Enhancing the Quality of Education International
Conference - June 26-28, 2007
India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
LARGE SCALE INITIATIVES: NECESSITY OF
GOVERNMENT- PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
Education is a single most intensive and extensive occupation of the humankind. It involves everybody – as students, as teachers, as parents and as administrators. It extends to nearly one fourth of your life span. India had an enormous backlog when she became independent. The constitution we framed setout specific target dates for universalizing elementary education, but no target for eradicating illiteracy prevailing amongst more than 75% of the population. Problems went on accumulating. India became, and continue to remains so, the country with largest number of illiterates. Elementary education is still far from being universal. It was under such circumstances, the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishat, the premier People’s Science Movement of Kerala initiated two major projects, in collaboration with the state government.
The first was the Total Literacy Campaign in Kerala and then all over India, during 1989-91. The second was the major curriculum revision initiated in 1996. Both were massive. Both were collaborative efforts. In the literacy campaign the KSSP was in the fore front and the government facilitated. In the second KSSP remind behind the curtains and facilitated the academic part and help in teacher training.
Sri. K.R. Rajan was the Collector of the Ernakulam District. He was a former activist of the KSSP. Together with him the KSSP prepared in 1988 a project to make Ernakulam district totally literate in one year. The National Literacy Mission approved the project. A 24 hour office for the TLC Ernakulam was set up. All bureaucratic rigidities were dissolved in the solvent of work. The bureaucrats and the activists worked shoulder to shoulder. The divide between people and the administration became narrower. There was an air of festivity in the entire district for a period of one year. 23,000 volunteers came forward to make 170,000 persons literate. Ernakulam was declared totally literate in February 1990. The mood was carried to the other districts of Kerala and other states of India. A new organization – the Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samithi - consisting of activists from various parts of India was set up to work with the government and the new National Literacy Mission. Relation between this BGVS and the NLM was of a peculiar kind. The NLM considered BGVS as its informal wing or “People’s Wing”. In the NLM Executive Committee Protocol the BGVS was given a high position. The result of this full hearted collaboration was that India witnessed the largest People’s Movement that has ever taken place in history. 120-130 million illiterates attended literacy classes. About 12-13 million volunteers spent in all about 400 hours each to make them literate. All this took place during the period 1990-’95. When the spirited team of bureaucrats went away and followed by bland bureaucrats this collaboration broke down and the TLC too suffered. Without either the political will or the bureaucratic will and desire, to win the confidence of the people nothing great will happen. Detonating a nuclear weapon or launching a satellite is comparatively far less important socially, than total literacy or universal education.
The bureaucrats in charge of elementary education had no vision, no desire and so they never learned from the experience of the NLM. In 1992 India hosted a major conference of 9 most populous countries in the world to work out a program of action for “Education For All”. The objective was to ensure 8 years of education for all. In India this led to the initiation of the District Primary Education Programme – DPEP. This was quite an ambitious program to ensure universal access and good quality of education for all children. But the programme was planned and implemented purely by the bureaucrats. No attempt was made to ensure people’s participation. It failed in its objective. After the initial 7 year program it was renamed and recast as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. But there was no Abhiyan, because people were not involved.
A Hot Subject
Education is a widely debated subject. As far as India is concerned, there are certain propositions shared by most of the debaters. There is the question of access. It is, by no means, universal. There are a large number of children who get never enrolled. There may be difference of opinion about exact numbers, but it is large. If we define access with full retention up to 8th class then the figures come down drastically. And if we take 10 years of education as the minimum desirable, then access is less than 20-25% or so. The case of Kerala is different. Here the access is near universal, more than 98%. Nearly 90% of the children who enroll in class one reach up to class ten.
It is also, generally agreed that the quality of education we give to our children is very poor. This is the case in Kerala too. There are a few elite institutions run either by the central government (Kendreeya Vidyalaya, Navodaya Vidyalaya etc.) or by private individuals or institutions like Doon School, Lovedale, Amity International, Springdale and so on, which are supposed to be of high quality. Through eligibility restrictions (central schools) and financial restrictions (commercial schools) only a small percentage of the children get admitted to these elite schools. If we, grade these as ‘Three Star’ and ‘Five Star’ schools respectively, then there are a few state run or state aided single star/twin star schools in each district. Admission to these schools are not based on neighbourhood system, but on ‘performance’ of the children in admission tests or interview. Majority of the children admitted belong to the upper middle class and the rich. Children of lower middle class and poor families find their admission – that is those who ever get enrolled at all – in starless, building less, teacher less, teaching less schools. And their number comes to about 200 million. Even in Kerala, the attainment levels of children with 8 to 10 years of retention, are adjudged as unacceptably low.
One can say that in India, except Kerala, 70-80% of the children get, on an average, only 4-5 years of schooling in their lifetime and do not learn even the basic skills in literacy and numeracy. Of course, they don’t get any other skills too which would have helped them in their future life.
So access is insufficient and quality is poor. The Government of India has been scuttling the Right to Education Bill on the pretext of lack of finance. This is sheer no sense. It is a question of priority. Defense purchases (and related kick offs), employee salaries (and related expansion of the market for multinational products), tax exemption to the rich on the pretext of promoting investments etc. get much higher priority than education. Though included in the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA government the leading partners do not have education in their agenda. There is no political will. People, especially the disadvantaged majority have to take the initiative, both for universal access and for improvement of quality.
Quality, however, is an elusive concept. Do we mean equalizing with the elite ‘public schools’ and government schools or something else? When we train a doctor or a nurse, an engineer or a chemist we know exactly what for we are training her or him. They are supposed to carry out certain tasks assigned to them. These tasks are to be carried out for the existence and growth of the society. This is only one aspect of education. There is yet another aspect. Humans have not only a material life, but also a spiritual – cultural (no-material) life. Education should help them to develop in this life too. Decades ago, there was a debate between Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, about the relative emphasis on material and spiritual aspects of education. In fact they were only trying to make people understand these two aspects clearly. Education then and even today was concerned only with the material aspects of life. The knowledge domain and the skill domain are addressed, but not the wisdom or attitude domain. There is a reason for this. Education has two mutually contradictory aspects within it. Education for progress and education for change - the conservative and liberating roles. Both Gandhiji and Tagore advocated a liberating role for education. They failed. The conservatives won. These statements do require elaboration.
Two Roles: Conservation and Liberation
Conservation demands forward movement of the society along paths already set out. Liberation demands a change in the path and even a change in goals. By the 20th century beginning India has already entered the path of capitalist development, though feudalism was still strong. There was a truce between feudal landlords and newly emerging capitalists. Many radicals in India including people like Eshwar Chandra Vidyasagar welcomed the wind of ‘modernization’ blowing from the west. Gandhi and Tagore, though they rejected the mechanical orthodoxy and caste oppression, saw the pitfalls of ‘westernism’, (in fact capitalism) and its utter disregard for everything that is non-material or spiritual. The capitalist world outlook saw everything, art, music, nature, love, affection everything, either as ‘commodities’ or as ‘utterly worthless’. Both Gandhi and Tagore were advocating an education system which would detract the society from this path of development. Gandhi was concerned, also, about the material development. But he denounced the emphasis on industries, especially large scale modern industries, which permitted only a hand full to ‘own’ and the majority is condemned to wage slavery. He advocated small scale industries which can be under the control of the worker and not vice versa. He advocated universal participation and opposed job displacing mechanization. He advocated production by the masses instead of mass production. He realized the value of socially useful productive work as a major pedagogic tool for holistic education. He would rather make the children work and earn to pay for schooling rather than depend on the excise duty on toddy or alcohol for resources to run the schools. The slogan ‘earn while you learn’ was both a pedagogic slogan as well as a protest: don’t encourage drinking to pay for education! (How true it is even today) His, and of Tagore’s, education system was not to conserve and strengthen prevailing trends, but to question and derail them and to build new tracks. But even his close associates, especially people like Nehru, refused to accept his logic. Enamored by the success of Soviet Union which adopted a path of accelerated modernization, Nehru became the most powerful proponent of ‘modernization’ in India and an education system to accelerate the process. Nai Taleem of Gandhiji was set aside and an era of aggressive ‘Paschim Taleem’ unfolded. However, this was beset with a number of contradictions.
In 1947 when India became independent, agriculture and allied activities were the main stay of the economy. Traditional and cottage industries provided more than half the industrial production. Contribution of modern industries to the GDP was less than 15% of the total. Even today, it is in the range of 15 to 20%. Agriculture, allied activities and traditional industries contributed to 70-80% of the work force. Even today it is more than 60%. Modern education, that is education for modernization, bypassed them. It simply did not recognize the skills and knowledge required for crop husbandry, for animal husbandry, for fishing, for handloom or coir, for beedi or cashew, for jute or ceramic industries. All children, and an increasing number of them, were given a standardized education which did not teach them anything about the above sectors. Their education was primarily geared towards service sector and partly towards modern industries. However there were and are, limits, to what these sectors can absorb. Bulk of the educated people became unemployed, and the irony of it, even unemployable. Even in these sectors, bulk of them form a category called “unorganized sector” with no security of income and life. The mismatch between education and society grew. There is more to it.
At the time of independence India was a country ridden with inequalities – economic, social and knowledge. Bulk of the people were poor, depressed and uneducated. Over the past half a century these inequalities have become more pronounced. The income gap, the social gap and the knowledge gap between the elite and the disadvantaged have been increasing. The system of education as it exists today, help to widen these divides, each reinforcing the others.
When we speak of quality of education, often we are not addressing the problem: what quality? To strengthen an economic system which aggravates inequalities? Or to help build a new system which reduces inequalities and lay stress on development rather than growth. Most of the lamentations on hears about declining quality of public education is pointed towards the failure of imparting those skills and knowledge which help aggravate inequalities. Not only that, but also skills and knowledge to plunder natural resources! There may be some who argue that it is not the education system that is responsible for inequalities, but the economic system. Education is neutral. There may be a few who may even doubt the feasibility of reducing inequalities. But nobody will argue that inequality is a desirable feature and it should go on increasing.
We are interested in the ‘liberative’ quality of education, in its ability to transform the present ‘in-egalitarian society into an egalitarian one.
Visions about the New Society
Social scientist Eric Hobsbawm concludes his book The Age of Extremes – A Short History of the Twentieth Century with the following statement: “….. one thing is plain. If humanity is to have a recognizable future, it cannot be by prolonging the past or the present. If we try to build the third millennium on that basis, we shall fail. And the price of failure, that is to say the alternative to a changed society, is darkness”. (Hobsbawm-1995)
The present trajectory of human history is one leading to the destruction of the species due to, amongst other reasons,
(i) resource depletion
(ii) wars to take control over the dwindling resources
(iii) pollution accretion leading to, global warming and all its consequences, as well as to
(iv) destruction of sources of potable water
Denis and Donella Meadows wrote in their 1992 book Beyond The Limits: (Meadows, 1992)
- Human use of many essential resources and generation of many kinds of pollutants have already surpassed rates that are physically sustainable. Without significant reduction in material and energy flows, there will be, in the coming decades, an uncontrolled decline in per capita food output, energy use and industrial production.
- This decline is not inevitable. To avoid this two changes are necessary. The first is a comprehensive revision of policies and practices that perpetuate growth in material consumption and in population. The second is a rapid, drastic increase in the efficiency with which materials and energy are used.
- A sustainable society is still technically and economically feasible…. Transition to a sustainable society requires a careful balance between long term and short term goals and an emphasis on sufficiency, equity and quality of life rather than on quantity of output. It requires more than productivity and more than technology; it also requires maturity, compassion and wisdom.
This was 15 years ago. These words are more true to day than ever before. High quality in education means, therefore, imparting maturity, compassion and wisdom to understand what is sufficient, or as Gandhiji put it, to differentiate need from greed. This demands a fuller understanding of the concept of welfare value as against exchange value and use value. Education should help the students to understand how the pursuit of growth in place of development leads them to ever increasing alienation and ever decreasing ability to lead truly human lives. Clearly, the so called developed countries will have to learn how to maintain and improve their quality of life, while decreasing the throughput of materials and energy. The characteristics of such a society have been indicated by Marx a century and half ago and reiterated by Gandhi, half a century later. Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto that the features of a post revolutionary society will be, amongst others:
“Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equitable distribution of the population over the country” (Marx, Engels 1848)
Elsewhere in Capital he had enumerated the woes of metropolitan cities like London which disrupt nature’s metabolism and which pollute Thames creating innumerable health problems. He was arguing for de-metropolitanization as against present day communists building never-manageable Shanghais, Beijings, Calcuttas and Kochins.
Improving the quality of education for a future society should mean imparting knowledge and skills to build rurban societies which are more efficient than purely urban societies. The politics and economics of such a world were indicated by Gandhiji six decades ago – his concept of self sufficient Village Republics. He wrote:
“In this structure composed of innumerable villages there will be ever widening, never ascending circles. Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose centre will be the individual always ready to perish for the villages, till at last the whole life becomes one life composed of individuals never aggressive in their arrogance, but very humble, sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they are integral part. Therefore the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner, but will give strength to all within and derive its own strength from it. I may be taunted with the retort this is all Utopian and therefore, not worth single thought. If Euclid’s points, though incapable of being drawn by human agency has an imperishable value, my picture has its own for the mankind to live” (Gandhi,1946).
Thus, the new trajectory which we want the human species to adopt, in order to save from self destruction, will be characterized by;
(i) Intra-generational justice – equity
(ii) Intergenerational justice- sustainability
(iii) Continuous increase in both Physical and Spiritual Qualities of Life, of all
To achieve the above three objectives one can define a number of concrete objectives in science, technology, culture, political organization, production etc. which will dictate the curriculum. For example;
(i) Technologies to extract solar energy cheaply and abundantly
(ii) Technologies to convert wastes into resources
(iii) Technologies to clean up the environment
(iv) Technologies to make small not only beautiful but also powerful.
(v) Economic organization to continuously increase each one’s control on her/his own life, to increase self reliance and self sufficiency of small communities
(vi) Organization of the global economy as a horizontally connected network of local economies
(vii) A continuous reduction in the necessary labour time through a combination of improved technologies and increased wisdom to differentiate goods with positive welfare values from others
and so on.
A High Inertia System
Education is a massive system. Indian education consists of more than 200 million students, five to six million teachers, and a large paraphernalia of administrative structures – it is a high inertia system. It has refused to change its course for six decades after independence. True, efforts to change it were half-hearted and weak. Further, education is mostly a state subject and national efforts had only limited impact, much less in the past than what they have today. Being so, the states had more freedom to innovate. Kerala is such a state which had innovated considerably, especially during the past one decade. The Kerala education system consists of about 60 lakh students and 2.5 lakh teachers, in the formal system. In 1996 the State government initiated a revolutionary programme to revise curriculum, syllabi, pedagogy and evaluation. It was a round about turn from the long prevailing banking or empty sac concept of education to one which assists the child to construct knowledge in its own way and pace. A group 60-70 teachers, assisted by friends from Ekalavya and elsewhere, conferred and worked literally day and night for about three to four months to work out the curriculum and material for first four years. The changes envisaged were so radical that, it shocked the education machinery into numbness, though within a few months after introduction severe reaction set in. This reaction had three sources:
(i) Opposition of conservative teachers to change
(ii) Opposition of vested interests - tuition centers, guide book publishers etc.
(iii) Opportunistic political opposition
This last was the most venomous and dirty. The World Bank is considered as an enemy by all progressives and radicals. And rightly so. The DPEP was funded through the World Bank. Hence it was likely to be more harmful than beneficial to the poor. The expenses for the preparation of the new curriculum was met from the DPEP resources, and hence was likely to be engineered by the World Bank and therefore consciously planned to be against the interests of the poor. Involvement of even the CIA cannot be ruled out, so they argued. People like Paulo Frere, Noam Chomsky and Prof. Yash Pal might be in the services of, or at least inadvertment tools of the CIA conspiracy… Thus went on the year long vilification campaign. The People’s Plan Campaign, the People’s Resource Mapping Programme etc. too were construed as sinister plans of the CIA to destabilize Kerala.
However since the KSSP (Kerala Sastra Sahaitya Parishath) had done two decades of preparatory work and had ‘transformed’ more than a thousand teachers, the change could not be reversed. During 1997-1998 the new curriculum was tried in six districts. The text books were revised based on the feedback. A massive program for retraining and transforming teachers got initiated. It was no simple task. Suitable trainers, confident in and conversant with the new pedagogy and curriculum were hard to find. Even those that existed within the ranks of the KSSP were bypassed. Narrow considerations prevailed upon Education Ministers in selecting trainers, a majority of whom did not understand or believe in the new curriculum. On most of the training occasions a couple of teachers associated with the KSSP, became the de-facto trainers. This process had its limitations. The message that went across was that even the ministers or political parties are not interested in the new curriculum. However two decades of multidimensional activities of the KSSP had prepared the Kerala society to accept and even welcome these changes. And the KSSP trained teachers held the banner high. Within two years the opposition had exhausted its venom, the parents began to observe that their children are learning more, that they have became more active, that they began to like the school immensely and that their self confidence grew up perceptibly. New curricula were introduced in upper primary and high schools in an orderly manner. There were a lot of problems, particularly due to insufficient preparatory work in the high schools. The task was huge – to transform more than 150000 teachers, from teacher- text book centered mode into a child – activity centered mode. Even to day the transformation is unstable and superficial. The necessary changes in pre-service training and education have not become effective. But the new curricula and pedagogy has come to stay in Kerala State. In other states, a few progressive experimental schools are following new curriculum and pedagogy. To transform the state curricula in accordance with the National Curriculum Framework which got much inspiration and insight from the Kerala experiment is going to be extremely difficult.
New Curriculum and Pedagogy
Conscious attempt has been made to see that the curriculum relates to the child’s life and help the child to develop as a scientific understanding of the environment. It can be described as child centered, activity based, life related and environment oriented. It is not ‘text book’ based, though text books will be used. It is not teacher centered in the sense that teacher is the ultimate repository of all knowledge. The role of the teacher becomes much more important and complex. She is a facilitator and helps the child to ‘discover’, to analyse, to establish relationships to construct knowledge. There is nothing spectacularly new in any of these. They are all well known principles. In one short sentence this can be termed as a break from behavioural theory and acceptance of constructivist theory. Kerala teachers were not well versed in such theories. They should have been. Gandhiji wrote as early as 1937
“We are stuffing children’s minds with all kinds of information without ever thinking of stimulating or developing them……. By education I mean an all round drawing out of the best in the child and man – body, mind and spirit. Education is not putting in information, but it is drawing out the hidden potential for good in each human being.”
However through experience gained from a large number of experiments many teachers had unconsciously transformed themselves into constructivism. A new curriculum approach document was made to make this transformation conscious and universal. What is new, is the way they are brought in to practice and the extensive preparatory experiments that were done earlier and its overall impact on children. Two indicators can be used to measure the impact of the new curriculum in the achievement levels of children. One is the pass percentage in SSLC examination. The other is the overall mark distribution curve. The class does not consist of a few ‘bright’ students and a large number of ‘good for nothing’ children. Every child is good for something. The class mark profile became much more flat than in the past. The first batch of students who studied under new curriculum and new pedagogy right through from class I to class 10 appeared for SSLC examination in 2007 March. 82.29% of them passed and became eligible for higher education. This was a stunning result. Under the old system the pass percentage used to be from 40%-50%, that too with moderation. Majority of the students were destined to fail, because right from class I onwards the system was geared to children from elite homes. The new system cared for everybody, it was not possible for the teacher to be glued on to some pet children. A variety of skills and knowledge which children from deprived sections do possess, which were considered worth less earlier, found a value under the new dispensation. Today children know more about their own village/town, about their own culture, about their state and country. They also know about existing inequities and to some extent, the reasons thereof. They know about environmental degradation, global warming, impending water scarcity, detrimental effects of the throw away culture, of plastics and so on. At least all of them are supposed to know. Levels of attainment vary, partly due to resource inequities, but mainly due to deficiencies in teacher involvement and commitment.
Table: Improvement In The SSLC Examination Performance
2000 42.89 56.18
2001 43.58 56.22
2002 49.91 60.62
2003 52.52 64.89
2004 56.69 70.06
2005 58.49 No moderation
2006 68.00 20% sessional mark
The KSSP conducted in 2006, a formal study of the achievement and deficiencies of the new curriculum, now ten years in operation (ERU, KSSP, 2006). The objectives of the study were
(i) To find out how teachers, students and parents evaluate the new curriculum, based on their ten years of experience.
(ii) To identify its positive and negative aspects
(iii) To understand the responses to the new examination system
(iv) To identify the immediate tasks to be taken up.
(KSSP had been involved in school education right from the middle of the sixties)
The study was done through open questions put to 270 respondents, 75% of them being teachers 13% parents and 12% students. 94% of the teachers welcomed the change. More than 75% of students and parents too welcomed it. The most notable achievements according to them were:
(i) It helped personality development of the child, children take studies more seriously, their reasoning power increases, brighter children get more challenging opportunities and problem solving abilities are enhanced. There are, no more, any children who are “good for nothing”. All have increased confidence to face problems and ability to express their opinion. Social skills have improved. They read more, are less selfish… these are the opinions voiced by teachers
(ii) Classrooms have become lively, no more rote learning, cooperative learning became popular. Learning extended beyond classrooms. The differences in nature and pace of children could be accommodated.
(iii) Language learning showed spectacular improvement.
(iv) The system of grading and continuous and comprehensive evaluation were viewed positively.
(v) Teachers too changed. They became more child friendly. Also they began to understand and accept the necessity of continuous retraining.
The following limitations were pointed out
(i) Physical amenities like classroom, its architecture, laboratory, library etc. require substantial improvement.
(ii) Mathematics text books do not do justice to the new curriculum
(iii) CCE has not yet become scientific and clear
(iv) Field testing before expansion ought to have been done. Many pit falls could have been, then, avoided.
(v) The number of actual working days are far less than what was contemplated in the curriculum
(vi) 45 minute long periods are insufficient.
(vii) Monitoring is weak.
(viii) Quality of teacher retraining is steadily coming down. There is terrific paucity of good resource persons.
(ix) Above all, the state leadership did not show any committant to or understanding of the reforms.
Many parents complained that teachers have not internalized the new curriculum, that many of them distort it, and that many follow old pedagogical methods.
The main findings of the study were
(i) New curriculum has led to notable achievements in education.
(ii) The objective of reducing learning load could not be achieved.
(iii) Administrators show scant respect to issues like curriculum formation, transaction and evaluation. They don’t identify problems and intervene.
(iv) Concomitant changes in other areas like administration, school management etc. were not made.
(v) Teacher retraining does not meet the needs.
(vi) Monitoring at all levels is weak.
Based on this the KSSP made the following suggestions:
- Based on a comprehensive approach document make the curriculum more scientific. Initiate necessary studies for this in the SCERT.
- District Panchayats should be given the responsibility of physical infrastructure and monitoring as well as quality improvement in teacher retraining
- Integrate the activities of the District Panchayat, Directorate of Public Instruction and SSA.
- Special initiative to improve mathematics education
- Improve CCE through field testing
- Local Self Governments to evaluate institutions and provide support system.
- Make evaluation transparent.
The state is poised with the next round of curriculum revision with massive participation of teachers and the public. The National Curriculum Framework, the Kerala State Approach Document prepared on its basis and the major features of the revised curriculum are explained to parents and citizens in panchayat level meetings of citizens convened specially for this. One hard nut yet to be cracked is Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation – CCE. That puts in a substantial amount of load on teachers and they resist it. Further, though there are a number of schools which have very few students, by far in majority of the classrooms there are forty or fifty children per class. Though the overall teacher student rations 1:29 or so, in practice in nearly fifty percent of the classrooms this is more than 1:40. The physical class room strength shall not be, in any case, more than 25. This would require appointment of at least 80,000-90,000 new teachers. There is no escape from this. The state has to find resources for this. But, more is to be done. For more than four decades Commissions after Commissions have recommended neighbourhood school system. Existing government and aided schools are to be linked with clear feeder areas. They shall not admit children from other areas. Number of divisions to be adjusted as per requirement. Government and aided school teachers are to be treated on par for deployment etc. and shall be under the control of the local self governments. Massive plans are being thought of for all these.
One major innovation contemplated is to impart to all children skills in functional English and IT. By the time children reach class seven they should be able to comprehend what they read and hear and also to express orally and in writing what they have comprehended – both in Malayalam and English. On computer they should be able to word process in English and Malayalam, able to e-communicate and to browse the global library through the internet. In high schools they will learn to work on networked systems. Special English Language Teacher Training Institutes are contemplated…. but all these are futuristic. What is to be shared presently is the past experience, especially that of the KSSP.
Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishat is a People’s Science Organization founded in 1962. It adopted the slogan Science for Social Revolution in 1973. Apart from science popularization, KSSP was interested in and involved with education from the second half of sixties itself. Majority of its leadership comes from the ranks of teachers. Over the past four decades it has conducted innumerable experiments, some small, some massive in education. These can be broadly classified into
(i) Quizzes, talent tests etc –addressed to individual student
(ii) Group activities like Children’s Science Festivals, involving hundreds and occasionally thousands of children.
(iii) Academic project activities
(iv) Curricular experiments
(v) Mass Literacy Campaign
(vi) Enquiry Commissions, Study Commissions
Of particular relevance to quality of education are the curricular experiments. They are related to integrated science teaching and pedagogy. Two of them are described below
Living with Science
This was one of the earliest systematic experiments conducted by the KSSP, in late eighties. It had several variants-food based, nature based, astronomy based etc. These experiments were designed with two objectives.
(i) to make learning a joyful experience to children (Joy of Learning: Centre for Environment Education, Ahmedabad)
(ii) to make teaching a doubly sweet experience to teachers (Adhyapanam Athimadhuram)
The strategy followed was as follows: start with a daily experience, build a discussion on it, diverge into connected topics, always keeping in mind real life experience, bring in as many curricular concepts as possible, emphasizing on interconnectedness of everything and the ever changing character of nature. Normally such camps are of six days duration, residential and of mixed, 10 to 14 years, age group.
The thematic slogan of one such camp was “Science is Life Itself.” It was divided into 9 dialogues, one major experiment, several activities including singing, acting and sky watching. The dialogues consisted of
1. How we live? Basic needs, sectors of economy, achievements in S and T, differences between tribal and developed societies etc. ending with Only One Earth- 2hours.
2. Life of Primitive People – before agriculture – development of basic understanding of nature. Botany, zoology, physiology, material science, bodies in motion , calendar- all came from daily life experience.
3. Agricultural Society: Fertile Crescent – early civilizations, four river valley civilizations, Greek, Roman, Vedic, Arabic and Confucian civilizations and so on
4. Modern Times; development of modern science 17th to 20th century.
5. Energy – cooking food – leading to the construction of high efficiency smokeless chulha – science of burning- products- physics of burning – heat transfer – efficiency –water boiling and food cooking experiments- motion motion everywhere.
6. How much food we want? actual cooking food and introduction to the human body
7. Plants – the primary source of all food- cycles in nature – ecology
8,9. Generalization and abstraction – role of language – framework of science: change, law, evolution, mutual relationship, quality and quantity, certainty, uncertainty, probability, absolute and relative truths, theory and practice etc. too were discussed in passing.
Several camps with this ‘Course Content’ were held, experiences collated , mostly in the heads of participating teachers.
Star-gazing and related conversations led to another string of classes. Nature walk was the mode used for still another track. Though all these had concepts from curriculum inbuilt into them, they were not designed for direct classroom pedagogy. The first such experiment was Integrated Science Teaching
This was a fully simulated class room experiment held during summer vacation in a village school, and then repeated elsewhere. The class chosen was sixth standard completed, going on to seventh. The text book used was the standard class 7 general science text. The portion to be covered in the first three months was taught in 20 hours, in 10 days. On the 10th day an examination using the same question paper which was used for the first term examination of the previous year was administered to them.
Evaluation showed two interesting results:
(i) None of the correct answers had identical sentences. The students answered in their own language and not reproduced from text book. This showed that they have understood what they wrote.
(ii) The class mark profile went up considerably. The mark profiles of the same class for a number of previous examinations were available. While in all previous examinations bulk of the students got less than 20-30% of marks, here most of them scored above 40% failure rate come down considerably.
Prior to the experiment lot of preparatory work was done, discussions held, on where to start, how to develop, how to establish interconnections between different branches of science, how to make things life related, what activities are to be designed to help the transaction and so on. In the first experiment, the starting point was food taken by the children the day before, different and strange food habits across the globe, the pre-eminences of cereals, seed collection activity for the next day – classification of seeds leading to set, union, intersection etc. and to a variety of other topics. All the topics in general science were connected up to form a beautiful garland of life.
Later the leading teachers spend hours and hours, and made four column teaching notes in 18 units to cover the portion for one full year and it was tried out in 20 schools as field trial. The results reconfirmed the experience of the summer experiment;
(i) Children understand and retain concepts better this way
(ii) They are creative while reproducing
(iii) There is no reason for most of the children to fail
Several dozens of experiments using different starting points, discussion routes and examples, but covering the same curriculum were conducted. Later KSSP prepared a large scale project proposal for ‘Teacher Transformation’, to make them experience that teaching can be a very pleasurable experience. Due to non cooperation of the then government the project was not forwarded to the central government. However KSSP continued its experimentation. Two major projects were undertaken:
(i) Preparation of parallel text books/reading material with necessary teacher hand books for all subjects for classes 1 to 4. The project was only half complete. About 1000 pages of A4 size were entered in the computer – but could not be printed due to lack of funds.
(ii) A critical auditing of all the Kerala State Government textbooks from class 1 to 10. About fifty teachers participated in it for about one year on a voluntary mode. More than 3000 pages of audit notes were made. Again it could not be printed due to lack of resources.
However all this material and, all the more, about 100-120 teachers who were involved in all these exercises were available for the State government when it decided to set up a curriculum revision cell in 1996. The curriculum revision of 1996 would have been totally different, and perhaps pedestrian, but for these resource persons.
At this point, two more interesting experiments being developed by the KSSP need to be mentioned. Both are unusual. The first may be called ‘The Kitchen University’ and the second ‘The Journey of Man”.
The Kitchen University
There is no home without a kitchen. Within the kitchen we can identify familiar things and processes which can a lead to a number of disciplines like physics, chemistry, biology, history and culture, geography, economics, management, gender, health and nutrition and so on. Essential concepts of all these disciplines can be introduced through discussion on experiences from the kitchen.
The simple act of cooking can lead to discussion on the three modes of heat transfer, on calorific value of fuels, on efficiency of stoves, on the chemistry of cooking. The position of kitchen in a home, the people who are in the kitchen, how a visiting family splits into a kitchen group and a drawing room group – all these can initiate a lively discussion on gender discrimination. The story of red chilly and tapioca or of cashew nut and ladies finger will take us to South America, to Columbus, to the occupation of Americas by Europeans, the growth of colonies - in short to world history for the last 3-4 centuries. The problem of ‘making both ends of the family budget meet’ can take us into the entire gamut of economies. The simple process of idly making can explain most of the basic concepts of management and so on.
A few experiments in this field have been done. Much more will be developed.
The Journey of Man
This is the story of the Great Exodus of the human species, from Olduwai in the great rift valley of eastern Africa and colonization of the entire world. The idea that we share with the Eskimos and Mongolians, with the Negros and Europeans, with all other living humans in the world, a pair of common ancestors who lived in Africa perhaps 60,000 years ago, is a shocking one as well as an exciting one. This great journey of humans has continued through the invention of agriculture and the great river valley civilizations, up to modern times. It has been consciously used in a number camps to develop a pedagogy for value transaction or to improve the affective domain. A set of ten dialogues, and specially designed plays, songs and other activities were used to help children assimilate values like equity, sustainability, tolerance and cooperation. The children terribly enjoyed it. But many more experiments will have to be done before we can take the experience into class rooms.
And So What is Good Quality Education?
It should draw out the hidden potential for good in the child
It should help children acquire correct and relevant information
It should help children to develop skills to use the information, to apply knowledge to solve problems
It should help children to develop and internalize values such as equity, sustainability, tolerance and cooperation so that children select from a plethora of problems the proper ones.
It should be large enough to have an impact on the society. Small local experiments create tools. But hands to hold the tools are to be developed.
Large efforts are required to move large obstacles and clear vision is required to charter proper course.
Educational Research Unit, KSSP: Ten years of New Curriculum –
A Study Report, KSSP, 2006.
Gandhi, M.K. : Harijan, July 31, 1937
Hobsbawm, Eric: The Age of Extremes: A Short History of 20th Century, Viking 1995
Marx K, Engels. F. The Communist Manifesto, 1848
Meadows Donella H. et al: Beyond the Limits, Earth Scan Publishers, London, 1992