West Bengal has been slipping and sliding down the school education ladder for some time. The 2017-18 Performance Grading Index report of all states and Union territories on school education, published by the ministry of human resource development earlier this year, has placed the state in the fifth grade — among seven — based on its scores under the five heads of the PGI. Even the first grade, which only Chandigarh, Gujarat, and Kerala have achieved, is far below the desired goal of 1,000 since they fall into the slot of 801 to 850 points.
That is a comment on the state of India’s school education as a whole, which was revealed alarmingly by the 2018 Annual Status of Education Report on school education by Pratham. In the PGI report, the five heads for assessment are learning outcomes and quality, access, infrastructure and facilities, equity, and governance processes. Except for governance processes, in which West Bengal scores a middling 18 — partly, it seems, because of its comparative efficiency in online hiring and transferring teachers — it sticks to the thirties, scoring 35 among 36 assessed units in learning outcomes and quality as well as in infrastructure.
These results are harrowing in the context of an education scene that is frighteningly dark. Bengal still prides itself on its learning and ‘culture’; clearly, this is a foolish fantasy. The standard of spelling in common words on posters, walls and banners, film and serial credits, and other public texts is a simple indicator of the tragic level of learning in the mother tongue. Despite high enrolment and lower drop-out rates, the fact that the state is 35th in a country in which, according to the Pratham report, 25 percent of Class VIII students cannot read a Class II text, and 56 percent of them cannot do simple division, should cause the state school education department serious worry.
And worry is far from enough. Rehauling processes have become urgent since it is obvious that children are just not learning. Improving infrastructure and ensuring access and equity, including safety, health, and hygiene parameters, and a non-prejudicial atmosphere of exchange has become as important as creating a rewarding atmosphere for meritorious teachers. The most disturbing mystery lies elsewhere. If such is the reality, how are increasingly larger numbers of school-leaving children being awarded over 90 percent marks each succeeding year?
Second in the series on inspiring educational stories, “What’s working in education?” The Kelly Yang project in Hong Kong brings American creativity and critical reasoning in the mix with writing and a love of children. The workers in the project need outside resources to teach English, they serve over 600 students in Hong Kong every year, and they also have a branch project starting in Beijing. But, their mission is to do so much more than teaching English; they inspire students to think more critically and creatively through writing, speaking, and debate.
Kelly herself says, “When you think success, especially academic success, boils down to two things: the ability to think innovatively and come up with solutions, and the ability to communicate those ideas well on paper and in person.” Working with students from a very early age, the Kelly Yang project uses questioning to bring out students’ concepts and ideas, helping them build on their friends’ ideas until they come up with a solution of merit. The most popular class is critical reasoning, where they discuss critical issues of today, build an argument, and then write and defend it in debate.