Blame it on the teacher?

The Annual State of Education Report (ASER)* is back in the news. Or more correctly, the State of Education in our country is in the news again, painting a similarly dismal picture of the (in) effectiveness of teaching and learning in our rural schools. The discussion around it has ranged from the impact of RtE on retention to infrastructure and curriculum frameworks, but all voices (and eyes) come to rest on one issue – the lack of adequately prepared teachers. Urban government schools – and private schools in urban areas – fare better in terms of learning outcomes but they too face the challenge of attracting teachers who we might consider “adequately” prepared.

ASER 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of this huge effort to assess learning levels among rural children, and it has become a sobering reminder to all of us who deal with education, that we have many miles to go before we can feel even somewhat satisfied about reaching education to all. Even if we take different positions about schooling itself, the design of learning systems and even what constitutes learning, most of us would agree that once a child enters school, a contract of sorts has been established. The heart of this contract is that the child will become equipped to understand letters and numbers, and make her way through the world independently. ASER reminds us, year after year, that we have failed India’s rural children terribly in this regard.

Elsewhere, too, studies have pointed to the fact that teachers are the most important part of the learning equation in elementary school. Children can become self-learners only if they have been nurtured in a manner that gives them the tools to learn – basic literacy, numeracy, and the ability and space to explore.

If the finger of blame each time points to the teacher, it also points to a deeper failure of the system. We have encouraged the creation of a system that produces graduates who are unemployable in the corporate sector, where mediocrity is tolerated, where getting by with minimum effort is the norm. When we do not pay attention to our own standards of learning, how can we become prepared to ensure that learning happens in others? It may be useful to run our primary school children through the ASER do-it-yourself kit to check where we/they stand (see: http://www.asercentre.org/p/50.html).

It’s a vicious cycle – graduates who have not benefited from real learning become teachers who are unable to ensure that real learning happens. But of course, there are the exceptions, people in whose classrooms children experience the joy of grasping a concept and acquiring a skill. We need to find ways to make these exceptions the norm, to build teachers who can then contribute to building better learners.

*Follow this link to read the complete report: (http://img.asercentre.org/docs/Publications/ASER%20Reports/ASER%202014/fullaser2014mainreport.pdf)