Monday, October 10, 2011

PROBE revisited

Probe Revisited: A Report on Elementary Education in India (OUP 2011) is the book-length version of the study that was reported in The Hindu and Frontline in 2009 (I blogged about those reports here). As one of the partners of the study, CORD, says: "Despite a quantum leap in the number of children able to access schooling in the last 10 years, the situation continues to be dismal."

Just how dismal can be guaged from a 2010 Working Paper for Oxfam: Elementary Education in India: Progress, Setbacks, and Challenges. This document was co-authored by A. K. Shiva Kumar -- one of the authors of the PROBE report. As it says:

"Even today, despite progress, nearly all the problems admitted in 1950 are still waiting to be tackled. Physical infrastructure is inadequate, not all children are enrolled, retention is poor with girls lagging behind boys, drop-out rates remain high, children belonging to scheduled caste, scheduled tribe, and Muslim communities are largely excluded, inequalities persist, quality is poor, and learning achievements are low."

To the above list of old problems, the Working Paper adds the "de-professionalization" of teaching. "The last decade has witnessed large-scale appointment of local 'contract teachers' (shiksha karmis, shiksha mitras, para-teachers, etc.) at salaries far below those paid to permanent teachers in the same government schools. The survey found that contract teachers account for nearly 40 per cent of all teachers in government primary schools."

Disappointingly, nowhere does the Working Paper mention issues of medium of instruction as barriers to universal access and inclusion, especially for linguistic minorities. As we saw above, it notes the disproportionate exclusion of indigenous children (and other minorities), but does not even touch upon language policy in education. Let us hope that the book-length PROBE study notes the need for a mother-tongue based multilingual education.