Friday, April 15, 2011

Education in Bihar - challenges

Following up on the Bihar Report which I'd blogged about in February, here is Rukmini Banerji's excellent essay "Challenging Bihar on Primary Education" (PDF) in EPW (12-18 March 2011). The style she adopts is an engaging one of analysis interspersed with anecdotal raportage.

Like the other report, she too readily acknowledges the strides the state has made: "It is evident that there has been a massive infusion of inputs into the system at a very fast pace. Government expenditure on elementary education has increased enormously, basic educational indicators like access and enrolment are rising and the student-teacher ratios are becoming more favourable." But is that enough? Is it resulting in better educational outcomes? Not yet, she says. And a big part of the problem is that the teachers themselves seem to be inadequately trained.

"The findings from the language tasks completed by teachers are equally sobering: less than 50% of teachers could meaningfully summarise a Standard 5 level text. Four difficult words from the Standard 4 level text were selected and teachers were asked to write the meaning of each word in simple language. Less than 50% of surveyed teachers could do this task correctly. When asked to write a few sentences, the teachers made several spelling mistakes."

She concludes:

"What do we see for primary education in the state in the future? There are massive challenges: there is political will at the top and there are aspirations and demands from below. It is the middle of the delivery system that is rusted and needs overhauling and repair. The need is to understand the nature of the rust in the system. Incentives need to be aligned to interests so that we see initiative and energy inside the system. Schools are being built, children's enrolment is rising, teachers are coming in but these must translate effectively into changed behaviours if they are to lead to big improvements in children’s attendance and substantive increases in learning levels."