It is an arresting paradox of India – that its culture sustains one of the most vibrant literary scenes in the world, its engineers are valued and sought after, and it is becoming a dominant force in the IT sector, yet on the other hand there are more illiterate people in India that the whole of the population of the US. I am helping train the teachers in the Pre-University-College here, we meet every day, I have been asking them questions about this paradox and what would they change about the system. The answers ranged from better pay for teachers, reducing teacher absenteeism in government schools and a female teacher who said she would rigorously enforce the banning of child marriage and child labour. This group of teachers has impressed me with their desire to learn, and I have shared with them teaching skills and professional practice from the UK.
Last week we discussed the findings of PISA ( Programme for International Student Assessment). Started by the OPEC countries, who realised that as education was so important for growing a future economy, they needed an independent ‘transnational’ way of checking how successful education systems are, and how they compare to other countries. You can’t always trust national governments to give you an accurate and unbiased picture! Data was gathered every three years as 15-year-olds’ take a series of pen and paper tests focusing on four areas. : Literacy in maths, reading and science and finally problem solving. This international report is growing more and more influential in the field of education, South Korea performing best in the recent test, the UK and US slowly slipping down the table. India, not in OPEC, have resisted taken part – but eventually allowed two regions, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to take preliminary tests. They came below the mean scores in the tests but interesting scored high for language skills.
A recent report from PISA results suggested that there were roughly four stages countries would find themselves. At the first, basic stage, the challenge is to centralise learning, standardize curriculums and make sure everyone is using the same textbooks etc. Then when this in place the second stage seems to be the use of reliable exam data to identify good schools and share good practice, The third stage, perhaps where the UK is at, is then to choose the best graduates for teaching, by increasing entry salaries and raising the status of the profession. And the final stage, where East Asian and Scandanavian countries seem to be is the opposite of the first stage - a radical de-centralisation and allow teachers more control over curriculum and teaching. In my limited experience it seems that at least in rural India is making the transition from stage one to two. One of the problems is the unreliability of the public exam system. I have been told that in the cities it is different. However it seems as though corruption is endemic. Copying in exams seems frequent, in some places the invigilators even encourage it. There are many leaks of papers, this year being no exception. Papers are frequently recalled and have to be sat again, putting extra pressure on the students. One girl committed suicide a few weeks ago. There are attempts to come to grips with it – todays news is that the Common Entrance Tests are being delayed in Karnataka after exam rescheduling because of leaked papers and also boycotts from lecturers. The delay allows an evaluation of exam scripts but puts even more pressure on students who have other exams for civil service, police and armed forces.
This is a shame because until the exams are better regulated then there is not enough reliable data to identify good practice in the consistently successful schools and share it, at least in the rural areas where 70% still live. It is also give another example of why the Jesuit school and college here in Manvi are so important and are becoming flagships for good education in the region.