School Education and Quality Learning

Sustainable Development Goals have led Government of India (GoI) to focus on universalising access to elementary education and on improving its quality. Flagship programmes on education, which include District Primary Education Programme, Sarva Shiksha Abhijan, and Rashtriya Madhyamika Shiksha Abhiyan are meant to achieve these two objectives. Despite GoI and state governments’ initiatives, many children still lag behind desired learning level in government schools. Annual Status of Education Report-Rural 2016 says, in rural areas, 27% children in Class 8, can’t read Class 2 level text and 57% can’t do simple division taught in Class 4. These learning deficits are seen across grades and accumulate with each grade. Corresponding figures for Odisha’s rural areas and for scheduled tribes are worse.

While data sources differ on exact number of out-of-school children in Odisha, it is clear that universal access in elementary education is yet to be achieved. Lack of access is due to, among others, insufficient infrastructure, absence of child friendly environment, and high Pupil-Teacher Ratio. Yet, GoO has closed 828 primary and upper primary schools in 2016-17 alone, citing low enrolment levels and need for ‘rational’ merger of such schools with others. However, as pointed by National Human Rights Commission, while issuing notice to Governments in Odisha and at Centre, the closed schools, which have increased distance to access nearest schools, were mostly those with Scheduled Tribe, Scheduled Caste, and Other Backward Caste students. Quality is an even greater challenge as only 3% of schools in Odisha are Right to Education (RtE) compliant. The RtE compliance of schools in tribal majority Rayagada, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur, and Nuapada districts is much worse as per DISE 2013-14.

Odisha is home to many tribal communities with speakers of over 60 dialects, making language barrier a major challenge to ensure quality elementary education. To manage issue of multi-lingualism at primary level, Odisha has pioneered an education policy for multi-lingualism. However, its implementation remains a grey area as it offers no clear guidelines for recruitment of teachers competent in tribal dialects. Uneven distribution of teachers across the state, due to much scope for political interference in transfers in the current system, also needs to be addressed.

In this backdrop, Odisha Development Conclave-2018 will focus on following key areas for discussion under the theme of School Education.

Discussion Points:

  • What strategies are working (and which are not) for improving quality learning processes and learning outcomes for the children?
  • What are the challenges faced in ensuring equity and inclusion in elementary education and how can these be addressed?
  • How can school education be rationalized without compromising RtE norms and without disproportionately impacting students from certain demographic categories?
  • What measures are being taken to improve multi-lingual education and how can these be strengthened?
  • How far can recent policy initiatives go in addressing needs of children in backward regions or difficult to access areas?
  • What roles do communities have in management of school education? How can such roles be enhanced and made more effective?
  • How can education system be made more accountable to realize rights of children guaranteed under RtE framework?