 1993, reveal that on an average education of about 89 children is handled by 1.6 teachers in the rural primary schools. So the general picture is that in a rural primary school at best two teachers may be available for performing an unenviable task of education of about 100 children enrolled in classes 1 to 5. They are required to manage their school and provide child centred education and joyful learning. Through their effort each pupil is expected to attain the prescribed minimum levels of learning in language, mathematics, environmental studies, and in non-cognitive areas of art, health and physical education. Towards this end schools were strengthened under the Centrally Sponsored scheme of the Operation Blackboard and the District Institutes of Education and Training (DIET) were set up for in-service and pre-service education of teachers.
Recently, for improving the quality of primary education another important initiative taken up by the Ministry of Human Resource Development is the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP). The distinctive feature of the new initiative is that it is result oriented. The initial bench marks of learning attainments obtained by employing tools for measuring achievement levels in language and mathematics of pupils, who have completed one year and four years of education in primary schools, are targeted to be improved through interventions provided at the district and subdistrict levels. Such bench marks were identified in 42 districts about three years back. The follow up measurements of learning attainments of pupils studying in these districts has become due and has planned to be taken up shortly. There fore, there is an urgent need to for finding out the reality of the situation by taking up micro studies, as large scale achievement surveys tend to smear out not only the innovations but also the factors responsible for poor performance. Also, widely divergent claims of successes and failures of school education are being made by proponents and critics of the government, as only it can be held accountable. When education is being accepted as human right and its assurance is being given to the people by making primary education compulsory, it is necessary that its quality is also fixed. It is not enough to enrol a child in school. It is equally important to create conditions for her learning. Unless measurable reference standards of learning are spelled out children will come to school and leave it without realising that they might have been short changed by the inadequacies in their learning conditions.
In the context of what has been said above it was decided to visit a few rural primary schools in Haryana in the vicinity of Delhi for finding out the quality of the learning environment available to children and for measuring their learning achievements. Three primary schools in the Manesar educational block of the Gurgaon district in Haryana were selected for visit largely because of their relatively easier accessibility from the Delhi-Jaipur highway. These were the government primary schools at Dhani Shankar, Bilaspur Kalan and Binola. The main purpose of the school visit was to get the first hand experience of a typical day in a rural primary school and to find out the quality of learning by administering the standardised tests in Hindi language and arithmetic to the children of class 5 of the three schools. Tests were taken by 20 children of class 5 who came to these schools on 12th May 1997.
The brief description of these schools is as follows. All the three are two teacher schools. Therefore, teaching style adopted by the teachers out of necessity is multigrade and multilevel.
The Government Primary School at Dhani Shankar has a compound of about 400 sq yards enclosed by a boundary wall. It has four rooms with a long veranda, drinking water facility and a toilet. The school courtyard has been made into an attractive garden and gives the impression of a good school setting. The total enrolment of the schools comprising classes 1 to 5 is 78. Of these 10 children are enrolled in class 5. Its two male teachers have put in more than 10 years of service. They live in nearby villages.
The Government School at Bilaspur Kalan has a compound of over 1000 sq yards enclosed by a stone boundary wall. Its two rooms and the running veranda in front are on a raised platform. The school has many trees. One of the teachers pointed out with pride the arbour is used on bright and sunny days for the Shantiniketan style of teaching. Both teachers of this school, of whom one is female, have put in more than 10 years of service. The school has strength of 68. Ten children are in class 5.
The Government Primary School at Binola could not be visited because of the constraints of time but its students of class 5 were brought to the school at Dhani Shankar for taking the test. Like the other two schools it also is a two teacher school and has three rooms with a running veranda in front. The total enrolment in the school is 50 out of which 7 children are in class 5.
When we entered the school at Dhani Shankar the school had been functioning for two hours. As it was the harvesting season only about 40 children had come to school on that day. Children though not smartly dressed had shine in their eyes and brightness on their face. Both the teachers were present. There was order in the school. Our presence was largely ignored. As courtesy, water to drink was offered to us by the children, perhaps under the direction of their teachers.
Children were sitting in groups in the veranda and inside the classrooms. The two teachers were attending to two of the groups and the children in the other three groups were on their own. One of the groups led by a student monitor was reciting multiplication tables. The children of class 1 were sitting by themselves huddled up in one of the classrooms.
The school at Bilaspur Kalan was no different from the school at Dhani Shankar. The lady teacher in this school mentioned, “Children of class 1 are left on their own or at best with some senior students in their first three months as they are afraid of school and cry when approached by the teachers. After the children lose their fear of the school we start interacting with them.”
It became obvious that when teachers are teaching some groups of children some others will have to fend for themselves. Our romantic notions that a few tips from us on seating and learning resource management will enable the teachers to handle effectively the teaching of multigrade groups evaporated on watching them perform their onerous task. It also does not take long to realise that monitoring by the two teachers the individual learning in a heterogeneous group of over 80 children can be possible only in theory as real life situations in rural schools are too difficult to grapple with. Therefore, one can but feel amazed at the tenacity of the primary school teachers who keep doing their work in spite of the near impossibility of the tasks expected of them. The thought of handling 80 children alone when the second teacher is absent may produce shivers even in experienced pedagogues. This situation is more the rule than an exception. The disparity in the learning conditions between a typical rural school and urban schools become more glaring when it is realised that the children of the rural schools rarely have the good fortune of home support for their learning. We, therefore, wanted to know for ourselves the level of learning achievement in children who have studied for four years in schools like the one at Dhani Shankar.
We had brought with us textbook free tests in arithmetic and language at the level of learning expected of children who have had four years of primary education. The test in language was in two parts. The first part measured the word knowledge and the second part measured the reading comprehension. The second test was in arithmetic. Twenty children of class 5 of the three schools took the test. As an incentive the children were allowed to keep the pencil and the eraser which were given to them for writing the test.
The test of word knowledge contained 35 pairs of words. Children were asked to identify whether they were synonyms or antonyms. At least 50% of the children could identify correctly 23 of the 35 pairs. The test of the reading comprehension was based on a passage. Children were asked to read the passage and answer questions some of which were direct and others required reasoning ability. About 40% of the students could give correct response to the direct questions, but less than 20% could answer correctly the indirect questions. The overall language competency of the 20 children was far below the criteria for qualifying at the mastery level.
The arithmetic test was around the four basic fundamental operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, unitary method, place value, simple fractions, geometrical figures, units of measurement of mass, length, area and volume and their conversions. Although, 18 children could answer correctly 7895-5704, only 13 could find 7097+1903. Twelve children could write in words 2200805 and write a similar number given in words in digits. Five or less could answer correctly questions on subtractions stated either in words or in the vertical form involving borrowing of numbers from the next place. One can safely surmise that the children could not handle addition involving carrying of numbers nor could handle subtraction involving borrowing of numbers. In all other items of the test less than 15% of the students could give correct response. The test though not being diagnostic revealed that by and large children are extremely weak in arithmetic.
It can be convincingly argued out that children cannot be faulted for this dismal situation. Support of the teacher or of the parent for learning concepts which require reasoning was generally not available to them. In this regard two learning situations observed during the school visit are worth sharing. A child not more than 5 years old was sitting with a morose look. When we asked his name and what his father did he gladly opened up. He told his name and answered that his father grazed goats. When asked whether he knew counting, he said that he could count up to one hundred. When asked to count from 90 to 100 he promptly counted correctly. When asked what followed 24, he said with confidence 25. To the question what number preceded 24, he said with confidence 23. As he was a student of class 1 and was admitted to the school barely one month back we wanted know where he had learnt the counting. This was explained by his teacher as an outcome of indirect learning at the school. The boy used to accompany his elder sibling in the preceding session.
Another experience was to watch one of the teachers in the Dhani Shankar school teaching arithmetic to children of class 4. Teacher asked, “If you buy two kilogram of sugar at Rs. 10 per kg and hand over a 50 Rupee note and the shopkeeper returns you the change in notes of Rs. 5 denomination, then how many notes will he give you?” Promptly, many hands were raised. One of the children replied ‘6’. To the other question whether they could tell the colour of a 20 Rupee note almost all children raised their hands. These two incidents of learning provide a glimmer of hope. Not all is lost. Children have the intrinsic ability to learn. Instead of imposing the requirement that all competencies listed in the MLL document be targeted uniformly by all schools a pragmatic approach will be to identify the competencies that can be achieved within the constraints of that school and gradually improve upon them by experimenting with the teaching learning process.
At the Bilaspur Kalan one of the teachers remarked, “What is the use of this beautiful setting of my school when villagers do not want to send their children to the government schools.” We asked, “Where do they send their children to study?” We were given the most unexpected answer, ‘to the private English medium school.’ We were aware of this urban phenomena but were least prepared to be told that farmers and workers, who were not literate themselves, preferred to educate their children in private English medium schools by paying high fees. To our query, “How far is the nearest English medium private school?” We were told that an English medium by the name Shanti Niketan Public School is in the vicinity and is 4 km off the Delhi-Jaipur highway in the village Pathreri. Gazing our interest the teacher offered to accompany us to visit that school.
ENGLISH MEDIUM EDUCATION
Shantiniketan Public School, Pathrehri
As we approached this school, from a distance we saw two parked yellow coloured school buses. The school’s iron gates were closed. We were allowed entry on being introduced by our escort. We went to call on the Principal. The Principal was happy to know that we were from the NCERT. He said that in his school the English medium books are used including those of the NCERT. His school was from lower kindergarten (LKG) to class 8. Children come to his school from as far away as 25 km by school buses. They undergo two years of pre-primary education before starting studies of class 1. He said that his pupils are from neighbouring villages and their parents are mainly workers and farmers, and a few do service. The tuition fees varied from Rs. 85 to Rs. 115 per month and transportation charges were extra. Education was in English from the LKG itself. School uniforms, books and stationary were to be purchased from the school. The principal said that he also charged admission fee, which varied with the paying capacity of the parent. It was a substantial one time payment used for development of the infrastructure and creation of essential facilities. He emphatically said that parents did not speak English at home but were particular that their children spoke English at the school. He preferred admitting children of workers as, unlike farmers, they paid school fees regularly each month. He had to make adjustments in the schedule of payment of fees for the farmer-parents. He claimed he had 20 teachers for the total strength of over 500 children.
We went with the Principal for a round of the school. In contrast to the children we had seen at the government primary schools the children here were smartly dressed. Girls wore skirt and blouse, and a tie. Boys were in shorts and shirts, and wore a tie. They appeared much neater than the children we had seen at the schools in Dhani Shankar and Bilaspur Kalan.
We noticed that here also children sat on mats but classrooms were crowded and cramped. We were told that two sections were placed in the charge of one teacher, as not all the teachers had to come to school on that day. The situation was similar to that of the government primary school, as 70 children were with one teacher. The difference was that all the children were in the same grade. We could observe that the children had picked up smattering of English. They greeted us with the words, ‘Good Morning, Sir’, and also a little girl asked permission of her teacher using the words, ‘May I come in, Ma’am?’
We could not assess the level of learning in the school because it would have been preposterous to suggest that we may be allowed to administer achievement tests to the children. Instead the Principal posed to us a peculiar problem. Though children in his school studied in the English medium they had to write at the end of class 5 and class 8 district level qualifying tests administered in Hindi. He wanted to know whether the NCERT could sort out this anomaly with the Department of Education of the State.
We witnessed a phenomenon totally negating the national curricular framework. According to it, the primary education should be in the mother tongue of the child. We show surprise when told that illiterate farmers and workers prefer English medium education for their children. We might feel condescending towards them at their plight for they have to pay through their nose for educating their children in such schools. But we hardly feel disturbed by the urban parents, who also do not speak English at home, patronising English medium education for their children.
We were told that what we had seen on that day is typical of education scenario in the rural areas of Haryana. Situation is extremely complex and confusing, to say the least. Where do we go from here? Is there a road ahead?
To discover the road ahead it is necessary to carry out the strength, weakness and threat (SWAT) analysis of the primary education in Haryana. The State has created the required physical infrastructure for its primary schools. Schools have two or more classrooms, playground and toilet. The school buildings meet the norms of the Operation Blackboard (OB). They have been supplied science and maths kits and other equipment as per the OB scheme. At least two qualified teachers are posted in each school. The glaring weakness is that though pupil to teacher ratio is around 40:1, teachers have to handle large multigrade groups. Comparison with multigrade situation in Scoula Nuova in Colombia may be misleading as there teachers handle small groups. It is possible there for a teacher to keep track of the progress of each child. Here it is impossible to adopt such a pedagogy because the number of children to be handled are far too many and teachers too few. Another weakness is that many times one teacher is absent leaving the burden of handling total strength of the school to a single teacher. Also, the monitoring of the functioning of the schools is poor. It is not uncommon to find closed schools on a working day when all the teachers do not show up or to find them closed in the middle of the school day. As it is, children study without the essential conditions for their learning in their school but their added handicap is that very few get home support because generally their parents or their elder siblings may not be educated themselves. On top of it all, the state has laid down minimum levels of learning valid for good urban schools equally applicable to rural primary schools. It is well known that when unrealistic tasks remain unachieved the self-esteem of the executor gets lowered.
Therefore, the concern is that the products of the type of primary education that we saw in the three government primary schools may not be able to achieve in life all that a good primary education can give. What therefore is required is to make primary education contextual and set for it realistic targets which could be attained by the rural learners within the constraints of their prevailing learning conditions including poor learning climate at home. The learning should be related to life skills. It is desirable that children are helped to master functional concepts in mathematics before teaching them concepts not commonly used.
Towards this end some of the broad measures that can be taken up are to tune the teacher training to the learning conditions in the schools and to keep the schools open as stipulated in the academic calendar. Instead of relying on theoretical pedagogy, teacher educators must practise first the teaching strategies in the schools where participants of their in-service and programmes generally teach. It will be necessary to involve the community for ensuring that school functions for the full working time and all the teachers are present in the school. When minimum learning outcomes have been realistically fixed, accountability could be fixed on the school system including its teachers to ensure that all children achieve the essential curricular expectations.
The author is thankful to Professor Ved Prakash, Dr. I. K. Bansal and Mrs. M. K. Bhalla for arranging his visit to the schools in Haryana, for administering the tests and for analysing the test performance. He thanks Professors Kuldip Kumar, Venita Kaul and V. K. Raina for their critical comments on the manuscript.