Education on their backs

For mysterious motives, the Central government has rejected proposals to lighten the killing load that children have to carry to be educated

By Rahul Srivastava
Published: Sunday 31 July 1994

-- SCHOOLCHILDREN will have to wait a while before their abominable load is lightened. In a sudden paedophobic turn, the human resources development ministry has rejected the recommendations of the National Advisory Committee (NAC), set up in 1992, to redress the problem of overburdened children.

The committee, headed by Yashpal, former chairperson of the University Grants Commission, submitted its recommendations in 1993. It emphatically stated that the moribund education system hindered children from using their natural gifts. But, true to form, the ministry set up another group in 1993 -- under Y N Chaturvedi, additional secretary, department of education -- to examine these recommendations. The group's report, submitted in June this year, rebuts the Yashpal committee's recommendations.

NAC observed that the burden on school children was mental as well as physical. "A lot is taught in the schools but little is learnt or understood," says Yashpal. NAC flayed the examination and evaluation systems in the country as well as the teaching method. It said formal schools resemble structured prisons and their overcrowded buildings give rise to fear, anxiety and even humiliation. A committee member says, "Teachers perpetrate a inflexible tuition regime, curbing the creativity of the children."

NAC stated that as competitions where individual achievements are rewarded, they also deprive the children of the joy of learning and group activities. The Chaturvedi panel disagrees. Rewarding individual achievement does not take away the joy of learning; rather, it can motivate children to do better, it says.

While the Yashpal Committee suggested that the framing of curricula and preparation of textbooks be decentralised to increase teachers' involvement, the Chaturvedi panel says that the draft syllabii should be prepared by State Councils for Education Research and Training. Yashpal says, "The training of teachers, the way they teach, and what is required to be taught, has to change." The Chaturvedi group, on the other hand, suggests that refresher courses for teachers should be held regularly.

Besides, NAC said that 3 school education systems are running in parallel. The majority of schools are affiliated to the state boards of education, while a few are affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the Indian Council for Secondary Education (ICSE). It had recommended that only Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas be affiliated to CBSE and the rest to the respective state boards. The Chaturvedi panel, however, found no reason to implement this.

Too faast for kids
The Yashpal committee also said that the mathematic curricula for primary classes throughout the country should be reviewed. The pace at which children are required to learn basic concepts should be slowed down; further, language textbooks should reflect the spoken idiom.

Says Vinita Kaul, head of the pre-school and elementary education department of the National Council for Educational Research and Training, "There are schools which expect a child seeking admission to preschool to know counting till 100, tables till 10, alphabets and spellings. But a child of 3 does not understand the meaning of the digit 3. The burden and the expectations of parents, teachers and the system keep increasing and scores of school students are burnt out by the time they reach class V."

A K Gulati, of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, recently carried out a survey of 2,500 parents of preparatory school children. It revealed that children were unable to take the pressure of intense competition and blamed the importance schools gave to individual achievements.

If the education system is not overhauled soon, Kaul says, we could have a whole generation of children with bent backs and brains in a lather.

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