News & Information From Northeast India

Can we go slowly? Let this be a gap year for students

There is no gainsaying that these are unprecedented times which call for unprecedented action. But it must be understood that it is the time to bring about changes for which we were not prepared or trained to deal. But deal we have to.

One of the most vulnerable sectors of this crisis is education, especially state-funded education sphere, which for the purpose of this article includes elementary, secondary and higher education up to the graduation level. Of course, this is not to undermine the problem faced by private sector institutions. However, the private sector, by its very nature, generally caters to the ‘able’, in most cases, and may jolly well scrape through, huffing and puffing thereby leaving the damage calculation exercise to students or parents in the long run.

Recently, the Board of Secondary Education of Assam (euphemistically called SEBA) spoke of the problem being faced by it in declaring the much-anticipated results of High School Leaving Certificate examination, given the situation arising out of the coronavirus pandemic. This was preceded by the Assam Higher Secondary Educational Council (AHSEC)’s announcement that all its class XI students would be promoted to Class XII, a very prudent decision.

However, the problem for SEBA as much as for the CBSE (the central board) would be the regular classes starting from Class I onwards to Class XII in the new academic session. With every passing day, the respective boards as well as the universities are losing their night sleep over the absence certainty regarding the resumption of classes.

Some of them have resorted to a binge of online classes, which cannot be as effective, and at the most be considered a stop-gap measure. However, if this is to be persisted with for the next three months, then the respective boards and parents need to act decisively. In Assam, too, it cannot be the norm but an exception. The reasons are obvious.

Where is the necessary infrastructure? One needs a desktop or laptop or even a smartphone along with electricity, and high speed internet to undertake such online classes. Moreover, what if there are two children in a home, which, in all likelihood, is a case, across Assam. One also needs teachers who are trained in online classes. How many teachers across the country have been trained to take online classes?

So, if we presume that the lockdown and its resultant outcome will mean that students are forced to lose four-odd months in the current academic session, even after making up for summer vacation, and curtailing other holidays, then these boards should think of abandoning this academic year, no matter how difficult the choice might be.

Instead, they should focus on utilising the remaining eight to nine months in other ways rather than pushing teachers and students through that academic session. It means retaining students in the same class and using these nine months to impart necessary skills, be it arithmetic, English speaking, creative writing, computers, entrepreneurship, or a language which would stand them in good stead. This lose of an academic year can be compensated in other ways.

So, if one was to matriculate at the age of 16, let him do so at 17. If one is to graduate at 21, let him or her do it six months later losing possibly a semester.

A cursory look at the matriculation age and system around the world reflect two basic things. The age for passing the 10th standard whichever way we look at it is 15-17 and the other thing is that at least once within the first sixteen years of one’s life, the question of choice and experimentation need to be provided to students.

In countries like Russia, they relearn, in their final year of school which we call the 10th standard, what they had learnt in the preceding few years. In Greece, for example, a student may not even attend her classes when she is in Class X; in Finland, she is allowed an extra year to decide the career or subject she is interested in while in Ireland, one is allowed to try her hand on new subjects which may not have anything to do with the subjects previously studied. The point here is to have a flexible approach towards education.

One can agree for argument’s sake that parents across the state would find it difficult to accept this formula. But once competent authorities know that there is no way out but this, parents would come around to understand this there is no alternative. One never knows that this may very well breathe in a new life into the education system around the country which has been characterised by rote learning and a staid approach resulting in supply of unemployable human resources in millions in the job market.

Under no circumstances should the respective boards or universities rush through the syllabus in order to make up for lost time. This will have a lifelong bearing on these students’ ability to grasp key concepts and develop systematic understanding.  May be the majority would still pass but their overall understanding will be behind a year, which will have huge ramification in the years to come. The brain has a way of progressing and processing things, any sedation to speed it up will be akin to plucking a raw fruit before it has ripened.

The other options boards might be tempted to do is to cut down on syllabus to make up for the lost time. This, too, would be self defeating because of the same reason explained above.

Assam had experienced a similar situation during the six year old anti-foreigners’ agitation from 1979-1985. However, there is no study to point out how costly that has turned out to be or whether it has benefited the students in developing their understanding because of that lost year.

The other aspect that needs to be considered is the training of teachers during this period. Have we made any systematic approach to train our teachers to make classes livelier, train them in information technology by equipping schools with necessary I-T infrastructure so as to prepare them for the way things are shaping up globally?  The entire process of classes, assessments, administrative work and then examinations during an academic session leave no room for teachers to improve themselves if they will or even for school authorities to force it on them if they do not want to.

Even though it is universally agreed that these are bleak times for humanity, the best way to cope with it is to salvage something positive out of the crisis that is confronting humanity, and not make it a lost year in reality.

(The views expressed by the author are his own. TheNewsMill.com may or may not subscribe to the same)


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