Millennium Post

The question of standards

Exams may be final, the conditions are not – deliberation on latter’s quality must assume priority in the age of reforms, discusses Anthony Khatchaturian

We are, yet again, seeing a state and federal government clash over final exams for students, a policy we have applied, ditched, and now applying again. Abstract fixes of our education system are not required, a root and branch reform is. As a parent of two children studying in India and someone who has been educated in Britain, I see a chasm between our beloved 'foreign' and Indian education systems.

Before we tackle the deplorable 'quality' of Indian education, with none of our universities ever being known for cutting edge research or for topping global university lists, a close look at just the 'quantity' aspect will yield enough shortfalls.

Most schools across the country operate in shifts. The morning session involves children waking before the Sun rises and their day is over before lunch, while the afternoon session begins at lunch and rolls into the evening. This is nothing but a sales tactic by school owners to cram in as many revenue-generating students as possible into the least amount of floor space. No thought is given to the well-being of the child, having to wake up ridiculously early, travel in the heat and endure lessons so short that extra-curricular tuitions are required to backfill what the teacher failed to teach.

In developed nations, schools are constructed according to a set formula for space and time; a given square foot of space per student. Not dissimilar to buying an apartment in India, wherein 'Built-Up', 'Super Built-Up' and 'Carpet Area' spaces are measured, student space for study, movement between buildings and classrooms and play space are all factored in. India has no such requirement. Most schools have no playgrounds at all, and those that do are sparing with their real estate, choosing to construct more classrooms instead.

Indian classrooms, aside from the elite schools, leave much to be desired. A classroom needs to be equipped for the subject that will be taught in it, the students need to move from one to the other, not the teacher. Rarely do we find well-equipped classrooms in India. A hard-wooden desk and bench, a slate blackboard and copious chalk suffice as standard fare. Science laboratories, history rooms with artefacts, geography rooms with maps and rock samples and gymnasiums with sports and gymnastics equipment are for the children of millionaires, unlike the west where it is government school standard practice.

Tuitions are a major industry in India. My son has tuitions at 7 am, my daughter at 3 pm and both have tuitions on weekends. Unless there is a school holiday, there is no time to play. Tuition teachers spend most of their time explaining what was taught in class because the teacher didn't have time to explain, just enough time to deliver, what the syllabus requires. School time is to take the work, tuitions to understand it, then homework to get schoolwork done. Not only is this physically and mentally exhausting on the child but it is also an added expense for parents.

The exam and revision schedule for children in India should be classed as inhumane.

The greatest, and the most neglected, threat to our children is not the cramped school or endless tuitions at home, it's the transport between the two. Whether there are school buses, pool cars or rickety tricycles, law enforcement agencies are least interested in regulating this sector of public transport. Most city children travel in pool cars, and standard practice is filling the car with up to three times as many passengers as it was designed to hold. There is no thought, let alone legal requirement, given to child safety in the form of seatbelts, child well being with air-conditioning, personal safety with trained and Police-cleared drivers, nor of traffic safety with clear, standardised marking of vehicles transporting students, perhaps a bright yellow with reflective stripes.

Before our authorities rush in to apply almost suicidal levels of pressure on our children with pass/fail exams, deep thought is needed to examine the physical conditions in which they are made to study.

Views expressed are strictly personal

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