primary education is a problem area in India is an
understatement. The school system — especially the
government-run part of it — is in a shambles. Poor
infrastructure, shortage of teachers and an unimaginative
syllabus — and teaching methods — all contribute to the sorry
state of affairs. It is not surprising that the system churns
out students that are not educated in any sense of the term.
This denies them access to higher education and, eventually,
It is no secret that there is an
acute shortage of qualified teachers nationwide, especially in
rural areas. Often, the ability and skills of the teachers
employed are also suspect. A recent study by the National
University of Educational Planning & Administration (UNEPA)
shows that almost half the 47 lakh elementary schoolteachers
in India have not studied beyond class XII. Just about a third
of those who teach classes I to VIII are graduates.
It would be tempting to be
alarmed by these statistics and draw a direct link between the
level of a teacher's qualification and the quality of
teaching. However, that is a simplistic reading of the
situation and all that is wrong with it.
There is no guarantee that a
person holding a graduate degree would be a better teacher
than one who has not attended college as the standard of
education in many of our colleges is not much to write home
about. What is important — and is sorely lacking — is that
those recruited to teach in elementary schools receive special
training — both before they start teaching and on a regular
basis throughout their careers.
It is mandatory in some states
that candidates undergo a teachers' training certification but
the rule is not as rigorously implemented as it ought to be.
Elementary school must
necessarily be viewed as a training ground for young minds.
Unfortunately, in India, it is a battleground where children
are forced to cram and learn by rote. It is proven that the
development of cognitive abilities is not uniform among
children. Their needs, interests, responsiveness necessarily
differ. It is, therefore, crucial that teachers are equipped
to address the specific needs of young children.
It is imperative that the
present one-dimensional and merely instructive flow of
information — from tutor to the taught — is replaced by a more
interactive system where learning is made meaningful. To that
end, it does not matter if an elementary schoolteacher is a
graduate or not. All that matters is that she is competent and
up to the job.