Thursday, June 7, 2007

Education scenario in Kerala

Kerala is in the forefront of school education in the country. There is no doubt about that. Whatever people may complain, our government and aided schools are much ahead of similar schools in other state without doubt. I was convinced about this when I participated in a Workshop on Science Education organised by the People's Council of Education and the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE), TIFR, Mumbai at HBCSE. There were speakers from all over the country with a lot of experience in the education sector and also social activists. It was a very nice experience for me and I learnt a lot of things. I will be writing something about that in my other blog (chithariyachinthakal.blogspot.com). Right now I give below the paper on Kerala's experience in the education sector that I presented at the Workshop. I am happy that several people came to me and appreciated the presentation. Here we go:

Making Education Less Tedious and More Effective: the Kerala experience
V. Sasi Kumar
Centre for Earth Science Studies, Thiruvananthapuram
Abstract
Education has been a matter of concern for a lot of people in our country for the past several decades. There have been several efforts to make education more effective and less tedious especially at the school level. The state of Kerala has been going through a series of educational reforms over the last decade or so, with the same ob jective. This includes the adoption of a constructivist paradigm along with comprehensive and continuous evaluation. The state introduced IT education at the high school level five years back and is now planning to introduce IT Enabled Education. A large scale exercise in curriculum revision on the basis of the National Curriculum Framework 2005 published by NCERT is now in progress. Here I attempt to examine how these reforms have helped to achieve the goals of making schooling more attractive, learning student-centred and education more effective, while empowering teachers.

Introduction

Over the last five decades or so, we have been discussing the need for changes in the system of education in our country as we search for a system that is attractive to children and effective at the same time. There have also been isolated attempts in this direction in different parts of the country both in the formal and informal sectors. Still, we find that we don’t have an educational system about which we feel satisfied. That is obviously the reason for our constant efforts at reforming our educational system. The dissatisfaction is equally applicable to all sub jects of study and all levels of education, though the emphasis may vary from place to place or among individuals.

The education system needs to aim at the overall development of the growing individual so that (s)he becomes capable of leading a satisfying and productive life, while also becoming useful to society and humanity as a whole. For this, the individual today has to acquire skills that were once not very much essential, while at the same time acquiring life skills that have always been necessary to live in today’s and tomorrow’s society. Since science was added to the school curriculum about fifty years ago, its importance in society has only increased. For a long time, our attention was on content, though there were heated discussions on teaching methods and the effectiveness of classroom transaction. Only in exceptional cases were the reforms in methods implemented. It was only in the 90s that some sincere attempts were made to reform the process. We are now waking up to the need for paying attention to the process as well as the content. More importantly, it is becoming increasingly apparent that it is not sufficient just to learn—children need to learn to learn. And this is becoming more important in today’s world of information highways, mobile computing, and rapidly changing technology.

An important part of our education system is the evaluation system. Evaluation of students has always been through written examinations. This essentially meant that the student had to memorise whatever (s)he is supposed to learn and reproduce it on the answer paper during the specified time on the day(s) of examination. This has several drawbacks: a child who is ill on that day could perform below par; the system basically tests the ability of the student to memorise and recall material; the examination does not cover all aspects of the child’s personality; and so on, yet the child is branded by the marks scored in the examination. Worse, a spirit of competition developed among, very strangely, the parents! This often led to the children being driven to score higher ranks and sometimes even to suicides. While these issues are valid for all sub jects, there are certain issues relevant to each sub ject, including science. We shall examine below how the state of Kerala attempted to face these challenges and what it plans for the future.

Science Education

The teaching of modern science started more than five decades back. Being a new and exciting sub ject, its teaching possibly started off with building facilities like laboratories and with much demonstration of experiments in the laboratory and classrooms. There surely must have been considerable enthusiasm among both the teaching and learning communities. But eventually, as education became more widespread and the emphasis shifted from acquiring knowledge to scoring marks and ranks, science education also suffered the same fate as other sub jects. Science at the school level seems to have lost touch with life and nature and become just another paper in the examinations that can help the students score better marks. The reasons could possibly be traced to the evaluation method used and the importance given to scoring marks. It was important to score good marks for getting admission to desired courses, and later for getting good employment.

Even when science is/was taught reasonably well, the emphasis is/was on the content. The students are asked to learn a collection of facts. As a result, they do not recognise the spirit of inquiry that drives scientists, do not acquire a scientific aptitude and fail to recognise the fact that science has a long history and has been evolving. They fail to realise the basic tenet of science that no statement, even if made by the greatest scientist, need be taken to be the absolute truth. In other words, there are no gods, living or otherwise, in science. Thus we find that the main purpose of science education is not achieved.

So what do we expect from science education? Let me list out some points, which may not be comprehensive, but just for the present discussion:
  • Learn about the nature of the world around us;
  • Learn about the process that helped us to know about the world around us;
  • Understand the advantages of this process;
  • Understand how the process and our knowledge evolved over the centuries;
  • Inculcate an interest in children to learn further through this process;
  • Empower the children to carry out further studies through this process;
  • Empower the children to use this process for solving problems in their lives;
  • Help the children to acquire thinking skills that can protect them from exploitation.
If we are to achieve these ob jectives, it is not sufficient that the children learn by rote some information that is provided in textbooks and reproduce them in the answer paper. It is essential that the natural curiosity of the children is awakened and cultivated, the children become part of scientific activity, learn to identify problems that could be attacked using the process of science, apply their minds to these problems and try to find their own solutions, however unlikely or apparently ridiculous the solutions may be. How can we achieve this? There is perhaps no complete answer now. I shall only describe the experience of Kerala state which introduced certain reforms during the last few years.

DPEP and the Change in Pedagogy

It was the National Education Policy of 1986, its Programme of Action (1992), the Minimum Learning Level programme and the Operation Blackboard scheme that first introduced concepts like learner centred education, activity orientation, and environmental based and life related education. These programmes failed to achieve fully the desired results because of various reasons: lack of proper monitoring, absence of local participation in implementing the programme, lack of continuing training and on-site support and the evaluation system remaining the same. The DPEP was started as an attempt to sort out the issues that these programmes left. This scheme envisaged active participation by the local community and teachers in planning and implementing the programmes.

The District Primary Education Programme was started in three districts in Kerala in 1994 and extended to three more districts. The programme was later extended to the entire state. The primary ob jectives of the Programme were:
  • To provide access for all children to primary education according to national norms;
  • To ensure retention for all children in primary classes; and
  • To effect a substantial improvement in quality of primary education.
DPEP developed a child centered pedagogy as an experiment in the primary classes. ‘Activity based Classroom’ is one of the main concepts practised in all the districts. Though the programme itself was mired in controversy since the World Bank was involved, it eventually got support from a lot of people in the academic community. Those who were involved in the programme in any manner, supported the programme, while others opposed the programme. The exercise did attract attention from outside the state too. For instance, in her report to the Frontline in August 2001, Anita Rampal(1) wrote: “A systematic effort has been made to redefine the process of school education under the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) in six districts of Kerala. ... The effort in Kerala was more participatory than in other states. Discussions between parents and teachers about the curriculum and textbooks and the way these need to be changed in order to ensure better learning were conducted at the panchayat level. Thousands of resource teachers worked tirelessly in each district to orient their colleagues towards changing their teaching practices for the better.” Though the debates about the programme were heated and continued for a long time, it had succeeded in making an impact in the state, which changed the scenario for ever.

The state eventually decided to adopt the constructivist pedagogy—social constructivism, to be precise. This was extended to all classes up to 10. This ensured that the child is no longer a passive listener to the teachers’ lectures. The child became an active participant in the teaching/learning process by doing pro jects, organising seminars and quizzes and so on. Children are not always confined to the classrooms. And the teacher’s role changed from that of transferring knowledge to that of a guide. Though this has not, admittedly, been adopted by all teachers in all schools, the process is continuing and the teachers who are remaining aloof today will have to yield sooner rather than later. There cannot be a going back.

A scheme for Comprehensive and Continuous Evaluation, which includes evaluation by self, by peers and by teachers, has been adopted. This evaluates not just what the student has memorised, but also her communication skills, leadership qualities and other abilities. When the pedagogy changed, the examination also went through a change. The type of questions asked in the examination changed from direct questions that required rote learning and verbatim reproduction of answers taught in the class to indirect and even open ended questions which could be answered by the child in own words. Though the changes initially made the children and parents apprehensive, the children were seen to be very happy when they came out from their examination halls. They realised that they need not memorise answers—in fact, there was no point in memorising because the questions were very different. In fact, the questions were refreshingly different, and many children actually enjoyed answering the open-ended questions. The media, in fact, promnently carried the news, the television channels showing visuals of children coming out laughing and joking. The sombre atmosphere of an examination venue was gone. The Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation scheme also helped the children to relax. The final examination was not the deciding factor. All activities of the child are recorded and go through a process of self-evaluation, peer-evaluation and teacher-evaluation. These contribute to the final score of the child. Again, examinations at the end of the first and second terms also contribute to the final score. Moreover, the children are given grades at the end of the year, so the vicious competition for scoring ranks disappeared. These helped to significantly reduce the tension the children had been sub jected to earlier.

IT@School

Another move that was started in the education sector was the IT@School Pro ject. The ob jective of the pro ject was to introduce Information Technology to children. A committee was headed by Prof. U.R. Rao, former Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, was constituted to make recommendations on the direction the pro ject should take. After studying the status of education in the state and elaborate discussions, the Committee recommended that IT should be integrated with the curriculum and it should be used for improving curriculum transaction in the classes. They envisaged that all teachers should be empowered to use this technology within three years. IT was thus introduced in the eighth standard in the year 2002 after conducting training in IT for a large number of teachers. Though, initially, IT education was optional, it was soon made compulsory and examination was introduced in 8th 9th and tenth classes progressively. The state saw very brisk activity in the government and aided schools to make computers available to the students. Today, almost every government/aided school has at least five computers, often more. About 200 Master Trainers were trained in computers and most of the teachers have now undergone at least one week’s training in using computers.

Thus the stage has now been set for introducing IT enabled education in the state. Already, a software (Dr. Geo) has been introduced in class 10 for teaching geometry and some private schools have started using computers extensively for teaching all sub jects. With curriculum revision now under way, the government has decided to introduce IT Enabled Education in the new curriculum, and, accordingly, a Focus Group has been set up for IT Enabled Education along with thirteen other Focus Groups for different subjects and sections. The Focus Groups have almost completed the activities for preparing position papers on the sub jects. This was done after conducting surveys on the existing system to identify its merits and defects and also holding consultations with the different sections of the public. Further consultations and discussions will take place before the position paper is finalised and work on preparing the revised curriculum starts.

Edusat and Victers

After the launch of Edusat, the IT@School Pro ject started a new programme called Virtual Classroom Technology on Edusat for Rural Schools, abbreviated to VICTERS. This envisaged stting up Satellite Interactive Terminals (SIT) and Receive only Terminals (ROT) in schools that will receive programmes telecast from the studio in Thiruvananthapuram. The system is being used for various purposes including teacher training and providing a virtual classroom environment with highly skilled teachers to children in remote schools so that the disadvantage normally faced by children in remote schools is reduced to some extent. The system is also proposed to be used to provide Internet connectivity and to upload material to servers in schools during night time. Right now, what it lacks is good quality content, though these are being created and also borrowed from other sources. The system is being used though not to the fullest capacity and some fine tuning of the process may be required as we learn from the experience.

Expectations

Thus the state has now reached a situation where the child is made to actively participate in the learning process and his overall evaluation is done continuously and not just at the end of the year. Computers have been made available in all schools and the state government has declared that all schools will be connected to the Internet in three years. Multimedia rooms have already been set up in many schools and it is hoped that this facility will become available in almost all schools in a couple of years at the most. Thus, the classrooms in Kerala are undergoing a rapid transformation and getting ready to accept more changes. Changes, per se, need not necessarily lead to improvement in education. So let us see how these changes are hoped to bring about improvement in education.

The DPEP has already been shown to have made an impact, as the report in Frontline discussed. The report was based on a study by a group of experts of which its author was a member. The group found that primary students fared even better than high school students in some basic skills like arithmetic, map reading, writing and so on. To quote from the report, “The results of the test show that children in Class IV of schools in the DPEP districts perform remarkably better than those in non-DPEP districts; in some cases they outperform the much older students of Class IX.” With the extension of this to higher classes, which has now been completed up to class 12, we hope the situation in high schools also has improved. It is generally recognised that there has been a qualitative change in children after the introduction of the new pedagogy and the new evaluation methods. Teachers say that the children show better proficiency in writing and speaking. A couple of studies ave being conducted about how the reforms have changed the education scenario, and we are waiting for the results to be published. Since grades have been introduced in all classes, it is not easy to compare the performance before and after the introduction of the new pedagogy in higher classes.

If the experience of DPEP can be expected to be repeated in the higher classes also, which seems reasonable to expect, this should bring about a welcome change in school education in the state. But over time, deterioration should be expected. Already, private publishers have brought out books on ideas for pro jects and also on how to do pro jects. Soon we can expect ready made pro ject reports to be available, which will make the whole idea of the new pedagogy meaningless. On the other hand, since children will be evaluated not just for the final product but also for the process, we may hope that this deterioration will be limited.

Acknowledgements

The author thanks Sri N.K. Sathyapalan, Sri V.K. Sasidharan and Sri R. Harikumar for suggestions and help in preparing this manuscript.
_________________________

Note:
1 Director, National Literacy Resource Centre, Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration, Mussoorie.

7 comments:

Shivaja said...

Strange that I read this article today (I got this url from a forward sent to our college yahoo groups and was curious to know what keralachinthakal was), and the same time I read in todays papers at Baroda that a malayali boy of 14 committed suicide. He was among the top 10 in class, but didnt perform wel in the recent half yearly examination. When will the change come.....?

Sasi said...

When will the change come.....?

I think the parents should stop pressing the child constantly for better performance. They should realise that this pressure is only going to shatter the child.

The education system should reform its examination system so that it assesses more of what the student "knows" rather than what the student remembers. This has happened in the school system in Kerala, but has to happen in higher education too--and all over India.

Then, maybe, we will see more happy children and less suicides.

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Ronald said...

Dear Mr. Kumar,
Sorry to use your comment post for a personal message, yet I couldn't see a way to email you. As a retired American teacher planning an extended stay in Kerala, I read your blog of July 7, '07 with interest. Is there any way I can have it sent to my inbox, ron403b@gmail.com ?
Ron Harbin

vidhu said...

sir what are the merits of coontinuous evaluation system in education. is it actually can contribute to the students development?

V. Sasi Kumar said...

Dear Vidhu,

I am not an expert in the subject. But I think continuous evaluation is better than the traditional method of terminal examinations and a final exam. In the traditional way, the student has to "mug up" all that (s)he has learnt till then and transfer all that onto the answer paper. The emphasis here is on the memory of the student, and even small things can affect the performance of a student. On a different day, (s)he might have performed differently. And a good part of the future of the child depends on what happens during those couple of hours. A very good student could perform badly because of even, say, a fit of ill health. On the other hand, continuous evaluation gives the child several opportunities to prove his/her abilities throughout the academic year and reduces the emphasis on the final examination to that extent. Of course, how this is getting implemented in the schools may be very different, but that is not the fault of the system. I think having a good system and implementing it properly are both important.

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