- “Multilingual education has always been an ask for ensuring the learning for all children and ensuring the equity in the education system”
- “Children go to schools year after year and don’t learn anything and gradually the content becomes so difficult for them to cope that they give up and drop out”
The transformation of education and its systems in the Indian subcontinent is a matter of great importance, keeping in mind the country’s diversity and population. The region is strongly characterised by its rapid and dynamic economic growth, large sections of the population falling in the middle-income group, constant innovation and technological progress. This year’s theme for National Education Day is “Changing Course, Transforming Education.” To throw light on the same, The Telegraph Online Edugraph got into a candid conversation with Aekta Chanda, Senior Education Specialist, ChildFund India. Read on to know more about it.
1) Can promoting local languages in the education system help in turning India’s brain drain to brain gain?
Don’t see a direct connect between the local language and brain drain/gain. The brain drain concern is more about two things. Firstly, having adequate universities and colleges. Right now we only have 1000 universities and 45000 degree colleges. The issue of local language I feel is more a question of equity and also how children learn. It also is a question about making children feel respected in the school and helping them develop a positive self-image, which has a deeper influence on their learning trajectory.
Multilingual education has always been an ask for ensuring learning for all children and ensuring the equity in the education system. Linguists, educationists, and developmental psychologists unequivocally advocate that for any learning to happen it is important that the teaching, especially in the early years, is done in the language that the child speaks at home, i.e., the mother tongue. It is because education in the local languages is not promoted in the early years, that many children from the vulnerable and deprived sections of society begin their education in a disadvantaged situation which keeps on having an exponentially negative impact on their interest and ability to learn.
Also, it is a question of preserving the wealth of local knowledge. Otherwise, the local languages will become extinct and with them the world of knowledge that is created in them also gets lost. The 2011 Census of India recognises 22 Scheduled languages and lists 99 languages with more than 10,000 speakers as Non-Scheduled languages. The Peoples Linguistic Survey done between 2010 and 2014 reports on 780 living languages in India. These include languages spoken by desert, mountain, coastal, tribal and the nomadic communities. These languages have a lot of knowledge on biodiversity, literature and so on.
2) What are the community models that can be adapted to address the widening socio-economic disparities in India’s education system?
Communities need to play a very proactive role in the education system and the more there is a disengagement the wider the gaps will become. The important question here is how and what roles can communities play? One thing which is very clear is that they cannot be operating a parallel education system. This must supplement and support the public education system while also monitoring it. The problem is that largely the role that is seen is only about making sure they send the children to school and then to a certain extent governance of the school. But the key is to feel and have ownership over the schools and at the same time have self-efficacy for making contributions to the children’s learning. In our experience, communities play both the roles very effectively.
3) What are the causes and concerns of school dropouts in India? How can they be limited?
Children dropping out of schools is a complex issue in India with multiple aspects to it. It includes concerns related to physical access, where we find that even after 75 years of independence there are still certain remote tribal villages where generations have not received any school education as the nearest schools located are 7 -10 kms away. There are also issues related to social and emotional aspects of learning wherein we have seen that children leave school because they feel they are humiliated or their communities are humiliated, labelled and stigmatised. In one such example we once found that 22 children from tribal communities left school as the school was in the so-called upper caste community and the teachers also belonged to the same community. Next is the issues around safety and security within the school premises as well as on the way to school. A majority of girls leave school due to this factor. It is for these reasons that the Right to Education Act prescribed that primary schools be within a one kilometre radius and secondary ones within three kms. Then there are infrastructural issues, no availability of separate toilets, no classrooms and so on. Finally, another issue is the sub-standard teaching learning process used at times, largely because there are major vacancies of teachers. So, one teacher is at times teaching as many as 100 children. Inadequate in-service training to the teachers and increasing trend of appointing contractual teachers are other problems. The result is that children go to schools year after year but don’t learn anything and gradually the content becomes so difficult for them to cope that they give up and drop out. And during the pandemic times, the digital divide further increased the concerns by widening the learning gaps and pushing vulnerable children into further learning deprivation. In one of our own surveys, around 11% of children reported that since they have forgotten what they learnt they do not feel confident enough to go back to school.
To address these situations, there need to be multiple steps taken, and the key ones are:
- Strengthening the public education system.
- Increasing the share of GDP spent on education.
- Supporting the social and emotional aspects of learning with children and sensitising the teachers and parents too on the same.
- Increasing the community’s proactive participation and ownership in education.
To transform education in a country with as great a population as ours, a lot needs to first be put into practice and internalised by the teaching and learning communities. As of now, our system is not only complex and multifaceted, but their transformation also requires special attention to be placed on all components of the system. As our expert Aekta Chanda says, ownership and self-efficacy can only work towards making great contributions to promote learning amongst children.