TEACHING OF SCIENCE
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE NATIONAL SEMINAR ON SCIENCE TEACHING HELD AT
BHOPAL, NOV. 15-17, 1985
MINISTRY OF HUMAN RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT
GOVT. OF INDIA
E 1/208, ARERA COLONY
After the Mudaliar, Radhakrishnan and Kothari Commissions, a National Commission on teachers and innumerable reports and surveys, the Government has once again commissioned the Nation to debate a new educational policy. What new is there to say? The more important and obvious questions is: what has prevented the implementation of all these previous recommendations? Unless this question is properly debated, the fear that any new policy shall also remain unimplemented seems legitimate.
Perhaps, the problem with the implementation of well-known educational policies is their conflict with the notion of development that has been formulated for the country as a whole? If it is so, then the question is much deeper, and cannot be resolved by debating about education alone because it raises questions regarding the notion of development itself. Perhaps there are other reasons. We have; however, to hope that such question shall be allowed and properly debated.
It is with a desire to renew this hope that the seminar was held and this report is being submitted. May be, this is the beginning of the process of a proper understanding of the place or education in the countrys developmental model. From such understanding alone can this rusty machine be slowly revamped and redesigned to restore to it its original role, which is that of liberation and equality.
December 1, 1985 EKLAVYA GROUP
The seminar was sponsored by the Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India. Eklavya was specifically asked to prepare a set of recommendations to be considered for the New Educational Policy (NEP). The reason for asking Eklavya to organise the seminar was to utilise the experiences of the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme (HSTP), now managed by Eklavya, and to elicit the views of a large number of resource scientists, for example from the Science Teaching Group, Delhi University, who have been a strong academic support of the HSTP for a number of years thirteen, to be precise.
About a hundred persons were invited. Apart from the HSTP resource persons, individuals and institutions known to us to be supporting and working towards innovations in science education, both at formal and non-formal levels, were invited. Such institutions included the NCERT, DST, Vikram Sarabhai Community Science Centre, Homi Bhabha Science Centre, jamia Milia University, Aligarh University State Institute for Science Education, M.P., Regional College of Education, Bhopal etc. Peoples science groups like the KSSP, Lok Vigyan Sanathan, Bombay and Pune, Karnataka Rajya Vigyan Parishad, Manan Nava Chintan andolan, Kishore Bharti, Vidushak Karkhana, Association of Bangalore Astronomers, Medico Friends Circle etc. were also invited. We were pleased to have a few observers working in science education from Nepal, Vietnam and Hungary. They provided an opportunity for meaningful comparative analysis and understanding.
The seminar was organised around a few themes. There were invited talks around these themes on the first day. The themes and the invited speakers were:
Prof. B.M.Udgaonkar, TIFR, Bombay
Dr. Farhan Mujeeb, Aligarh Muslim University.
Dr. Anil Sadgopal, Kishore Bharti.
Sh. Ashok Vajpeyi, Secretary, Education, Madhya Pradesh.
Sh. S.C.Behar, Chairman, SCERT, Madhya Pradesh.
Pro. Suresh Shukla, Jamia Milia University.
Dr. Vijaya S. Varma, Delhi University.
Prof. R.N.Mathur, NCERT.
The next two days of the seminar were utilised to concretise the issues that were raised by the speakers on the first day.
There was a unanimous view that all recommendations that are made should be substantiated by the experiences of the HSTP, wherever possible. Since HSTP has been continuously evolving for about thirteen years now, it was felt that this programme provides a model that can help in giving solidity to otherwise often repeated and by now cliché policy statements. Similar reference to other innovative programmes, whether failures or successful, was also suggested. Since HSTP has meant the creation of a district level administration model, a follow-up and feedback system, kit distribution mechanism. In addition to curriculum development and teacher orientation, we have incorporated all these details as an appendix, and have drawn from it in the main body of the report wherever relevant.
Another common view that emerged was that science education cannot and should not be looked in isolation of what is happening in other areas like mathematics, languages or social science. In particular, the priority for the nation has been and continues to be the universalisation of elementary education. It was felt that from the document Challenge of education; the dominant ideas that seem to emerge are that:
Taken together these signals provide a framework for a further curtailment and elitisation of education. It seems as if education shall become more meaningful if more and more people are marginalised from its process, right from the school. This emergent view was strongly criticised at the seminar. In particular, it was forcefully stressed that universalisation and quality improvement should not be limited owing to financial constraints. Finances must be made available for such purposes, as the destiny of the nation, not only in the twenty-first, but for all centuries depends crucially on these factors.
The report that follows are based on all such views expressed at the seminar.
What objectives must science teaching fulfil? There would, perhaps, be little disagreement that science teaching must aim:
This is essentially the method that the scientific community uses, in part or as a whole, depending on the level of the person and the problem under investigation. The aim of science teaching could, therefore, be summed up simply as to:
"impart an ability to acquireproblem solving skills of all kinds, utilitarian or abstract."
It does not require much reflection to conclude that science teaching as currently practiced in far removed from addressing itself to the fulfilment of the above objectives. It is totally information based, and seems to subscribe to the aim of conveying through the printed word as much of facual information on scientific subjects as various experts from these subjects deem it to be necessary from time to time. The logic for doing so seems to be to cater to the exponentially growing number of facts of science, by cramming in progressively more of these facts right down to the primary level during each review of the syllabus.
In order to fulfill the objectives listed earlier, it is apparent that a total departure needs to be made from the current practices. A complete revision of the view that more facts need to be transmitted in necessary. An alternative philosophy, that basic concepts of science, rather than its ever increasing factual information need to be effectively taught has emerged as a strong recommendation at the seminar.
A study (as reported by Prof. P.M.Bhargava of the Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, at the seminar) confirms that since 1930, whereas, the factual information in science has continued to grow exponentially, the conceptual curve in nearly linear, i.e. the total number of basic concepts have not really increased. This would strongly favour the introduction of the alternate philosophy for science teaching. The question then is to define the ways such a philosophy can be implemented, particularly at the school level.
Primary Schools : For children in primary schools, education must primarily mean a joyful activity, which it is not at present. The teaching strategy must be aimed at making the process of learning one that exploits the natural curiosity of the child and carries it forward; rather than a dull, drab, regimented rote-learning cramming of uninteresting material destined to kill the childs interest and enthusiasm.
The major stress at the primary level should be a through acquisition of language ability and elementary mathematics. Other subjects, including science must basically aid this process. Teaching, and particularly, science teaching must therefore mean an activity that a child is engaged in, but, importantly, stress must be laid on the child verbalising his activity. This can take the from of either the child being guided to describe by speech and writing, what he has done, and/or visualise his actions pictorially.
Language learning of this nature, where the child is constructing words, sentences or visualising his own activities is radically different from that of parroting lines written in his language text.
The problem of activity learning at primary schools is related to availability of material/kit and number of teachers. As for the first, a creative effort is needed to exploit the immediate environment of the child (plants, trees, fields, rivers, stones, clay, wood and other odds and ends) to make zero-cost activities (ref. "Keith Warren" preparation for Understanding). Since inservice training of primary teachers can perhaps only be a long-term objective, an immediate implementation strategy would require the preparation of suitable teachers manuals to enable teachers to start such a process of teaching.
Naturally, it is assumed that at the primary level, science teaching does not at all mean teaching basic physics, chemistry etc (eg. Force, energy, uniform velocity, atoms etc.). It means more an observation of interaction with, and some elementary ordering methods (e.g. sets) of things in the childs environment.
Middle Schools: In the middle schools (class 6,7,8), some basic concepts like measurement, area, volume, force, living and nonliving etc. and other general activities related to the various disciplines of science should also commence. Formal experimentation should also commence from this stage. This necessitates the availability of a functional science kit. A recommendation therefore is that from the middle school onwards, a regular laboratory should be available in schools. The science kit envisaged is not for demonstration purposes, but should be so available that each child can actually carry out experiments.
In this regard, the experience of the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme can serve as a guide. A sciencekit it provided in each of the schools covered by the programme (also 350 schools spread over 7 districts of MP), enabling students to carry out their experiments in groups of four. For an average school with 40 children in each of the classes 6,7, and 8, the average cost of the kit in Rs. 1200/- and the annual recurring expense in Rs. 1.5 per child. The cost of kit for the 9,000 middle schools of a state like Madhya Pradesh, therefore, works out to under Rs. 1.1 crore with an average annual replacement cost of about Rs. 16 lakhs certainly a feasible investment. The details of the HSTP kit are appended.
Secondary Schools : Of every 100 students that enter school, only 23 continue to the secondary stage (Challenge of Education document). The secondary school therefore is the jumping board for higher education and the job market for a selected few of the millions of Indian children. In recent years, particularly with the coming in of such arithmetical innovations like 10+2, this stage of school has been overloaded and snowed under a barrage of memorising of facts, by bringing in nearly al elements of the so-called modern science. Absolute disregard for the importance and emphasis of concepts and facts characterises the present situation, in which concepts like energy, force, entropy, structure of matter are dealt with n as many lines and half pages as modern technical details like the INSAT and colour TV or such less important and subsidiary details like elasticity, bending of beams etc.
A conscious effort has to be made to continue the conceptual development of the sciences the secondary stage, involving the activity method. The only difference at this stage is that as more abstract notions will have to be dealt with, experimental demonstration at each stage may be difficult, Hence, mental activity and model making have to be introduced so as to complement experimental activity. Experiments that meaningfully complement the theory have to be devised and brought in. The current practice of the students carrying out experiments that are mere verification of things they have already been told in theory classes is purposeless they know what they are supposed to produce and experimentation thus becomes a thoughtless pursuit of trying to produce the expected result by data fudging, back calculation or wrong interpretation of ones observations. Measurement is a valid exercise only when one is looking for an unknown quantity. If one is merely trying to duplicate or verify a known result, the process can no longer be treated as that of measurement.
Since, as mentioned earlier, the total number of science concepts are not expanding very much, the secondary school must see the beginning of the process of taking up a few of these concepts for a detailed study, from various approaches. Hence, for example, atoms must be arrived at as Dalton did, the physics aspects should follow the chemical roots; and in general, a historical evolution of ideas and their interconnectedness need to be clearly exposed. This therefore implies that the secondary school curriculum, instead of being a morass of often meaningless information must be replaced by a detailed exposition of the basic concepts of physics, chemistry and biology.
Having outlined the needs and objectives of a meaningful science teaching programme, the next, and important, step is to develop its implementation strategy.
Curriculum Development : The notion that syllabi, teaching methods, books etc. can or should be developed in committee or seminar rooms by some experts must be given up. Such development can and must occur through an organically combined effort of the subject experts, school teachers and childrens feedback, in live conditions. A feedback mechanism must provide the basis for continuous updating of curriculum and the involved teachers must from an important component of people who decide what and how to teach.
An important point to remember in this respect is that the content and method are not separable the nature of the content also in many ways defines the method. Involvement of school teachers, who finally perform in the class, is therefore an imperative condition in the curriculum development process.
The strategy upto class-8 must be to make the tacking process environment based, in addition to being activity based. The well known pedagogic principle, from known to unknown must form the basis of curriculum development upto class-8 level. Hence flexibility in forming curriculum at a regional level is a necessary condition. In this respect, the proposed notion of a national core curriculum at the school level contradicts the equally well accepted notion of environment-based curriculum. It may be accepted that a definition of a basic minimum level of achievements in skills and abilities at a national level is desirable and should be worked out. But the framing of curricula to achieve these levels must be left flexible so that environment-based education can be imparted at least upto class-8 level. The use of the environment outside the four walls of the classroom needs to be stressed. Field trips, either for collecting material or data, surveys, observations of soil profiles, night sky etc. must become integral parts of science study.
That these are not mere words but achievable aims has been demonstrated by the HSTP, which has utilised most of the above mentioned methods in developing its curriculum and teaching strategies.
Feedback and Follow-up Mechanism : The intellectual and academic isolation of a school teacher, particularly in rural areas is probably the most important factor responsible for his low level of efficiency. The removal of this isolation by providing library and laboratory facilities and the possibility of contact with peers with whom he can share his academic problems must be given the highest priority.
The school teacher, who is expected to act as an agent in a creative process, must receive continuous academic support. As of now, a teacher is left on his own for the rest of his life with a book written by "experts" from the big cities. He neither understands the book, nor do his students. If this situation is to be changed it is imperative that apart from a much more sensible preserve and continuous in-service training, the teacher must have, to repeat, access to books, material and human contact with some other persons who can become his academic peers. A follow-up system is visualised to meet this purpose.
In the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme, a follow-up group of about 200 higher secondary school teachers (called the operational group) exists for precisely this purpose. Most of these teachers are at least M.Sc.s in their subjects. Each one of them is expected to visit two middle schools, every month, in the vicinity of their own school. The purpose of these visits is not administrative supervision but an academic one; to discover what exactly is being taught in the class, teachers difficulties, problems in carrying out an experiment and so on. He is expected to help is solving many of these problems on the spot, keep note of everything that is important and send his report to the local sangam kendra. A sangam kendra, which exists at a school complex level or at the block level, receives about 20 such reports each month. The sangam kendra incharges duty is to compile, from the reports, issues and problems that require to be discussed. These then from the basis for the agenda of meetings, held every month, at the block level amongst teachers and follow-up personnel of the concerned block.
In this manner, a follow-up and feedback mechanism, combined with monthly meetings, provides a continuous review, evaluation, diagnostic and corrective means for the programme. Since the system is operative in seven districts and involves, by now, about 200 follow-up personnel catering to about 1000 middle school teachers, it is felt that it is a system that is replicatable.
The feedback so generated has been the basis for updating and revising chapters of the workbooks under the HSTP, in which both the teachers and follow-up personnel participate.
Teacher Training and Orientation : As indicated earlier, the introduction of an activity and environment based method of science teaching, laying more stress on the method rather than on cramming of facts necessitates adequately trained and oriented teachers.
Given the sheer number of primary schools, an in-service training of all primary teachers may not be feasible. However, their pre-service training of nearly two years at the TTIs and BTIs must be radically reformed so that they can be oriented towards more meaningful curricula. The present in-service training is not only a waste of time and money, but one of negative orientation. Run more on the lines of regimented schools, with stress on pedagogic principles of the rote learning type, it is a wonder that some teachers at all retain a love or confidence for teaching.
In addition to a total revamping of the pre-service training, in-service training, relevant refresher courses which update the content and method of each of their subjects rather than conveying fancy ideas about INSAT, video and computers must become an integral part of the education process. Resource persons from colleges and universities have to be drawn into this process of orientation.
Under the HSTP, each teacher goes through training, for three weeks every year, in the content and method of the programme. This training continues for three years. In each of these three weeks, it has been calculated that the training time amounts to eighty hours and this is an absolute minimum, even though realistic estimates show that the total time they spend in teaching science in their schools (Madhya Pradesh) is only sixty hours a year! The training received for these three years is continued through regular contact through follow-ups and monthly meetings. The follow-up persons are also trained, in the content and method of the programme and in follow-up method.
Examination : Finally, the obvious fact that examination, that eternal magnet, determines what becomes of any content and method in practical terms, needs to be clearly realised. Till it stresses on cheap recall and the vomiting out of facts, all innovations will get frustrated by it. Revamping the examination method ultimately is the first and most important step of any meaningful educational change.
For a science programme based on the objectives outlined at the outset, the examination method must mean an evaluation of achievement levels in the skills and abilities mentioned; the is the achievement of the method of science. An alternate strategy, that is open-book type, involves statistical methods, is conducted by the teachers themselves, and stresses on the application of the childs learning, has been amply demonstrated by the HSTP.
But change in the examination methods is not an easy change, not because of any inherent problems of devising alternate methods, but because of its political implications. It is a great wonder that examination reforms were allowed by the Madhya Pradesh government to the HSTP. The experience in Bombay Municipal schools and the Khiroda experiment (as mentioned by prof. Udgaonkar at the seminar) shows that both these innovative efforts ultimately floundered because examination reforms were not allowed by the authorities.
Since examinations are supposed to provide the interface, either with higher education or employment, any change at each stage is linked to what happens at the next stage. As such, a change in the examination method can be effected only if the total educational process is considered as a whole- The IIT entrance examination, the medical entrance examinations, the PET and PMT examinations of the states are, perhaps, a great stumbling block for any examination reform, particularly in science. It will be necessary to change such recruitment examinations in order to make sensible changes in school level examination. And until that is done, and a will to do so exists, only cosmetic educational changes shall come through, no matter how many new policies of education are formulated.
The various alternative examination models are well known and need not be discussed here. The HSTP model is well tried out and is actually in operations. A willful decision by the government to effect a total change in examination is the first and important step for concerned people to get together to suggest various models for trial, feedback and final acceptance.
Administration : It must be realized that no qualitative change in the educational process shall be possible without a corresponding change in the administration machinery. Mere bringing in of new books and idea, without any effort to bring in a conductive administrative structure is bound to be a cosmetic change. So, rotten, stagnant and anti-innovative has the educational administration structure become that it is a major factor for no change. The total preoccupation of the educational administration is with the disbursement of salaries, checks and punishments in the form of transfers and stoppage of increments - of teachers, in-dictment of any individual effort to innovation, giving rise to an incompetent and corrupt bureaucracy.
These lessons have been learnt the hard way in the HSTP, and it has become abundantly clear that any educational innovation by a group or the government cannot end with the development of curricula, but must go on to define the relevant administrative structure and fight for it. Creating a follow-up and feedback mechanism, in-service training of teachers, altering the examination methods, evolving a kit distribution method have been the major achievements of the HSTP, in the sense that they have required appropriate administrative changes. A detailed account of an administrative structure that has been formulated for the HSTP, containing the experiences and the struggles of thirteen years is available in the form of a manual and can serve as a model. The main plank in it is a series of decentralised tasks, giving some flesh and character to the idea of school complexes proposed by the Kothari Commission. It is proposed to print the manual in numbers so that each teacher, principal and administrative officer has a copy to ensure that lack of information does not become a dominant stumbling block, as it does in relation to bureaucracy.
Financial Implications : A general view held in the policy making corridors of this country seems to be that a science teaching method that requires a basic kit material, its annual replacement, a follow-up and feedback mechanism and a continuous training programme is too expensive for a poor country like India. Let us use the experience of HSTP to derive some estimates and examine this view on the basis of some concrete figures.
Consider middle schools first, because that is where the HSTP experience is immediately relevant. The one time (capital) cost of the science kit for an average school with 40 children in each class is Rs. 1200/-. Assuming an average district with 200 middle schools, the total cost for providing the basic kit works out to about Rs. 2.5 lakhs. The recurring expenditure, that includes kit replacement, TA/DA for follow-up personnel (at M P Government rates). TA/DA for monthly meetings, annual training of 100 teachers, overhead charges (postage etc.) at sangam kendra level etc. is Rs. 1.5 lakhs (as per the administrative manual for Hoshangabad district, prepared in consultation with the Department of Education, M.P.)
There are on an average, 100 primary schools per district. For an activity based teaching of sciences, mathematics and languages, a basic amount of Rs. 1000/- to purchase games, some material and to print teachers manuals per school would be fairly sufficient, considering that the stress would be on zero-cost experiments and local environment. The net cost per district then works out to Rs. 10 lakhs. A high recurring cost of Rs. 300 per school for this purpose means Rs. 3 lakhs per district per year.
Higher Secondary Schools (averages 40 per district) normally already have science laboratories. Even then, Rs. 10,000 per school to refurbish these laboratories could be provided to make them suitable for an experiment based science teaching programme. This would total Rs. 4lakh. A recurring expenditure of Rs. 5000/- per school per year, over and above already provided could meet the extra expenditure of kit replacement, follow-up and feedback and teacher orientation, adding up to Rs. 2 lakhs per year
With these basic figures, let us see what we get :
School Capital Recurring
Primary Rs. 10,00,000 Rs. 3,00,000
(1000 per district)
Middle Rs. 2,50,000 Rs. 1,50,000
(200 per district)
Higher Secondary Rs. 4,00,000 Rs. 2,00,000
(40 per district)
Total : Rs. 16,50,000 Rs. 6,50,000
Using these figures, the projection for the whole country (550 districts) would yield :
Capital : Rs 90,75, 00,000
Recurring : Rs. 35,75,00,000
What we therefore get is that over and above the current expenditure, the financial investment for bringing in an activity, experiment and environment based science teaching method with follow-up, feedback and teacher training components at the middle and higher secondary levels and with direct links to aid language and mathematics teaching at the primary school level, in the whole country, is around Rs. 100 crores (capital) and Rs. 35 crores (recurring) about three Mirage aircraft (capital) and one such aircraft (recurring). For further comparison, it may be interesting to note that the annual school education budget of a poor state like Madhya Pradesh is Rs. 200 crores; of course 90% of it is spent in paying low salaries to a woefully inadequate number of teachers.
The above estimates obviously exclude infrastructure expenses like construction and improvement of school buildings, drinking water etc. The important point, however, is that quality improvement in science teaching does not require such investments as people are made to fear, unless the only improvements are providing microcomputers and videos to every school in the country may be that is the implied yardstick. However, let us remember that a basic laboratory, meaningful curriculum, local environment and a continuously informed, trained and better paid teacher is a far better investment than all the high-tech together, and it is much cheaper.
All that has been mentioned above presupposes that science education at school level is aimed primarily towards creating a critical attitude, problem solving skills, a spirit of inquiry and a spur for the natural curiosity of the child. In particular, considering that most of Indias children drop-out of the educational stream by class-8, it is strongly suggested that teaching up to class-8 level should not be linked too strongly with the requirements of the higher education process, accepting it as an important and legitimate exit point. As such, the artificial needs of factual learning should be totally avoided upto the class-8 level and the stress should be on an overall development of critical faculties, so that a child may thirst for more knowledge, rather than be barraged by it. Higher secondary schools should become the first stage for links with higher education or vocation. However the stress should continue on all round development of critical thinking, rather than a mere learning of scattered bits of information.
It would seem that a particular political situation is developing in the country that may determine the educational pattern for the future. It is often argued that the colonial education was primarily geared to produce lower echelons of bureaucracy. Hence a limited amount of book-keeping and reading-writing ability was all that native education was expected to do. A similar situation seems to be developing in the country, with a slight difference. With a massive stress on technology, mostly imported, it is natural that a very large force of service and maintenance technicians shall be required. How shall they be created? A fear that the educational process, particularly science education, shall gradually transform to mostly produce such a workforce is not a far-fetched inference. This would be as much of a backward step as the colonial education is thought to be.
A conscious decision, therefore seems to be necessary to not let science education degenerate to merely produce services technical who will naturally get selected from the poorer sections of the society, and a handful of technocrats, coming from the elite sections. That science education should mean more a mass effort to create thinking, critical men & women, who may then learn technical skills, must remain the dominant conscious philosophy. If it is let to relegate to the purely utilitarian objectives, we shall have to blame only ourselves the colonial bogey is no longer valid.
3. GENERAL ISSUES
As pointed out in the introduction, science teaching cannot and should not be viewed in isolation of teaching of other subjects and other wider issues related to education in general. It would be fairly pointless if corresponding qualitative changes are not introduced in social science, language and mathematics teaching- by teaching we mean, just as for sciences, the content, method and teaching strategies of these subjects. The impressiveness for such corresponding changes, from field experience, has been so compelling for the Eklavya group that resource persons and teachers have been working for over two years now to develop critical, imaginative and enjoyable curricula in these subjects for implementation in rural schools of Madhya Pradesh.
Apart from such need to bring in a consolidated change in all subjects and all levels in our educational system, the more overpowering and far reaching issues related to education were a central point at the seminar.
Equity and Universalisation : A view that emerged very clearly and was shared by all was that although equity and universalisation are mentioned in the document Challenge of Education (be it equity through universalisation of education or equity in universalisation), there are statements in the document which seem to contradict this. It would appear that the document is implying the giving up of the responsibility of iniversalisation of education. Many of the suggestions made in the document will eventually result in lack of equality; to divide equally between unequal, it was argued, is not equity.
The recommendations and suggestions which are supposed to produce quality ring particularly hollow in light of the fact that a child labour bill is to be placed in Parliament soon, not to discuss its abolition, but to prescribe minimum age, wages and rights of child labour. Similarly, by calling the poor as a millstone round our necks (page 37), the document, through a reprehensible faux pas has, nonetheless, revealed whose interests are at stake; which is that of less than ten per cent of elite beads adorning these burdened necks.
That the Challenge of Education does not refer to child labour at all is shocking, to say the least. It just does not seem right to talk of a new educational policy, or an educational policy of any kind unless one is prepared to face the fact that millions of children in the country are used as labourers.
As it is, majority of the children in the country are disadvantaged, economically, socially, as well as culturally, with enough existing practices in the education system that continue to perpetuate these disadvantages through private schools, alien and inappropriate medium of instruction, culturally biased evaluation procedures, and curricula that do not fulfil the needs of most of the children. Even the apparently innocuous practice of summer vacations tends to accentuate this inequality; for the rural child, free of agriculture labour during this period, it is simply a discontinuation of the process of education while for an urban middle class child, it means an exposure to new experience and an enrichment.
Most people at the seminar held the view that all suggestion, recommendations made in order to bring about equity must take into account that these, unless meticulously examined, will not serve the aim, but will perpetuate and even widen the gap between the haves and the have nots.
Non-formal Teaching : for instance, must not be viewed as an alternative to formal school education, but only as a supplement, an additional help to those sections of the society who do not have immediate access to formal education. For education is not synonymous with acquiring knowledge or being literate. It is providing an environment to an individual for his social, cultural and intellectual development, Unless a non-formal teaching programme can bring the disadvantaged child to the same footing as a child from a more privileged background, it is not easy to see how it can bring about equity.
This raises the issue of how a child who has gone through a non-formal programme shall be evaluated. How is one to decide when such a child can enter the formal system? Questions such as these are extremely important, and unless answers to these are forthcoming, non-formal education might actually further stigmatise the underprivileged as inforiorly educated, with little chance of social mobility and competition with the formal education.
Model Schools: Such schools are opposed to for similar reasons to begin with, it is debatable if the schools on which the model school are to be modelled provide good quality education simply because they have better facilities; the children who go to these public (mostly private) schools, come from backgrounds where they are exposed to a wide and rich variety of experience. Further, much of this high quality education consists of acquiring social, rather than intellectual skills; the percentage of children from such schools becoming scientists or creative artists, for instance, is very low.
Doubtlessly, extra, better facilities such as access to games, debating, dance and music etc. improve the performance of children. But such avenues must be opened for all children through, may be, centres to which children from neighbouring schools have access; at a much lower cost than that of separate pace-setter schools for very few. Better education is the right of all children, and not of some dubiously chosen gifted few, especially if equity is the guiding principle.
That really creative and gifted children should be nurtured is something no one is likely to disagree to. But now does one identify such children? What makes a child creative is an open question. And, should talent be nurtured in isolation? There does not seem to be any retionale for labelling a given child gifted, to transplant him into an alien environment away from his roots and then, expect the child to develop his gifts. Will this necessarily be better education? Can it not have adverse effects on the child? And what about the children who are not chosen? Are they to wear the noncreative label for the rest of their lives? Can they, never exhibit their creativity?
Early selection in any case is an undesirable proposition. The pressures of being labelled special and of being expected to perform accordingly have demoralized and wrecked many an individual. Elite pacesetting institutions which nurture the gifted science and technology talent of our country (IITs etc.) have produced scores of such defeated individuals, and only about twenty percent of the non-defeated stick to their profession. As such these pace-setting institutions have not contributed to the indigenous development of technology. Do we need to subject young children to similar pressures? Also, early selection would thwart any slim how a child might have of overcoming the handicap proffered on him by being born into a poor or disadvantaged family, and would deny him the chance to catch up.
The earlier we apply the sieve, the further we would be from equity.
High Technology : A whole set of equally important question arise when one begins to examine suggestion regarding the use of high-technology teaching aids with the aim of bringing Indian children at par with children from the developed countries.
How useful TV is as a medium of instruction for school children is an open question. In fact, France and Sweden are two countries, which have actually stopped using TV for childrens education, finding it an unsuitable substitute for the teacher student interactive teaching practice. Even is high quality software which, if one took the available one as a sample, is practically non-existent, was to be produced, to provide a supporting hardware infrastructure means enormous financial inputs, without which these aids will remain confined to a few model and public school, catering to a miniscule population.
Exactly the same argument holds against micro-computers. There is no evidence to show that learning through computers (at school) is more efficient or effective & the inputs financial as well as intellectual are enormous. Creating a national infrastructure is an unachievable task and finally, given the constraints and the unequal nature of the social structure, only the privileged will derive whatever little benefit there may be from such teaching aids. Even though there may be little educational value of such aids, the have-nots will get labelled and further marginalised from the benefits of education.
Finances : Are required, and not merely for high-tech teaching aids. They are required to bring in univalent, for training and paying our teachers better, for constructing many more schools with proper buildings, drinking material. Any amount that is required for this has to be put in, whether it raises the expenditure from 3% of the GNP 6% or above. If education is to be considered within the perspective of the development model of the country, then the model must be one that considers human resource development as a basic and necessary input for any development, not only in name, but in action. Highest financial priority must, therefore, be given to this basic development, rather than to technological development; which anyway will be on a short limb without an adequately educated population. If the present developmental model of the country does not reflect this priority, then, instead of constraining education financially, the model itself needs a reformulation.
Comparatively larger investments are however required to ensure proper infrastructure facilities, buildings, drinking water etc.), better paid and an adequate number of teachers. It must be realised that such financial investment, even if it is more than double than present, is an imperative need and cannot and should not be avoided. The countrys developmental model must be cast, or recast, to ensure that this need is not constrained.