How to measure learning outcomes ? The learner and the Cynic

I have been having a series of strange dreams for few days now. I had seen a bollywood movie called Sui-Dhaaga few days back .

The story is an improbable, semi-plausible story of a person, couple, no a community’s search for self-respect and dignity in labor. While the clothes shown in the movie at the fashion show were shown to be made by them, the styles seemed pretty much reminiscent of the materials and styles used by National Institute of Design.

One of the first dreams I had were of being in some sort of bare foot Design school which is/was interdisciplinary in nature. I am the bored guy who is there because he has no other skills and have been pressured by parents and well-wishers to do the course and even failed in that. I have been observing a guy who is always cleaner than the rest of us, always has a smile on his face and is content and enjoys working with cloth, whether it is tailoring or anything and everything to do with cloth. The material used is organic handspun Khadi which is mixed with silk to lose the coarseness and harshness that handspun Khadi has but using the least of chemicals and additives and is being sold at very low prices so that even a poor person can afford it.

This in reality is still a distant dream.

Anyways, with that as a backgrounder to the story, one day there is a class picnic/short travel. Because the picnic is ‘free’ i.e. paid by the Institute , almost everybody else except the gentleman who is always smiling and content agrees and wants to go to the picnic. The gentleman asks that he would prefer to be there in the classroom, studying and working with the cloth.

The lone teacher/management is in a fix. While he knows the student and doesn’t question his sincerity he is in a fix because the whole class/school is going for the picnic and there are expensive machines, material lying around. Even the watchmen want to be on the picnic and the teacher/management doesn’t have the heart to say no to them.

He asks in a sort of dejected voice if somebody wants to stay behind with him. A part of me wants to go to the picnic, a part of me wants to stay behind and if possible learn about the person’s mystery of his smile and contentedness.

After awaiting appropriate time and teacher asking couple of times, I take on a bored, resigned tone and volunteer to stay behind, provided I get some of the sweets and any clothes or whatever is distributed.

The next day, I wear one of my lesser shabbier clothes and go to school and find him near the gates of the school, at a nearby chai shop/tapri. He asks me how I am and asks if I would like to eat and drink something. I quickly order 3-4 items and after a fullish breakfast ended by a sweet masala chai we go to the school.

The ‘school’ is nothing but a two rooms with two adjacent toilets, one for men, one for women. The school is probably 500 meters squarish spaced with one corner for embroidery works, one corner for dyeing works, one corner for handspunning khadi and one corner which has tailoring machines. Just last year we had painted the walls of the school using organic colors and the year before we had some students come in who helped us in having more natural light and air to the school.

We also had a new/old water pump which after a long fight with the local councillor we had been able to get and got running water of sorts. We went to the loo, washed our hands, faces, cracked a few jokes and then using the heavy iron key chain which had multiple keys, opened the front door and we went in. He going to his seat, while I going to mine. As always, he’s fully absorbed, immersed in his work.

After waiting for half an hour to an hour, I announced that I’m going to take a leak and have water. He agreed to join me and we had a short break. After coming back, I sat a little across him and asked if I could ask him a few questions. Without missing a beat, he said sure. I asked him a few probing questions as to who he was, who else was in his family, what he used to do before enrolling here.

Slowly but surely, he teased out the answers sharing that while he had been a successful person and had money (he actually said ‘entrepreneur’ but my dream self couldn’t make out what it was) and while he had money saved, his wife was supporting him in this venture as she was good at Maths (a ‘statistician’ which again my dream self was oblivious was all about) and apart from learning about clothes, how they are made etc. something which he always enjoyed but which was discouraged in his house. They were working on a book about ‘learning outcomes’ (which again my dream self knew nothing about, but when he said he would be sharing stories about me and my class-mates I was excited and apprehensive at the same time.) He assured it would be nothing bad.

I asked him in my innocence as to why such a book was necessary because in my world-view we were doing nothing exciting about a school where most of us were learning in the hopes that with the skills we would somehow be able to eke out a living. Looking at the bleakness of the background of the people around me, I didn’t think there was anything worth writing about. I had learnt about writers who were given money to write about fairy tales and even had got a comic book or two with bright colors and pictures. When I asked him if it was going to be something similar to that book, he replied in the negative . He shared that they were in-fact were going to self-publish the book as the book was going to be ‘controversial’ in nature. While my dream self didn’t understand what ‘controversial was all about but was concerned when he explained that they would be putting up their own money to bring out the book. I felt this was foolishness as nobody I knew would spent money to print a book which didn’t have pictures and it was not also a fantasy like about a hero battling dragons and such.

At this moment, my dream ended. For those who had been working in the education sector I’m sure they would be having a laugh on almost all the aspects of the dream/story. ‘Learning outcomes’ has never been a serious consideration by either the Government of the day or previous Governments. Teachers are the most lowly paid staff in the Government machinery. Most of them who enter the profession, do it out of not being able to get a job any other way and are also not obsessed by the subject/s they teach. They somehow want to make ends meet. The less said of the ‘no detention’ policy of the Government, the better. Even the Government doesn’t believe the stats trouted by its own people but instead on ASER made by Pratham although the present Government has reversed it as it wants to show they have been doing the best job in field of education.

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