Every year, reputed establishments evaluate the state of Indian school education and report a gloomy picture of the state of student competence. However, if official reports of student performance are to be believed, pass percentages in public examinations are continuously moving north and drop out rates at all levels are moving south. If the former is true, it is difficult to see how it can also be the case that such a large percentage of students in standard eight can have such poor reading, writing and mathematical skills.
Assuming that a good proportion of the evaluated students go on to attend the tenth standard public exam, it is mind-boggling to imagine how, in just two years, so many of the so called poor academic performers can scale up to ace the public examinations. Additionally, if drop out rates are dropping, so to say, it stands to reason to argue that students and parents are finding some merit in sticking on, albeit with a deficient system. And their opinions are likely to be based on a pragmatic appraisal of prevailing realities, which obviously show that children who go to school are doing better in their lives. This again goes against the logic of dismal academic equipment as portrayed by the surveys of Indian school education.
What is evaluated and how it is evaluated requires some thought. A six year old who fails the motor skills test conducted by the investigator turns out a stellar performance when at home: bathing a sibling who is two years old, drying and dressing up the toddler, feeding her/ him and putting the child to sleep, sweeping the yard, carrying water in a pitcher from the community pump, sprinkling the water, bending waist down and putting a rangoli design with loose flour on the wet floor – using just the fingers and remembered designs from observation.
Several creative artistes – actors, writers, sculptors, photographers, and so on – have never had institutionalised education and may, therefore, not be able to successfully complete a formal evaluation. The same holds true for many self-taught adults in business or at home whose formal education may be nothing to write home about.
The question therefore arises: is it not time we paused to take stock of the methods of evaluation, which need to be more catholic in their definition of what constitutes an education and be more broadbased in their approach to evaluation?
A related topic pertains to public policy and policy-makers.
Policies are made by experts. Their expertise stems from their scholarship. The rigour involved in becoming a scholar demands that they devote all the time they can to their study. Unfortunately, such study enforces a regimen that gradually isolates them in an ivory tower. Secluded in their ivory towers they do not hear the dissonance on the ground below. Their bird’s eye view also fails to take a proper measure of the nuanced landscape. As a consequence, the policies are anchored in textbook realities that do not necessarily reflect ground realities.