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Access to quality secondary education

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Today’s students are living in a different world — a world created by the pace of economic globalisation and scientific and technological change over the past few decades. Increasing global interconnectedness has, in turn, created a need for change in school systems. To share good practices, the Asia Society convened an Asia-Pacific Leaders Forum on Secondary Education last March in New Delhi. Subsequently, the Asia Society has recently launched a report titled New Skills for a Global Innovation Society.

Vishakha Desai, president, Asia Society, said India could learn from good practices in other countries. For example, in the 1960s, Korea had an extremely low economic and educational level, but rapidly expanded education from 1975 to 1990 and now boasts of a high secondary school graduation rate. India has risen to the challenge, too, and is planning massive expansion of secondary education with the goal of retaining at least 65% students enrolling in elementary education to complete secondary education by the end of the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2012).

Subhash Khuntia, joint secretary, ministry of human resource development (MHRD), while admitting that more attention was given to elementary and higher education, elaborated on the government’s plans on secondary education, “We plan to have a high school within a 5 km radius of habitation and improve existing schools focussing on infrastructure and quality. In the 11th Five Year Plan, 11,000 new schools are planned. The country is divided into 6,000 blocks, of which 3,500 will be supervised by the government, and the rest through a private-public partnership. We are hoping that the private sector and civil society would help us in our efforts.” Khuntia was participating in a panel discussion on the key findings of the report. Participants discussed the biggest challenges in secondary education such as access, quality, teacher-training, and so on.

Elaborating on challenges to access, Sam Carlson, lead education specialist, World Bank, said, “The key challenge is to engage all stakeholders on this issue. I don’t see enough anger among civil society and the media about the lack of quality in secondary education.” Access without quality, he added, loses its meaning. He also highlighted that there is a need for one uniform standard to assess quality. He added, “Different central and state boards have different parameters and requirements. So how do you gauge quality?”

According to Arun Kapur, director, Vasant Valley School, Delhi, there is elitism within government schools as well. He also added that more than the curriculum, the focus should be on the process of learning. All the panellists agreed that finding good teachers was one of the biggest challenges and concerted efforts were required to change perceptions about the teaching profession to attract talent.

The Times of India, 24 March 2009

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