Excerpts from PROBE 2006 - Ensuring Learning India S2 E.003

Public Report on Basic Education in India (PROBE) is a survey covering allschooling facilities, anda sample of 1376 households, in 234 randomly-selectedvillages of Bihar, MadhyaPradesh, Rajasthan,Uttar Pradesh andHimachal Pradesh. This was first conducted in 1996 and again in 2006. The 2006 survey visited roughly same sample villages but not the same households. This report tries to depict the picture of schooling system as perceived by parents, teachers students and community. This has rich qualitative observations from different stakeholders and hence give a decent picture of public schooling system.

This post reproduces some important excerpts from the PROBE 2006. If the reader has time, it is recommended to read the complete report because excerpts mightn't do fair justice to the narrative of the report. Observations on school infrastructure, enrollment and learning outcomes from the report are excluded in the excerpts below because they were already discussed in the previous two posts.

Before proceeding further it is useful to note two points. One, PROBE captures only different types of perceptions in most cases and not the proportion of people with each perception. Hence one should be cautious about drawing conclusions about it. However, even the information about different types of perceptions is extremely valuable. Two, this report is based on survey conducted in 2006, which is before the enactment of RTE Act. Hence, the scenario then might have been different regarding certain aspects.

Note: Italicizing or putting long text in quotes may make it unreadable and hence it isn't being done . But, please note that all the text below is from the PROBE 2006.

Teachers' problems

The most significant problem reported was that schools had too few teachers. Apart from their teaching load, teachers had day‐to‐day responsibility for the supervision of the midday meal scheme and the filling of the attendance register. At the start of the year, they were involved in enrolment campaigns. Through the year teachers had to provide regular data to the authorities at block level. They also had to report on other incentive schemes, and to work closely with the community in education committees. Much of the work with the latter appeared to involve construction, as mentioned earlier.

Shortage of teachers: Nearly three‐fifths of class 1 teachers interviewed complained of the shortage of teachers. As an irate teacher of the primary school in Dudhiyawa (Purvi Champaran district, Bihar) said, “Firstly, three teachers have to teach five grades, and on top of that the authorities keep calling us [to the office] (ek to yahan teen teacher milkar paanch kakshaon ko padhao aur doosra samay‐samay par adhikaari bula lete hai)”.

Curriculum and language related issues in textbooks and classroom transactions: Over and above the problem of having to teach large numbers of children, primary school teachers complained about the difficulties related to the content of the prescribed textbooks. The class 1 teacher of the primary school in Dharkiro (Dhanbad district, Jharkhand) mentioned how “the questions and answers in the children’s textbooks are quite difficult for them [to understand] (bachchon ke kitaab mein prashn uttar hain jo unke liye kaafi mushkil hain)”. Teaching Class 1 children in Hindi was a problem. Teachers are not necessarily equipped to teach in the child’s mothertongue. The Class 1 teacher of the primary school in Burjangsar (earlier in Churu and now in Bikaner, Rajasthan) mentioned how “language is a problem ‐‐ they don’t understand Hindi, only their local dialect…[so] they take longer to learn (language se dikkat aati hain ‐‐ hindi nahi samajhte, sirf apni local language samajhte hain…seekhne mein inhe samay lagta hai)“.

Illiterate and poorly educated parents: Problems associated with teaching children of poor and illiterate parents were mentioned by close to one‐sixth of teachers. These are a sample of the teachers’ comments indicating parents’ limited engagement with the schooling of their children.

“Parents are poor; we have to go to their houses every day to persuade them to send their children to school (garib janta hain, inke bachchon ko hamey ghar se baraabar samjhaakar daily aane ke liye kehna padta hai)”, said a teacher.

Parents don’t pay attention to their children’s studies. Even if we tell them to send their children regularly to school, they don’t pay any attention (bachchon ke maata pita padhai ke baare mein dhyaan nahi dete hain. Jab ham log unse kehte hain ki apne bachchon ko niyamit school bhejen tab bhi voh dhyaan nahi dete hain),” said a teacher in Bagdar (Jhalawar district, Rajasthan). Parents don’t bother to send children clean and tidy, children are not regular and parents take no interest in their children’s studies (bacchon ko saaf‐suthra nahi bhejte hain, bachchen niyamit school nahi aate aur abibhaavak bachchon ko padhaane mein koi ruchi nahi rakhte)”, said the Class 1 teacher of the upper primary school in Kultana (Pali district, Rajasthan).

Low and irregular salaries: In terms of difficult work conditions, contract teachers resented being paid low and irregular salaries. The problems were most acute for contract teachers in Bihar. A Class 1 teacher from Chana Badgaav (Bhagalpur district, Bihar) said, “The pay is very little and we don’t get paid on time. The salary we get should be given by the government and not by the panchayat authority (maneya bahut kum milta hain, aur samay par nahi milta. Vetan jo milta hai, sarkaar ke maadhyam se milna chaahiye, panchayat rajya se nahi milna chaahiye). His experience was echoed by the class 1 teacher of the primary school in Belari (Bhabua district, Bihar) who said that they got paid every 5‐6 months.

The 2006 Survey found an increase in the proportion of teachers who pursue a secondary source of livelihood, possibly because there were more contract teachers in the system with low and irregular salaries. A substantial proportion of teachers who live in the same village where the school is located, do farming in addition to their work in school, and this included both permanent and contract teachers.

Poor travel conditions to school: For some of the teachers, getting to school is an ordeal. “Travelling from far away is a problem. I come 30 km by cycle (door se aane mein samasya hai. 30 km cycle se aate hain)”, said the Class 1 male teacher in Sukhad (Shahdol district, MP). Those who were dependent on public transport were further constrained by limited frequency of such services in many areas, and the distance of the village from the busstop.

In this context, appointments to schools in “road‐point villages” were preferred by teachers. On the positive side, with the appointment of locally recruited contract teachers, the accessibility of schools
for teachers has increased considerably between 1996 and 2006. There has been an increase in the proportion of Class 1 teachers residing in the same village from 37 per cent in 1996 to 50 per cent in 2006. The average commuting time to school in 2006 was as low as 20 minutes.

Problems voiced by female teachers: Female teachers, in general, struggled with the double burden of responsibilities at school and home. In addition, difficult travel to and from the school was cited as a problem by nearly half the female teachers. “There is no transport to travel to and from the school; I also feel unsafe, it’s isolated…one has to travel through the jungle (aane jaane ke liye gaadi ka abhav, asuraksha bhi mehsoos karte insecurity during travel to the school, there was also the possibility that a teacher felt insecure even at the school. For instance, the female teacher in Jhigarghat (Mandla district, MP) complained of “drunken men around the school.

Teaching activity in schools

Close to half the schools had no teaching activity at the time of the team’s unannounced visit. Some teachers were absent, others were found to be sipping tea, knitting, or whiling away time simply chatting. Some teachers were absent, others were found to be sipping tea, knitting, or whiling away time simply chatting. 

One contributory factor to this negligence is the absence of a sufficient role played by head‐teachers in the schools surveyed. At the time of the team’s unannounced visit, there was no head‐teacher in more than half of all schools – in 15 per cent of schools they were away on official work, in 5 per cent of schools they arrived later, in 12 per cent of schools they were officially on leave, and in 20 per cent of schools no head‐teacher had been appointed. The importance of a head‐teacher and the need for teachers to have a level of accountability within the school has been stressed repeatedly and is also an important point made in a recent study on teachers.

Another contributory factor is the persistence of single‐teacher schools. In both 1996 and 2006, only one teacher was appointed in 12 per cent of schools.9 In 1996, an additional 21 per cent of schools were functioning as single‐teacher schools on the day of the survey; in 2006, this figure had declined to 14 per cent, reflecting an improvement in teachers’ attendance in multi‐teacher schools. The proportion of schools that were effectively single‐teacher schools had come down – from about one‐third to one‐quarter over the ten‐year period – the proportion still remains unacceptably high.

Teaching methods in school

The most commonly used methods to teach children in primary school were making the child recite the alphabet, numbers, and multiplication tables, and asking the child to copy from the blackboard or the textbook. It seemed that the main goal of the teachers was to ensure that the child becomes literate – that is, she is able to identify, read and write alphabets and numbers. Teachers were also observed to read aloud from the textbooks, and explain the text line by line. However, involving the children in activities with music, drawing, dancing and organized play were not observed anywhere. Multi‐grade teaching was common, and had consequences for the attention children received

Class 1 was often the most neglected. ʺSome of the class 1 students had walked out of school and were running towards the fields, some were near the hand‐pump, some were sitting and making a lot of noise (kaksha 1 ke bachhe kuchh school se nikalkar kheto ki aur bhaag rahe the, kuchh hand pump ke paas the, kuchh baithkar shor macha rahe the)” were the observations of a researcher. In a village in Bhabua district, Bihar, a researcher noted how there was teaching activity but not for the younger children. “The teacher for classes 1‐3 was knitting in the classroom, whereas the teacher for classes 4 and 5 was engaged in active teaching” (pehli, doosri, teesri ki shikshika kaksha mein baithkar sweater bun rahi thi, aur 4 aur 5 ki shikshika sakriya roop se padha rahi thiʺ). The neglect of Class 1 children was widely observed during the 2006 Survey.

Even those Class 1 students who were given some attention were taught an incomplete curriculum in a way which was not appropriate to their age. Not only did they not learn about topics like colours, environment, and shapes; the methods in which they were taught centred around rote learning, and lacked imagination and variety. In the case of Class 1 children in the primary school in a village in Siwan district, Bihar, the situation was even worse ‐‐ the teacher’s role had been taken over by a student. “The class 1 children were being led by a boy from class 3 in repeating [alphabets / words] from their Hindi textbooks (kaksha 1 ke bachche apni Hindi ki kitaab nikaal kar ratva laga rahe the. Us kaksha mein teesri kaksha ka ladka, ratva lagva raha tha)”. This lack of attention for Class 1 students was in spite of the fact that many teachers of Class 1 spoke about the difficulties faced in teaching such young children for whom the school environment was absolutely new. This strategy of
giving less attention to the younger kids also goes with the widespread need for multi‐grade teaching.

“Teaching” the younger children is then reduced to just minding them while the teacher’s attention is focused on the older children. One possible consequence of the limited teaching activity in school, and of uninteresting teaching methods used, is that absenteeism amongst children is very high. While dropping out at this stage is low, discouragement accumulates, and dropping out takes place during grades 6‐8.

Parents' perception about  government schools

While over 90 per cent of children from SC and ST families were enrolled in government schools, they were not necessarily happy with the experience. Neglect of children from lower‐caste groups in government schools is one reason for parents from these groups enrolling one or more of their children in private schools if they can afford it. This was also possible because the fees in some private schools were as low as Rs 30/ per month.

More common were parents who complained about the lack of teaching, and this goes with our observations discussed in the previous chapter: at the time of the survey team’s unannounced visit to the school, there was no head‐teacher in more than half of all schools, and there was not a single teacher teaching in close to half of all schools.

Parents’ complaints of teachers drinking during school hours were confined to male teachers, while female teachers were accused of knitting in class.  However, the perception that government schools are “bad” and private schools “good”– whether well founded or not – has influenced the choices of some low‐income families.

There were families with even a small amount of extra money who reported that they felt compelled to send their child to a private school if they could at all manage it. The financial strain is then justified because of the belief that the child is attending a better school, or they are getting something for the investment. However the family cannot always sustain the financial demands and the child may be taken out of the private school in a short while. Considering the high costs of private schooling, it is not surprising, therefore, that private school enrolment was found to be weighted in favour of children from more advantaged caste groups, and children from families with more secure livelihoods. The financial burden associated with private schooling means that within some families distinctions are made, whereby the boys are enrolled in private and the girls in government schools.

Feedback from parents with middle-school children in private schools

Positive Feedback: Parents gave a number of reasons for being satisfied with the private school their child was enrolled in.
There were some complaints too.

1 Accessibility : Poonam was enrolled in class 6 in an unrecognised private school in Bahadurpur, Siddharth Nagar district, UP because it was accessible, “The government school here is only till class 5, the other government school which goes upto Inter [class 10] is quite far (yahaan par sarkaari school sirf paanch tak hain aur doosre sarkaari school jo inter tak hain, woh kaafi door hai)”.

2 Infrastructure and facilities: A very high proportion of parents with middle-school children in private schools were very happy with the infrastructure and facilities available to their children. Expectations were centred around the availability of furniture for the children to sit on, and the security and safety of children once in school.

3 Teaching: Some parents were also happy with the teaching in these schools, as, for example, parents of Ritu in class 7 in Chaktodar, Sant Ravidas Nagar district, UP. Parents of Pooja in class 7 in Belva Bai, Khushinagar district, UP were also positive about the teaching in spite of the fact that Pooja herself had complaints (see Negative Feedback below).

4 Child promoted regularly: Parents of Abdul in class 6 in Shivtar, Faizabad district, UP said they were happy with the school because their child was passing the annual examinations every year.

5 Cultural activities: Cultural activities were an important factor for the parents of Gopal enrolled in class 8 in Semri Harichand, Hoshangabad district, MP.

Negative Feedback

1. Poor teaching and facilities: Parents of Rita had chosen to send their daughter to a private school in Shivtar, Faizabad district, UP because there was no teaching in the government school in their village. She was in class 7. However, they were not happy with that private school, “None of the teachers pay any attention; there is no place for the children to sit; in the monsoon they shut the school because the roof leaks (sabhi adhyaapak dhyaan nahi dete; baithne ki koi vyavastha nahi hai; baarish mein school band kar dete hain kyonki chhat se paani tapakta hai)”. Pooja in class 7 in Belva Bai, Khushinagar district, UP reported that she was struggling with English and Mathematics because “the teacher does not come every day and I don’t understand what he teaches (adhyaapak roz aate nahi hain, tatha unki padhai samajh mein nahi aati)”.

2. Beaten badly at school: Thirteen per cent of parents reported that their children (enrolled in private schools in classes 6-8) had been beaten badly in school. This figure was higher than that reported in government schools (6%).

Parents' expenditure on their children's education (per child)

Children engaged in working

Sixty one per cent of children in the 6‐12 age group who were enrolled in government schools reported working, at home and/or outside (see Table 4.8). Some of this work was such that it did not have to come in the way of the child attending school. The children spent, on average, 1.2 hours/day on such activities. This was even lower than what was reported in 1996 (around 2 hours/day,) As much of the child’s work is with family members, it could be expected that it would be compatible with schooling, especially since the school‐day is short. Even if one excludes those who reported that they do no work at all, the average time spent in work by enrolled children did not go above 1.9 hours/day.

Children's difficulties

A large proportion (43%) of currently enrolled children in the sample said that they had difficulties understanding their teacher. An even larger proportion (59%) said that they had difficulties understanding their text. This is not surprising in the light of the fact that many teachers did not speak the dialects spoken by the children, and that the texts were all in the official language of the state. Problems in comprehending the texts are aggravated by the fact that many children live in an oral culture with little or no exposure to printed material in their home environments. In the light of limited teaching input at school, the role of the home environment assumes even greater importance.

Having someone to turn to when learning‐related queries arise is a crucial form of home support required in these circumstances. Going by the responses of parents of the currently enrolled children, more than half (52%) do not get any assistance with their studies. In the majority of these cases, there is no educated person in the family to perform this role.

Other observations

Efforts to improve school functioning are faced with a number of hurdles. We have already mentioned the low levels of teaching activity. Why are teachers not more accountable? It appears that being highly unionised and politicised, they enjoy considerable protection. Their recruitment does not seem to be based on their interest in teaching. There is also little support for them from the education department, to mentor them in doing what is a very difficult job ‐‐ successfully teach children from families whose parents have had little or no schooling themselves. The lives of many rural families, which revolve around farming and grazing animals, have little connection with schooling as it exists today. Some of these families are not even assured of their basic survival needs and are dependent on unskilled labour opportunities which come their way.

Schooling is valued but children attend school only irregularly. The low levels of learning are thus related to weaknesses on both the supply side and the demand side. This makes it easy to indulge in a blame game, without feeling the need to work at changing the situation. Teachers in particular may feel that the task of actually ensuring that children learn is beyond them.

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