Touria Prayag's Blog

L’express Weekly, 1st July 2011

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on July 1, 2011

Weekly 1st pages 31-46

Tilting at windmills

When it comes to education these days, there is really so little to
laugh about. The disproportionate amount of question time
devoted to…absenteeism in schools at the Legislative Assembly
last Tuesday defi es all rhyme and reason. Watching back
benchers and members of the opposition taking turns to grill the minister
of education about what he intends to do, in the here and now, about this
phenomenon makes one wonder whether we know where our priorities are.
The question has captured the public spotlight recently as if this phenomenon
were something new or even marginally signifi cant. The real issues,
as a result, got buried underneath this obsessive pursuit to raise the number
of days students sit in the classrooms as if that were an indicator of improvement
of the education system! And, every time we focus on side issues, the
real problems plaguing the education system go unnoticed.
We still have a system which throws a third of its population out
before kids even learn how to read and write. Some never do. A system
based on open inequality and unfairness where many parents unwittingly
show their children how to cheat and lie by falsifying their addresses and
securing unfair advantages. We still live in a country where a Standard 1
pupil is raped by three boys hardly older than her in the school premises
and where indiscipline is almost getting out of hand. All these issues are
sidetracked and our parliamentarians are taking the minister of education
to task about a few students who absent themselves from school in the
third term for revision purposes!
One might perhaps benefi t by going back to a debate about the basics:
the aim of education in this day and age. Beyond sitting in the classrooms,
the students’ task is to cultivate a capacity to think outside the box and be
able to handle real-life situations, rapidly adapt and move in sync with the
times. Our policy makers should try and promote policies to help ensure that
our children receive a cutting-edge education, benchmarked against world
standards allowing them to compete globally.
As President Barak Obama aptly said, “In a 21st-century world where
jobs can be shipped wherever there’s an Internet connection,…a child born
in Dallas is now competing with a child in New Delhi.” I wonder how many
classes the kid in Delhi has attended and how many parliamentarians and
rectors are recommending “strong legislation to force” him to attend.
I think the priorities for the minister of education are not to go the route
of repressive legislation. After all, as one of the students said in our June 17th
edition, “You could be sitting in a classroom but not following the class.” Rather,
he should concentrate on improving the quality of public education and
reducing the gap between the high-performing and low-performing schools.
He should introduce measures to engage and motivate today’s students rather
than force them to merely physically attend. One of the ways of doing
this is by hiring, training and retaining high-quality teachers and introducing
activities which make the school experience a happy one. This is the only
way to ensure that every young person has the skills and qualifi cations to
contribute to their future and that of their country.
If parliamentarians want to help improve the system, they should
concentrate on real issues instead of echoing the panic of some rectors
who concede that the phenomenon “does not generally have an effect
on the students’ performance.”

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