The key finding in a recent study that even top schools in major cities in India suffer from the entrenched tendency to impart rote learning may have some shock value to those who believe that private educational institutions place greater emphasis on quality and holistic education.
However, for those closely observing the school education scenario, it is a re-affirmation of a bitter truth: schools in our country are, by and large, quite far from seeing education as a process of learning with understanding, acquiring knowledge through self-discovery and conceptualisation; rather, education remains a mere transmission of information in a rigid classroom atmosphere, where the emphasis is on memorisation and the objective is to rush through a pre-determined syllabus and prepare children for examinations.
While on the scholastic side the WIPRO-Educational Initiatives ‘Quality Education Study,’ which covered 89 schools, shows a fall in learning standards among students in classes 4, 6, and 8 over the last five years, it also flags a disturbing deficit of social sensitivity on the part of a sizable section of students. Responses to some questions relating to the education of girls and attitudes towards immigrants, the disabled, and HIV-positive patients, indicated biases that could, over time, grow into prejudices.
Exploring the mind of the young at a formative stage in this way, which some might consider methodologically challengeable, is a particularly valuable part of this study. It will be a serious mistake to ignore the broad trend that indicates misconceptions of early years being carried on to a higher age and the possibility of these children imbibing biases they see in their family atmosphere or social milieu.
Over the years, there have been some serious efforts to put in place a national curriculum framework. For instance, the Yash Pal committee’s progressive report of 1993, Learning without Burden, demonstrated how the curriculum load was a burden on the child and highlighted the defects of the examination system.
The National Curriculum Framework 2005 was a game attempt to provide a vision of education as a pursuit of both quality and equity. Yet, despite increasing awareness that learning is not mere information accumulation and that teaching ought to be recast into a facilitation of children’s discovery of their own potential and understanding, the emphasis in practice continues to be on textbooks and exams.
Conceptual understanding is not encouraged anywhere near enough, and sport, art, debate, and cultural activity are kept at the distant periphery. It is time not merely for fostering greater awareness about the need for holistic education but also to chalk out more imaginative pedagogic means to make education an inclusive and quality-centric epistemic process.