Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo, Economists
SCHOOLS ACROSS India share one obsession. How do we get the child to Class XII and then college? All schools share this elitist goal. We know most kids will not get into college. Most will drop out way before Class XII. But this unrealistic ambition is the obsession of kids, parents and teachers.
It used to be Class X but now that we’ve removed the Boards, the goalpost is even further away. And it is assumed that no education acquired before that matters. Which is why you hear many parents saying about their own child: ‘Iska to kabhi kuch nahi hoga’ (this one will get nowhere), and teachers ignore all children who are unlikely to make it.
Yet all the evidence shows even a few years of schooling helps. If you have gone to school till Class IV, you do much better than someone who didn’t go at all.
How do we get the system to refocus on the average child who is unlikely to get to Class XII? In this respect, India’s new Right to Education Act might as well be called a Wrong to Education Act. It has many problems. It is now mandated by law that the syllabus has to be covered by every school. Unfortunately, that becomes the teacher’s goal now — dashing through it all and talking to the three or four children in the class who they think can keep up. If most of the children are not getting anything, then what is the point of teaching the whole syllabus? At the same time, we are abolishing testing. That means that parents are even less likely to find out that their children have been left behind by the system.
The entire system needs to become less information-centric. It is much less important to know things than to be able to get into a situation and be able to process what is going on. For that, we need to give children confidence in their mastery of the basic learning tools, not inundate them with information.
As Told To Nisha Susan