The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act was enacted by Parliament in 2010. This law sought not only to bring every child in India into the ambit of the education system, but also to impart quality education.
Even half a decade later, while enrollments have gone up, the expected improvement in standards of education has not been achieved. To change this reality, the Government of Maharashtra brought out a Government Resolution (GR) on 22 June 2015 titled ‘Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra’, which announced an ambitious new programme to raise educational standards in all schools across the state. The objective is to ensure that not a single child remains below the expected norms, and gains age-appropriate proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetical concepts and operations.
It thus became necessary for all schools in the state to be on par. For this to happen, each child had to achieve the educational level expected at her age. The most important factor in this plan to empower students would be the teacher. Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra aimed to create an environment that would be conducive to learning and would empower each element within the educational system, starting with the teachers.
For years, disciplinary action being taken against teachers for poor exam results was a well-established practice. The Minister for Education, Vinod Tawde, and the Principal Secretary for School Education, Nand Kumar, took the radical step of halting this practice. This enbled teachers to participate freely and fearlessly in the activities envisaged under Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra. “Punishment or rewards do not improve the child’s progress” – this is one of the main principles of the constructivist philosophy of education. The same principle may be applied to teachers. If fear of punishment will not cause a student’s performance to improve, how then may we expect threats to make a better teacher?
Accepting this principle, Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra decided to give teachers the freedom to do their work, and to recognise their efforts publicly. The underlying message was that an empowered student makes for a stronger, more developed nation. This becomes the success of the teacher. Teachers began to realise that the importance of their role was being recognised under Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra.
Just as Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra gave teachers space to grow and experiment, it gave officers the liberty to step out of the age-old ‘inspector’ role. Instead of being strict administrators keeping a watch on teachers, the officers were asked to find out the level of competence among students – to discover whether the students had age-appropriate mathematical and language skills, whether they appeared happy and confident, whether the atmosphere in their school was free and relaxed. Instead of studying paper records, the officers now opened their eyes to the truer indicator of development, the student. So just as a school’s progress indicated the teachers’ success, when a cluster progressed and developed it was considered a joint effort by the teachers as well as the officers in charge of that cluster.
For a strong educational foundation, Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra aims to ensure that each child acquires age-appropriate language and mathematical skills. It is important to test these skills in order to map the success of the programme. Under Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra, baseline tests are one of the main methods to evaluate a student’s progress. A massive exercise was conducted in the academic year 2015-16. Students from standards 1st to 8th of all schools, publicly funded and private, in all the different languages of instruction, were tested for their first language proficiency and mathematical skills.
The aim of these tests was not to check the children’s scores as in a conventional test, but to give teachers a useful tool to check how students were doing. The tests were designed to identify areas of difficulty and to measure comprehension. Based on the results, teachers could focus on the problematic areas. Rather than testing memory, the questions ensured that the student had to demonstrate her understanding, and her ability to use her knowledge to write the answers.
In order to help the students learn while answering the test, some sample questions and examples were included in the question paper. Eg:
In order to help students demonstrate their learning, some examples of problems and solutions were included in the question paper, so that it would be obvious that the test was not about measuring their ability to memorise their textbooks. For instance, to gauge students’ understanding of maths and their ability to use its principles, the questions were of three types, oral questions, problems based on mental airthmatic and problems that required finding solutions by methodology.
The design and implementation of these tests was unique for several reasons. This was the first time that a state-level test was organised for almost 1,60,00,000 students. The tests were done in all the 10 languages of instruction prevalent in Maharashtra. The students belonged to private and government schools. These schools were under the state boards as well as other India-wide boards.
The results of these baseline tests are encouraging. These results were assessed to arrive at data on student ability, and subject awareness, mapped against their age. The findings helped teachers understand the learning difficulties of each student, and the level of her basic skills with respect to her age. The tests not only pointed out the areas where the student was weak, but the student’s capacity to grasp concepts compared to that of her classmates. This showed the teacher which students required more attention, so that the teacher could help them do better.
Many teachers are now visiting other schools, where effective new methods of learning are being employed. There is an exchange of fresh ideas about teaching, as well as exposure to a variety of teaching aids and resources.
That each child should learn, and that the standards of each school should be raised, is the goal of Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra. Teachers have the freedom to choose their own methods to achieve this goal. The basis for this change is the constructivist approach, which has proven more effective than the traditional behaviourist approach in learning. This is combined with practical education in which children learn to observe nature, grow vegetables, prepare organic fertiliser, and so on.
Teachers are going on study visits, at their own expense, to schools that have effectively adopted constructivist principles. Schools in the Kumthe beat of Satara district, Tadali in Chandrapur district, Niphad in Nasik, Haveli in Pune, Miraj in Sangli, Gadhinglaj in Kolhapur, Wai in Satara, Latur and Chiplun in Ratnagiri districts are attracting such visitors in large numbers.
The purpose of these visits is to observe how the principles of constructivism are used in teaching, and to interact with the teachers there as well as the students. After their visits to such ‘progressive’ schools, many teachers seem to return home inspired to implement these principles, with a new confidence in being able to tap into every student’s ability to learn.
The government has prepared a list of 25 indicators to measure student progress. Each school is expected to conduct a self-assessment, and upload the information on the provided link. Until April 2016, almost 14,000 (13,996 to be exact) declared themselves as “progressive” after assessments based on these indicators. The District Education Officers and Principals of DIETs will examine the validity of these self-assessments, which will be followed by a state-level inspection of these schools. Only then, with care not to compromise on educational standards, will the school officially be declared “progressive”.
The Zilla Parishad schools throughout Maharashtra have undergone a complete transformation under this programme. The teachers are making efforts to make the learning process more enjoyable and meaningful for each student. These teachers are no longer the cane-wielding “masterjis” of old, but have become co-explorers with the children in the world of knowledge. In this new approach it is taken for granted that the children will learn by themselves; the teachers are there only to guide them.
Many schools are turning to digital means and are adopting e-learning methods. The walls of the schools are decorated with pictures and poems and number puzzles. Now, learning is an ongoing process, no longer confined to text books. Now it is acknowledged that learning takes place on the school’s playground, in the backyards of houses, in the fields, on the computer and mobile phone. Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra has helped us to appreciate that learning is a continuous process that happens all the time, even when the child is at play.
Blog:Snehal Bansode Sheludkar
(Based on the articles published in the June-July edition of ‘Jeevan Shikshan’ magazine)
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team
‘Pragat’ che Paragati Pustak: Nand Kumar, Chief Secretary, School Education and Sports Department
‘Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra’ Karyakram Drustikshep Sidhesh Wadkar
Payabhoot Chachni va Sankalit Mulyamapan Ramakant Kathmore