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Time to Depoliticise Education: Hamid Ansari

Performance Pay, Quality, Teacher performance

Vice-President Hamid Ansari today sought quick steps to rebuild professional identity and skills of teachers and to depoliticise education to improve the quality of teaching.

“The key to improving quality of education system is to bring the focus back on teachers. It is a matter of concern that our society and polity today does not accord that primacy and reverence to teachers,” Ansari said in his address to the 44th Convocation of Utkal University here.

Recalling that people in ancient India believed that the guru was Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara, he said “we are inheritors of a civilisational legacy that accords the highest place and respect to teachers.”

Seeking concrete steps to depoliticise education and cease to view teacher appointments as patronage or largesse, Ansari said politically empowering teachers, while professionally dis-empowering them, was a disservice to the cause of education.

He said the current system of teacher recruitment, teaching methods, performance assessment, incentive and reward pattern and way of accountability raised many questions.

“Far too often the focus, regrettably, is on completing the syllabus rather than on cultivating critical thinking skills and competencies. This needs to be corrected,” the vice-president said.

The need of the hour was to painstakingly rebuild the professional identity of teachers, nurture their skills and professional competence through continuing education, he said adding it must be ensured that their work reflected Constitutional values and society needed to recognise their work and reward them appropriately.

Referring to Yashpal Committee tasked to suggest measures for rejuvenation of higher education, Ansari said its report pointed out that universities remained under-managed and badly governed with constricted autonomy, internal subversion within academia and multiple and opaque regulatory systems.

Describing education as an important instrument for social and economic transformation, Ansari said it was the key to enhance competitiveness in the global economy.

Ensuring equity in access to quality education for all, particularly the marginalized, was central to economic and social development in the country.

He said that it was in April 2000 the World Education Forum at Dakar adopted the Dakar Framework for Action which recognized that education was a fundamental human right and was the key to sustainable development and peace and stability within and among countries.

Stating that quality lay at the heart of the goal of ‘Education for All’, Ansari said “we have achieved considerable progress in universalizing elementary education through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan during past decade.”

The passing of the Right to Education Act and its implementation had transformed a human right into a fundamental right for all children to demand 8 years of quality elementary education, he said.

However, a critical element of Eleventh Plan strategy in education was to have a paradigm shift from access to quality, which was yet to be achieved, Ansari said.

Quoting the Approach Paper to the 12th Five Year Plan, he said “Despite improvement in access and retention, the learning outcomes for a majority of children continue to be an area of serious concern … Quality as mandated under the RTE shall have to be realized in tangible terms, failing which it will be difficult to wean students away from private tuitions that are prohibited under the RTE.” he said.

The situation was not significantly different in case of higher education, he said, adding that the Yashpal Committee Report had noted that ‘we have followed policies of fragmenting our educational enterprises into cubicles’ and that ‘most instrumentalities of our education harm the potential of human mind for constructing and creating new knowledge’.

Thus higher education in India suffered the pincer effect of low enrollment and poor quality. The Approach Paper to 12th Five Year Plan called for “a strategic shift from mere expansion to improvement in quality higher education” for which “the focus should be not only on larger enrollment, but also on the quality of the expansion.”

In order to improve quality of education, Ansari said “we must shift focus to learning outcomes from the current emphasis on input indicators such as infrastructure, teaching faculty and staff employed and resources made available.”

Poor quality of education, especially in public sector, would negate fundamental and human rights of citizens and deny them equal opportunity to fully realize their potential and lead fulfilling and rewarding lives, Ansari said.

“There is also an urgent need to move away from the lure of branding and elitist education. The average institution must improve for overall institutional improvement in the human resource development sector. The enormous resources deployed for education in the last decade in terms of human and material resources must be justified by vastly improved learning outcomes,” the vice-president said.

Government schools must deliver educational outcome that were commensurate if not superior to those in the private sector, he said adding the booming tuition and coaching industry that stood as a monumental reflection of the institutional and systemic failure of education must be reversed so that centrality was accorded to classroom learning.

State universities, and the 30,000 strong college system, which were the backbone and represent the bulk of enrollment, must obtain greater funds, create new infrastructure and enrich their existing academic programmes.

“We must create avenues for skills training and vocational education so that entering universities does not become a default choice for the sake of employment, particularly for those who might not have interest in the subject or desire for higher education.”

Outlook, 02 March 2012

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