The recent efforts to standardise education are welcome. They must focus on three aspects: Comparing students’ performance, uniform content, and minimum standards
The Union Government has decided to standardise school education. It has started hurried interactions with schools and has handed instructions to various State Council Educational Research Training Institutes. In general, standardisation should deal with three issues: Comparing students’ performance across Boards, uniform course content, and attaining minimum quality standards.
For a comparison of students’ performance across different Boards, percentile ranking can be used. A Central Board of Secondary Education student who scores 90 per cent in Math can have a percentile rank of 74. This will indicate that 74 per cent of the students are below him and the rest 26 per cent are above him. A student scoring 90 per cent in Math in Tamil Nadu Board of Secondary Education can have a percentile rank of 60. This will indicate that 60 per cent of the students are below him and 40 per cent have scored higher. This statistic is currently used for evaluation during the entrance exam for the Indian Institutes of Technology. However, Indian education Boards do not declare subject-wise percentiles.
Even if percentile is a comparator, differences in curricula make it hard to compare students from different Boards. For example, the BA(Hons) Economics syllabus of Delhi University may be more rigorous than the syllabus of Masters in Economics of Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University. So, if the University Grants Commission were to attempt a uniform syllabus, it will certainly fail. Students will not be able to cope with it and, in many cases, teachers will be found wanting. Similarly, in school education, different Boards have varying content.
In the 1930s, Joseph Stalin brought major changes in the educational system of the Soviet Union, but he failed to standardise school education. A major roadblock was that the Soviet Union was profusely multilingual like India.
As a pioneer of the District Primary Education Programme and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan from the mid 1990s, Mr Subir Shukla and many like him have opined that school teachers are perfectly capable of developing excellent content. Now an international trainer at the primary and middle school level, Mr Shukla feels that school education in India is a graveyard of experiments.
As a pointer, the Ministry of Human Resource Development can exhume experiments, resurrect, repackage and release. There was a time when mobile phones were running around in the country, showing movies, housing labs, and so on. Travelling teachers can provide students with relief and new ideas. Mobile devices, which are cheaper than laptops, can be used for a wider reach. Not having adequate software can be dealt within stage 2.0. Tens of millions of Indians will be able to read and enunciate Arabic. The introduction of Arabic language in schools can score a goal for the BJP and people with Arabic skills can also go to North Africa for employment.
The third aspect of standardising is to define minimum standards. McKinsey & Company, in a shocking report, found that at least 15 per cent of Indian graduates from all streams were unemployable due to inadequate communication skills (their unofficial figure of 24 per cent was never confirmed). This did not imply oral English alone. The finding should make raising communication standards in schools a priority. While the act of listening is the most important skill in work life, at present, it is given little importance. The gamut of communication activities which includes drama, recitation, etc, needs to be examined. Education is a State subject and those adversarial to the Union Government and its ongoing improvisations are unlikely to protest loudly. At an advanced stage, once the changes are ready for delivery, there will be objections. The writing is on the wall; it only needs to be read.