news Thursday, July 09, 2015 - 05:30
  There has been an augmented interest in the Indian education sector in the past few years. With the advent of many new organizations, the sector has attracted immense talent, massive funding and an increased government focus in the past few years. Though older players like Naandi Foundation, Pratham and Katha have been in the space much longer, it is only since the past five years; India’s interest in education has witnessed a dramatic rise. However, with this surging interest, I have observed a worrying trend. Most of the panel discussions, policy roundtables, op-eds in newspapers and private committees on education are comprised of people who have minimal understanding of grassroots issues and lack ground level perspectives. It is imperative that professionals with extensive grassroots experience especially those having worked in classrooms and schools, are involved in framing policies and guidelines. I have had the chance to work with numerous NGOs in different capacities. A Fellow with Teach For India, where I taught in a municipal school for two years, a Fellow Innovator with STIR Education which involved worked with teachers from government and private schools to scale classroom innovations, Naandi Foundation- where I worked with Urdu medium schools to support teachers to perform better and even set up my after-school learning centre “Unnayan Learning Hub” to provide remedial education to municipal school students.  During each of my experiences, I had the opportunity to interact and work with various stakeholders, private as well as government, which strengthened my belief that we do need more people with grassroots experience in policy level positions. No professional development for teachers A significant portion of my experience in education has involved working with the public education system, which is plagued by several issues. One of the major problems is that a teacher’s job is quite monotonous. There is no professional development for teachers. Unlike other jobs, where there are temptations of promotions, getting regular pay hikes and exposure to exciting things, no such provision exists for teachers, thus making it an extremely droning job. Many young teachers are passionate in their early years but their enthusiasm wanes out soon. Another issue which teachers frequently complain of is burden of administrative work, which holds true. Teachers are made to fill numerous registers, forms and reports everyday which hamper their daily schedule and prevent them to teach continuously for a long period. This issue has been raised at some forums and roundtables but not much headway has been achieved. My personal suggestion would be to appoint one clerical officer per school who will manage the administrative work (barring matters related to the teacher’s classroom). Though not fully, but such a move would definitely reduce the burden and enable teachers to give more time to their classrooms. This segment has seen tremendous growth with the emergence of many for-profit as well as non-profit organizations. But there has never been any strong focus on remedial education by the government and its policies. During my stint with the Teach For India fellowship, I realized that the parents of my students weren’t literate enough to help them in their day-to-day academics. Although I put in my best efforts to help them learn and even assisted with regular extra classes, it must be supplemented by support at home. Quality of education in private tuition centers in extremely dismal Since their parents of kids in government schools are not much educated, they send their kids to private tuition centers, where the quality of education is extremely dismal. These tuition centers are run by young college students who live in the same community and want to make quick bucks to finance their college education, and therefore, do not put much effort into their teaching. Based on feedback from students and my own research, I realized that there is a pressing need to have quality tuition or after-school centers and therefore, post completion of my two year fellowship, I established Unnayan Learning Hub, an after-school centre where I provided remedial education to my students and basic literacy and math skills to new students. However, I faced many challenges (apart from funding) in running the center. The major issue was that the parents’ idea of a tuition centre was quite different from what I had envisioned it to be. They wanted it to be merely focused towards preparing them for exams and helping them finish their daily homework, contrary to the outcome-focused learning which I wanted to do. The difference in their expectations and learning at the centre hampered my efforts a lot, but I always attempted to maintain a balance between the two. I taught at the center for a year and post the yearly school exams; I decided to close the center as it was not feasible to continue the center owing to funding as well as other issues. Quality remedial education is critical to academic growth Given the background of kids in government schools, quality remedial or after-school education is critical to their overall academic growth. For academically strong students, it provides them with multiple opportunities to improve their critical analysis and thinking skills and for slow learners, it is imperative that they get additional support to strengthen their basics. Therefore, the government should definitely try to make some headway in providing remedial education to its students.  If not nationally, a pilot should be attempted by the government where it can leverage the already existing organizations in this segment to support students after their school hours. The essay was first published as a part of a book "Accelerating access to quality education" published by Brookings Institution India.  The entire book can be downloaded here.