‘Focus on learning, teacher training’

More than one-and-a-half years have passed since the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, was implemented in the State, making education a fundamental right for all children between the ages of six and 14. R. Govinda, Vice-Chancellor of the National University of Educational Planning and Administration, who was in Bangalore recently, spoke to Tanu Kulkarni about the hurdles in the primary education system, the road ahead and the need to improve the “brand” of government schools.

Karnataka already ranks high on the national infrastructure index of schools, but continues to focus only on improving infrastructure. Is it justified when there are other pressing issues such as teachers’ training?

The easier option for the government is to invest on infrastructure as it is more visible and brings gains to the political leadership. But I don’t think we should grudge giving money to infrastructure as we need a good learning environment. However, infrastructure is a necessary condition but not sufficient. There is need to focus more on learning. In Karnataka, officials are in a denial mode about children in government schools not learning. Why won’t children learn if you teach them? If we are teaching, we are not teaching enough. If we are teaching enough, we are not teaching properly.

The RTE Act lays emphasis on teacher education. How much progress have we made in this regard?

The state has abandoned teacher education. Out of 14,000 teacher training institutes in the country, 85 to 90 per cent are in private hands. Merely having the National Council for Teacher Education to regulate is not adequate. The government can influence the sector only by increasing investment in teacher education.

Your report on ‘structural upgradation and reorganisation of school education’ for Karnataka has been shelved as there were concerns that merger of schools would deny access to children from some sections of society.

We have a very large number of small schools in Karnataka, which is neither viable economically nor educationally. We had suggested several models on merger. We had suggested school mapping, which is not just distance mapping, but also social mapping. For instance mapping in Bangalore urban where transport is available easily will be different from how it’s done in a remote village in Raichur.

With increasing privatisation of schools, what regulatory framework can the government adopt?

The general perception is that the free education given by government school is equivalent to no education. If government schools follow basic principles, the growth of private schools will automatically be addressed. In the U.K., there is a body called the Office for Standards in Education, which plays a supervisory and regulatory role for all schools including private ones. We can emulate that model. We need an independent body outside the Education Department to monitor the schools.

How do we make schools more inclusive?

Government should not create different levels of schooling. There needs to be an attempt to strengthen the concept of neighbourhood schools.

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