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January 28, 1998


The Rediff Election Special/Dr M S Gore

'100 % literacy should be the government's priority'

The country needs to work towards 100 per cent universal literacy. This should be the government's and our first priority. Many countries have achieved it, so can we. This can be done if adequate resources are allocated for education. By encouraging voluntary participation. Students in colleges can be mobilised. Much can be done through time bound literacy programmes, and ensuring the enforcement of such programmes.

I agree it is difficult to determine whether a country has reached full literacy or not. But India should work towards educating its adult population and its children above the age of 6. A large section of our voters cannot read. There exists a high drop out rate in schools. If we can educate our people this can only lead to greater development.

It is true that education has not received the attention it requires. We have not considered it a priority so far. The government has not been serious about the educational needs of its citizens. It is our first major necessity. This should be attended to in right earnest.

I would not say that the syllabi in our colleges is faulty. Syllabus differs from university to university – but if one looks at the syllabi offered for higher education in a generalised way, one can notice the emphasis laid on examinations. There is ample stress on memorising text, which in my opinion is incorrect.

The second most important thing is making the entire education system more creative. The syllabus is a guide. So is the teacher. The syllabus should be such that it encourages students to teach themselves. It should bring out greater initiative both from the students as well as the teacher.

Students should be encouraged to do more projects at home. Till recently there was also a non availability of good text books. I think the idea of prescribing one or two text book per subject should be done away with for higher education. For a particular subject students should go through various books and decide their own text books. This way students can be encouraged to make very good use of libraries.

Yes, we cannot ignore the need for adequate teaching staff. Certain types of classes, perhaps with a strength of 50 or 60 which do not include participation, can be held through lectures over microphones. Where one teacher can hold the class. But knowledge cannot only be communicated that way. For certain classes you need smaller groups and different modes of teching, which we lack.

The teacher student ratio depends on the number of subjects, enrolment of students, subsidies in terms of grants. With what one has seen there is a shortage of teachers. So in cases of full student enrolment, there are not enough teachers to fulfil the curriculum requirement. But there are instances, especially in villages, where the number of students is less what often happens is that there are not enough students to utilise the teachers. The educational infrastructure has to be streamlined.

I cannot say that earlier teachers were more dedicated and now they are not. There are still many teachers who are dedicated towards their duty. It is the lack of involvement that has reduced the communication between teachers and students. Then during examination, a third person who does not know both is expected to be objective. Somehow the purpose of education gets lost this way.

Poor salaries is a major grouse with teachers, especially those attached to government schools. This is one problem that most state governments have to deal with. If state governments want to put a stop to this they have to get their entire infrastructure in order, in terms of allocation of resources.

As I said the emphasis on material content has broken student-teacher involvement, and it is this interaction that needs to be restored. Sometimes what leads to dissatisfaction with teachers is the unequal distribution of teaching load. Take the example of extra curricular activities, some teachers just keep getting loaded more heavily with such responsibilities year after year, just because other teachers won’t take up the responsibility.

Another aspect that needs to be encouraged is extra curricular activities. Our system doesn’t allocate much time to this. We cannot allow this to happen, extra curricular activities play an important role in the development and involvement of students.

Yes, there is a great loss to students due to strikes – teachers, students, non teaching staff. It is because of this reason that sessions run behind schedule and students find it difficult to get admissions elsewhere. In this case too, unless the government seriously prioritises the educational demands this cannot be addressed.

I would say that the government does pay some attention to higher education, like post graduate classes but neglects education at the primary school level. This is especially true at the rural level. Where schools exist without ever holding any classes for its children. The government needs to work at the grass root level, only then can we counter illiteracy.

It is not easy to bring changes. This is mainly because of the lack of faith in the teachers, students and also the government.

Dr M S Gore, former director, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and former vice-chancellor, Bombay University, spoke to Archana Masih.

Issues '98

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