On teachers and teaching
Apropos of Albert Thyrniang’s article, “My categories of teachers” (ST Sep 8, 2021), I wish to thank the writer for his very insightful article. In fact, I am an ardent reader of all his articles as he does not vacillate but comes straight to the point. The problem with education in Meghalaya or in this country is that it has never been transformative. There are very few teachers who understand the meaning of the word teaching – which is not what teachers do by dispensing knowledge into empty heads as if the learner is completely devoid of any experience or learning coming from sources outside the classroom. Let me tell such teachers that often the students know more than their teachers in this world of virtual learning. Students are tech savvy while most teachers are not.
As an example, many of us adults and the elderly have to take the help of our younger members including children to fix our problems with technology. The biggest problem in classroom learning is that there is no space for interaction. Teachers don’t have time to allot for questions from their students which they are expected to answer. The entire period of 40-45 minutes is wasted in a monologue which is the teaching practised in our country. Few if any teachers create space for interactive sessions. And yet it is through interaction that all of us learn best because we share ideas and learn from one another.
Another problem with our education system is that teachers continue in the same profession for about 25-30 years and yet their performance is never evaluated. Thyrniang had written that teachers try and wriggle out of responsibilities on different pretexts. Some are perennially late and teachers are resistant to change. In the deficit school system where teachers’ salaries are paid by the government once a teacher is employed by any school that teacher continues in the same school doing the same job for decades. There is mental stagnation; the teacher loses the enthusiasm to grow and perform better because there is no system of monitoring his/her teaching methods. Students pass out and remember certain teachers and forget others who have made no dent in their lives. When students fail in a certain subject in large numbers, the fault cannot be that of students. It is the teacher who is the problem and who either does not know to teach the subject or is not a good communicator.
There are serious problems in education in Meghalaya where teachers are appointed based on their political leanings. Coming to higher education, when teachers of some colleges are openly aligned to political parties, how do we expect a liberal climate in the classroom. I sincerely hope there is a strong push to create a group that believes in educational transformation and will push the government to implement progressive policies in education otherwise our younger generation is doomed.
And now after the pandemic when learning will have to begin almost from scratch one can only wait and watch to see if teachers can redeem what’s lost in the past 18 months when students barely learned anything at all.
Learning gaps among school children
A survey called School Children’s Online and Offline Learning (SCHOOL) conducted recently states that only eight per cent children in rural households in India attended regular online classes. The survey on learning gaps was conducted after schools in the country remained closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The survey conducted on school children in underprivileged households in 15 states and UTs shows that 37 per cent of children are not studying at all and about a half are unable to read more than a few words.
The report paints a dismal picture of the state of school education caused by Covid-19 in rural areas in the country. The survey found that as the children did not attend schools for a prolonged period of time, there were great discrepancies in their learning levels. Nearly 42 per cent of children in classes 3-5 from rural household were unable to read a single word. 65 per cent of children in urban areas and 77 per cent in rural areas in Grade 2 were unable to read more than a few letters. Further, in both rural and urban areas, just over a half of the children in classes 6-8 are able to read fluently.
The report proves that Covid-19 pandemic and extended lockouts have caused enormous harm to school education, especially in rural areas. A great deal of sustained effort is required to repair this damage. Given that most of the schools in the country are still remaining closed, setting the school education right is indeed a hard task. Once the schools are re-opened, the schooling system needs to go through a long transition period to enable children to catch up with the curriculum and to restore the different aspects of their development. Unless school classes, especially primary and middle-school are not resumed without further delay, it may be difficult to reverse learning gaps.