New paradigm for education reforms

| | in Oped

Gunotsav, an ambitious plan of the Assam Government, makes lot of sense as it attempts to restore confidence in a system which, despite fallacies, has delivered

This may have skipped the prying eyes of mainstream journalists, who are always in hunt of soul-stirring news items that would made for crying headlines. Early last week, in a rare sight, a string of top bureaucrats, MLAs and Ministers, made a beeline to Government schools in Assam, as part of an ambitious programme called ‘Gunotsav’.

These officials made a first-hand assessment of the schools, teachers and students on a variety of parameters and the outcome of this evaluation would allow the Government bring quality improvement in levels of learning as well as in the school environment. A proud Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam’s Education Minister, and one who led the programme, called this a celebration of commitment by the State Government.

At a time when records of elementary education are not too encouraging, this innovation is welcome as it exhibits the Government’s intent to make a difference. In fact, ‘Gunotsav’ owes its origin to a similar initiative by the same name introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2009.

It was not surprising that the Prime Minister was quick to respond to the tweet which announced the start of Assam ‘Gunotsav’ by Sarma. While lauding the initiative, Modi tweeted by tagging Sarma, “Gunotsav is a great initiative to gauge the quality of learning. Teachers and students will greatly benefit from this.”

Gujarat had defined ‘Gunotsav’ as an accountability framework for quality of primary education, which includes learning outcomes of children as well as co-scholastic activities, use of resources and community participation.

Assam has adopted the model with some modifications. Sarma hit the bulls eye when he said, “The outcome of Gunotsav is going to be very crucial for us because we will know the reasons due to which our Government-run schools are lagging behind. If there is lack of teachers and need for infrastructure development, it will be the duty of the Government to do the needful. If the students are poor in studies, the teachers will have to start taking classes to improve their learning curve.”

What is unique about Assam and Gujarat model is their focus on identifying gaps in the existing system and addressing these rather than re-inventing a new model as was done in Tamil Nadu, few years ago. Tamil Nadu had introduced what it called ‘Activity Based Learning in 2007’ and registered impressive gains in the initial years in terms of the learning outcomes, self-confidence and motivation. However, few years down the line, there are reports that call this as a failed experiment — the doing away with the examination system, many suggest, have not helped at all.

Assam’s focus on examining problems through credible evaluators drawn from the Government, including the Chief Minister and Education Minister, and then devising corrective steps is based on principles of pragmatism and prudence. What ‘Gunotsav’ does is to bring about unprecedented focus of society on Government education system and reinforce its faith in it. This is critical that at a time when despite growing expenditure of the Government of India on elementary education the percentage of children enrolling in private schools, including in rural areas, is growing. It rose from 20 per cent in 2007 to 29 per cent in 2013, according to Annual Status of Education Report, 2013 by Pratham.

This may, even if marginally, indicate a dipping faith in the Government system. That is why ‘Gunotsav’ makes lot of sense for it attempts to restore confidence in a system, which despite its inherent fallacies has worked and delivered — what else would describe about four-fold rise in Indian literacy rates from 18.3 per cent in 1911 to 73 per cent in 2011. Also, by enrolling different layers of officials as evaluators, ‘Gunotsav’ makes the education system credible. When teachers, students and parents see top officials, Ministers and MLAs participating in evaluating and reforming the system, their confidence certainly gets a massive lift.

Sarma says, if the change has to begin, it must start at the bottom. In education in Assam, this surely seems to be happening, and many other States can surely take a leaf out of it.

(The writer is a strategic communications professional)

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