Connect with us


Learning New Lessons to Revive Secondary Education

With traditional solutions failing to solve India’s public education woes, it is time to explore alternative approaches that prioritise learning over schooling.



The growing concern around India’s public education might not be misplaced, given the worsening state of the country’s primary and secondary education. While poor learning at the primary level has been discussed and documented at length for a while now, two national surveys—the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) 2017 and the National Achievement Survey (NAS) 2017—hammer home the point that a large number of adolescents in the country are not adequately prepared for the future.

UDISE reveals that almost 40 percent of the eligible student population is not enrolled in secondary school.  Moreover, while initially absent, a gender gap emerges as children get older, with more girls dropping out than boys. This is not surprising given there are only 14 secondary schools for every 100 elementary schools.  Large distances increase the cost of education as well as concerns around safety, especially for girls.

Moreover, on an average, 50 percent of secondary schools are privately managed, which means that in addition to covering large distances to get to school, students also pay to complete secondary education.

The Problem Lies in Weak Foundations:

While the deck is already stacked against students, the most revealing insight in the report is that most students drop out due to a ‘lack of interest in studies.’ This should be expected since students come out at the end of the elementary cycle with weak foundational knowledge.

The NAS district reports show that in many districts, students in Grade 8 scored only 30-40 percent (or lower) in Math. This finding is corroborated by ASER, which reports that, despite completing eight years of elementary education, students struggle to apply literacy and numeracy skills to everyday tasks such as tallying weights or decoding instructions on an ORS sachet. Without foundational knowledge, students are bound to struggle in higher grades, where the curriculum is more exacting.

As students continue to complete the elementary cycle with weak foundational knowledge, it’s time we explored diverse approaches that supplement mainstream school education with effective, time-bound solutions.

Another interesting finding in the ASER report pertains to girls. Despite near equal enrolment at the primary stage, 7 percent of adolescent girls surveyed in ASER say they have no plans of studying or working, and expect to tend to their/their husbands’ homes for the rest of their lives. These findings are sobering as they tell the story of a generation let down by education. But, at this point, a pause must replace panic.

Prioritise Learning, Not Schooling:

The last two decades saw a massive expansion in education infrastructure, bureaucracy and entitlements. From meals being provided in school (via the mid-day meal scheme), to free uniforms and textbooks, to whole new schools opening up in remote locations (under the government’s education-for-all scheme), public education has seen great investments in ‘inputs’. Even at the teacher level, with rising enrolments in school, more teachers are required.

With so much taxpayer money being spent, accounting for every bit is required. This creates more layers of officers who spend their time monitoring and reporting. As a result, the focus for school administration and education policy becomes inputs oriented, rather than about the outcomes public education is supposed to be producing.

“If enrolment is prioritised at the cost of learning, schools become holding spaces where students are contained and fed, and they lose their status as institutions of learning.”

Given the journey of elementary education in the last two decades, it is important that the same mistakes are not repeated in secondary education. School completion should not become a goal in itself–for instance, by expanding the coverage of the Right to Education Act to include 14-18 year olds,  as recent reports indicate the government might be considering.

If enrolment is prioritised at the cost of learning, schools become holding spaces where students are contained and fed, and they lose their status as institutions of learning. If this happens, school completion signals nothing to future employers: schooling becomes irrelevant. The natural counter to this is a proposal to balance growth with school quality. But is it possible for an already-failing system to grow five-fold and improve quality? Possibly, but the history of public education in India provides few examples that inspire.

Time to Look at Things Afresh: 

Given where we are today, the question to ask is whether we can explore diverse approaches where mainstream school education is supplemented by effective, time-bound solutions. Some ideas have already proven to be effective. For reading, a unique initiative called Same Language Subtitling (SLS) pioneered by Brij Kothari uses television to get children and adults to improve their reading. In a karaoke-style subtitling, regional movie songs are subtitled in the same language they are being sung in. Viewers who understand the language but cannot read it start picking up characters and associated phonetics by reading the subtitles.

The first SLS pilot was conducted in Gujarat, but a much larger programme was initiated in Maharashtra between June 2013 and May 2015, when SLS was added on all songs of the 10 weekly Marathi movies telecast on Zee Talkies, the popular 24×7 Marathi movie channel. The songs were repeated on Zee Marathi as well.

This gave approximately 3.5 million children access to these songs via television in their homes or neighbourhood. No other support was provided to children. After two years, ASER evaluated the reading proficiency of children who had been exposed to SLS programming versus a control group and found the results were better than most school-based remedial programmes.

In the baseline, only 38 percent of SLS students in Grade 3 could read a Grade 1 textbook. By the end of the programme, that number shot up to 68 percent. The programme particularly benefitted the ‘at risk’ children, i.e., Grade 2 non-readers (who couldn’t read Grade 1 text). Seventy percent of non-readers at baseline were reading at Grade 1 level by the end of the programme. Corresponding gains were not found for the control group. At the end of two years, only 35 percent of Grade 5 students in the control group could read at grade level versus almost 50 percent in the SLS group.

The discourse on public education can, and must, go beyond school/system-based programmes.

The programme, thus, proved effective in bridging early learning deficits. While such programmes cannot replace schooling, they provide two important takeaways: one, if student learning can be improved within months, such solutions must be implemented for the sake of that generation. Two, children learn as much outside school as within. Hence, the discourse on public education can, and must, go beyond school/system-based programmes.

Another example of non-school-based education is vocational training. While improving reading at the primary grades bolsters secondary education indirectly, vocational training directly benefits students at the post-secondary level. According to a report by Team Lease, the largest people supply-chain company in India, vocational trades such as electrician pay better over four years compared with engineering or accounting. Yet, ASER 2017 reported that only 5 percent of post-secondary students are enrolled in any Industrial Training Institute (ITI). Part of the reason is that the courses are not well developed, causing graduates of ITIs to fare poorly in the job market. But if ITIs are shored up and their linkage with industry strengthened, secondary school students will have an incentive to stay in school—and a path to the future.

Much time has already been lost as a result of poor policies and governance. Creative, brave strategies are now required to ensure that India’s ‘demographic dividend’ doesn’t stop at being a clever juxtaposition of words.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

This article originally appeared on the India Development Review website.

Natasha Joshi

Natasha Joshi is an education specialist. She has worked with state education departments across Singapore, Mexico, and USA, and most recently, was part of the education team at NITI Aayog. Natasha holds a master's in education and psychology, and is currently developing a K-12 life skills curriculum for schools in Bangalore.

Continue Reading


HRD Ministry Launches ‘Study in India’ Website

Students from across the world will now be able to pursue education in prominent Indian Educational Institutions. 



NEW DELHI: Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Minister of State for HRD Dr Satya Pal Singh jointly launched the Study in India programme of HRD Ministry by launching the  ‘Study in India’ portal ( at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi today.

The integration of e-SANAD portal and NAD – National Academic Depository (of HRD Ministry), was also launched by Smt Sushma Swaraj on the occasion.

While addressing the occasion, Smt. Swaraj said the quest for knowledge has always been fundamental to India’s culture and civilization. Throughout our history, India has made seminal contributions to human thought, philosophy and development. Our ancient philosophical concepts, such as Vasudeva Kuttumbakam and Sarva Dharma Sambhava, remain eternal.

The “Study in India’ is an innovative initiative to attract students from our partner countries in South Asia, South-East Asia, Middle East and Africa to come and experience the very best of academic learning from the top institutions in India.

This will be achieved through systematic brand-building, identifying quality institutions for receiving the students, creating suitable infrastructure and facilitation structures. The “Study in India Portal” will become a single window to cover all aspects relating to studying in India for foreign students.

In a video message on this occasion, Union HRD Minister Shri Prakash Javadekar said ‘Study in India’ initiative will open the gates of the prominent educational institutions of India for foreign students.

He said that to begin with the focus is on students of 30 Asian, African, Middle East and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries and hope that families from America will send their children to India for undergraduate courses one day.

India was the education hub of the world education with a long heritage of Nalanda anTakshashila. Now, India is again surging ahead in the education sector with more than 40,000 colleges and more than 800 universities.

Top most colleges have been granted graded autonomy. Graded autonomy will help educational institutions to expand on their own; they can improve their programs, launch new programs as per the need. They can take in foreign faculty & foreign students , the HRD Ministry added.

Javadekar further said that because of the recent reforms in the education sector, now India has become a prominent center for affordable and quality education.

While speaking on the occasion Minister of State for HRD, Dr. Satyapal Singh said that India believes in the theory of ‘Vashudhaiva Kutumbkam with the rich history of educational institutions like Takshashila and Nalanda.

He said that with the integration of e-SANAD and NAD – National Academic Depository, the education system in India is now more transparent.

Expressing gratitude towards the External Affairs Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj for launching the Study in India portal, Satyapal Singh said that for the first time, prominent Indian Educational Institutions have been opened up under this programme which will be of benefit not only to the foreign students but also to India.

Delivering the welcome speech, Secretary (Higher Education) of HRD R. Subrahmaniyam said that this year 15, 000 seats have been offered by 160 Institutions under the programme.

Dr. S. B. Majumdar, Founder President, Symbiosis International University was also felicitated by Smt. Sushma Swaraj on the occasion.

The Study in India programme would provide one stop solution through the creation of a centralised portal The website will be supported by an App and a Helpline number.

The website will not only provide information on the latest offerings on Indian education but also facilitate admissions to the foreign students and help them make informed choices based on individual aptitudes and career goals.

EdCIL (India) Limited, a Mini Ratna Category I CPSE is the implementing agency of the Ministry of HRD for the Study in India education campaign. NIRF ranked and NAAC accredited institutions with a 3.26 score have been included in the programme.

The Study in India programme is a joint initiative of Ministry of HRD, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

Continue Reading


CBSE to ‘Compensate’ Class X Students for Error in English Paper

The paper held on the 12th of last month had certain errors in the comprehension passage section.



NEW DELHI: The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has decided to provide compensation of two marks to Class X students for a typing error in the English question paper.

Several teachers and students had approached the Board with the plea that the paper held on the 12th of last month had certain errors in the comprehension passage section.

Students had to read a passage and write synonyms for the words endurance, obstruction, and motivation.

But the paragraphs they were supposed to look at were incorrectly marked, they had said in an online petition.

A senior CBSE official said, the typing error has been noticed and it has been Board’s policy to not let students face any disadvantage.

The marking scheme has been decided in the interest of students and all those who appeared for the particular question will be awarded two marks.

The Class X and XII board examinations began on the 5th of last month and will conclude on 25th of this month

Continue Reading


Parents’ Income Ceiling for Scholarship for SC Students Increased to 2.5 Lakh

Income ceiling of parents/guardian increased to Rs.2.5 lakh per annum for the Pre-Matric scholarship to SC students.



NEW DELHI: Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme to Scheduled Caste students studying in classes IX and X and Post Matric Scholarship Scheme to SC students are centrally sponsored Schemes and implemented by State Governments/UT Administrations.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment releases the Central Assistance to States/UTs towards the total expenditure under the scheme, over and above their committed liability.

All the Scheduled Caste students whose parental/Guardian’s income does not exceed Rs. 2.5 lakh per annum, are provided scholarship as per regulation of scheme.

Under Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme to SC students, the department has increased the annual income ceiling of parents/guardian from Rs. 2.00 lakh to Rs. 2.5 lakh per annum w.e.f. September 19, 2017.

Continue Reading

Also In The News