Inequality in Indian Education

Farmer on-going protests

Before I start with the education system in India which I have talked about many times in the past, first let me share couple of pieces about the farmer movement which is still at Sanghu Delhi border.

<Manjeet Kaur,62 at farmer protest with her friends.

The above picture became somewhat viral as it showed Manjeet Kaur, who drove down from Patiala, Punjab to Sanghu border along with her friends to take part in the on-going protests. The picture not only shares how the women are part and parcel of this protest but also they are independently taking part in the protest.

The other were two articles I read today, first was an article in tribune which questions that if the policy worked, why it didn’t work in the state of Bihar. The other by a young law student who had to go from Chandigarh to Delhi with family for some work and her experience with the ongoing protest. In fact, an interesting observation was made by the CJI in the many suits against farmer protests in the SC. This makes for much more interesting read when you see an RTI query filed by Saket Gokhale to NHAI , a Central Govt. agency which is supposed to be independent and asks if they had filed an FIR and asked compensation from Haryana State and Haryana State Police which had dug up National Highway 44 and if any permission was asked for the same from NHAI. And NHAI unable to take any action for the same. If this isn’t shameful, I dunno what is –

Saket Gokhale’s RTI query on digging up NH44
NHAI response to Saket Gokhale’s query.

Sadly, the way the response has been worded makes it impossible for NHAI to discharge its own responsibilities and this becomes a precedent for other states now that know that NHAI is vulnerable. A pretty sad turn on events.

Indian Education can’t go online

There was a recent article on scroll which shared how Indian education can’t go online as only a few have computers with decent netlink speeds as well as other factors which are needed for online education. But there are also many things that the article doesn’t take into account which actually make the task more difficult and raise the boundary more.

Now in most schools and colleges, the number of students to teacher ratio could be anywhere between 70-150 or even more. In the last few years, a lot of schools have been closed down by various Governments, including and not limited to the ruling Govt. They have in fact intensified closures of public schools wherever their Govt. has been in power. Closing to 5000+ schools in one state in a year is a dramatic shift and such has been happening time and again. In fact, the rising costs of Indian education has made many to leave Indian shores and do studies abroad. And once they do their masters or whatever, the chances of them coming back to India become more and more remote. In India the costs have been becoming so bad that NBFC’s have started products targeting the same. How NBFC and Banks have (both public and private) have fared with respect to Indian consumers needs its own blog post but one word to describe it is ‘bad’. But as shared above, needs its own blog post.

Coming to the Indian context though, what has not been captured in that article is that the responsibility of making new content also raises huge barriers for teachers. My own experience in teacher’s trainings for ICT usage has shown that most teachers do not know and use internet effectively both to sustain their own curiosity as well as their students. Part of which is whether you are private employee or a public school teacher, the teacher is not paid enough. I have had multiple conversations with friends over the years who are teachers who shared that they get 50% salary in-hand while they sign for 100%. This is more in the case or private schools though. In Govt. schools, the teachers apart from their regular administrative duties apart from teaching duties are also unpaid labor for Govt. policy. Take the recent covid crisis, it was the teachers who for months together went from door-to-door asking if they had a covid patient. This was all over India. Even for voter registration, census, polio and various other immunization efforts, the teachers are roped in. So apart from that, they somehow have to figure out how to make ends meet and also boost student morale. Hence the attention is only limited to the first couple of benches rather than the whole as a 45-minute to an hr. session is just not enough to go through a class of 70-150 school students giving individual attention. And this is when for most teachers, teaching is a means to an end and not the end itself.

I am going to take one example of science and sort of break-it-down in multiple steps and how I would have approached that topic for say the 5th-6th standard students in say a public school in Pune and especially if Covid would not have been an issue so you have face-to-face meetup.

There was recent news about a mysterious radio signal which came from one of our closest galactic neighbors Proxima Centauri. Now let’s say there was a class I was teaching/sharing which I had shared before and there already is trust formed.

So before coming to the news, I would tell the students about frequency and more generally the notation of why we like to measure things and how we measure things. There is so much beautiful history which could be acted and enacted which can show and remains in mind why measurement is needed. Once that is understood, discussed and an underpinning is established, we could move to human perception or the lack of it. We know that humans have lots of limits in almost everything, whether it is talking, touching, hearing, all of our five senses are pretty limited with what we know of spectrum available in the immediate family kingdom as well as in the Universe. I would start with how far can a person throw his voice and be heard without using any other means. There does come a point where they need to use anything from a megaphone to a loudspeaker and what it actually does.

The other thing I would then talk is about the radio and ask the students to find more about the internals of a radio. If possible to bring an old radio to school where it could be disassembled. After they are familiar with some names of the electronic components and what they do, take them to the electronics market where they try to source all the things needed to make a radio and whatever they encounter. This would allow the students to try and do bargain shopping as well as learn from where to source things. Some might even get a copy or two of electronic projects where the shop themselves sell blueprints to hobbyists so that they can tinker.

If there is a place in the school where soldering can be done, then all can try and sooner or later we come to know if something works or not. There is also possibility of talking about noise cancellation and then the topic of ITU can also be bought up and how they do frequency allocation. Last but not the least then the topic can be approached about an alien civilization and an unknown radio signal and what it means and what it can mean.

Now if just one topic can give such a wide range of things to do and develop an understanding about not the subject itself but surrounding subjects as well I see no reason why teachers can’t do this except they are handcuffed to lot of policy as well as real-life constraints.

For e.g. I remember in my school days, we used to go out once or twice a year and that used to be either a school picnic or something similar. The only other I know is going to Mumbai for Nehru planetarium and Nehru science Centre. Unfortunately, I didn’t go at that time because the school was taking students via air and the tickets were super costly at the time and that too for a 10 minute journey between the two cities. Those were different days, today you can’t have a direct flight between the two cities as it doesn’t make an economic sense. It makes more sense to go to Mumbai via train or bus as you will reach Mumbai in about couple of hrs. Of course, Pune does have its own planetarium at New English school and there are a few amateur astronomy clubs in Pune but nothing on the scale that what Mumbai has, but then this is getting off-topic.

Now, again in an online world could this be done? Not without both the teacher and the student both spending lot of resources online and even then will be a lower understanding as both the hands-on experience as well as interacting with other students and learning from other students (aping) would be hugely limited. Even the social skills that students develop in a school setting will be rusted. My own social skills probably have weakened and rusted as I have very limited interaction with people over the past few months due to Covid fears and would be at least for the next few years till a large enough population is not vaccinated.

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