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Insights into Editorial: Schools without freedom

 

Introduction:

If a house needs repairs, and the repairs are delayed for a long time, the house develops a force to haunt its inhabitants during adversity. This analogy applies to the state of children’s education.

Decisions pertaining to it are dependent on structures designed to overlook local factors.

These structures were forged to ensure total compliance, no matter how vast the system became and how diverse remained the demands served by it.

 

Status of Indian Education system: Centralized exercise of authority:

  1. Decentralization was routinely favoured, but it did not touch the core aspects of education as a system.
  2. Craving for a modest amount of autonomy unites principals and teachers from across the sharply divided segments of our vast network of schools.
  3. For those serving in government-run schools, there is no provision in the rule book for freedom on any count that matters.
  4. Since British days, the bureaucracy views school functionaries with the deepest suspicion, both in their capacities and integrity.
  5. No matter how senior are, school authorities job is to silently follow the orders and circulars issued by the directorate and the examination board.
  6. For school owners and managers, the professional knowledge and experience of the principal and the teachers count for little.
  7. Management committees and parents generally support the regimented approach of directorates and Boards.
  8. Endorsement of school-based capacity-building has been in fashion, but the reality has taken the opposite direction.
  9. All major processes that affect life at school have stayed firmly under centralised exercise of authority, and exam boards have tightened their grip further.

 

COVID-19 chaos in Education system:

  1. With the arrival of the novel coronavirus pandemic, The virus has spread across the country, but its impact in different regions is uneven.
  2. The metro cities have been affected far more than others, but it is now reported to be spreading in many district towns.
  3. No specific data are publicly available on villages. India has over six lakh villages.
  4. No single picture can cover their diverse geography and economics. Health standards and facilities differ, and so does the impact of COVID-19.
  5. Why the virus has not affected the rural hinterland as much as it has affected cities is far from clear.
  6. Many experts think that the uneven spread is merely a matter of poor reporting from villages.
  7. It is not surprising that the awareness and resilience demonstrated by many villages is largely ignored in the media.
    1. It is an example of the general bias that pervades urban perception in all spheres of life.
  8. No separate consideration of village needs seems possible in the current crisis. That is why all schools, urban and rural, have stayed closed since the last week of March.
  9. Cooked mid-day meals served to children at school have been replaced in many States by the distribution of grain and money to their children.
  10. If village schools had some autonomy, many would have found local conditions good enough to allow children to come for their meals and spend some time studying.
  11. Decisions regarding the daily time span and class size might have been taken in accordance with distancing norms by schools’ heads and teachers.

 

Learning outdoors:

Not all learning has to occur in the classroom.

  1. Ideologues of minimalism are arguing that foundational literacy and numeracy are what we need to focus on in order to improve quality.
  2. A new coinage is ‘learning loss’ which supposedly occurred in April and May due to the lockdown.
  3. Online teaching was mooted to compensate for this loss. Smartphones and laptops are new, but the idea that children’s basic educational needs are literacy and numeracy is certainly quite obsolete.
  4. Child psychology has generated sufficient evidence to say that in its formative stages the human mind needs opportunities to observe natural phenomenon, represent it in different forms and analyse it.
  5. Village schools are in a far better position to do so than city schools.
  6. The monsoon creates great opportunities for noticing, recording and examining nature. Egrets and other large birds tread at leisurely paces in wet paddy fields, looking for food.
  7. They are a joy to watch and sketch in their different postures. Ants come out of their subterraneous homes when the rainwater floods them. Butterflies migrate in this season.
  8. These are just examples; there are a hundred things to observe in plants and trees.
  9. Village teachers can bring great energy into their pedagogy by encouraging children to spend time outdoors for assigned observation.
  10. If some children have acquired a smartphone to receive online instruction, they can visually record what they notice.
  11. Observation and reflection are good for promoting numeracy and literacy too.
  12. In fact, mathematics is learnt best when you are excited about something and find it worth counting. The same is true of writing and reading.

 

The challenges of online learning:

  1. We live in a time when learning outcomes are pre-defined and their attainment needs to be clerically proved, with tests.
  2. There are, however, challenges to overcome. Some students without reliable internet access and/or technology struggle to participate in digital learning; this gap is seen across countries and between income brackets within countries.
  3. For example, whilst 95% of students in Switzerland, Norway, and Austria have a computer to use for their schoolwork, only 34% in Indonesia do, according to OECD data.
  4. In the US, there is a significant gap between those from privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds: whilst virtually all 15-year-olds from a privileged background said they had a computer to work on, nearly 25% of those from disadvantaged backgrounds did not.
  5. While some schools and governments have been providing digital equipment to students in need, such as in New South Wales, Australia, many are still concerned that the pandemic will widen the digital divide.

 

Conclusion:

If our schools fail to nurture a free, thoughtful mind among the young, one reason is that schools themselves have no freedom.

And if pandemic compulsions guide broader decisions, teachers’ bondage will get worse.

Covid-19 has shown the extent to which the Indian system of education exploits inequalities.

Thus, there is a need for renewed commitments to the synergy between the private and public education sector. In this context, there is a need to make education a common good and digital innovation can help in achieving the feat.