Dr D Dhanuraj
Dr Lekshmi R Nair
School-level education in Kerala has for long been considered as a benchmark for the rest of the country. At the same time, despite being championed as a State with a high literacy rate coupled with a reasonably well-established schooling system, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) by Pratham indicate that there are several concerns that continue to persist regarding the quality of school education in the State.
Ever since the implementation of the District Primary Education Programme in the mid-1990s, several steps have been taken by the State Council Educational Research and Training (SCERT) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) Kerala towards implementation of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation(CCE) Practices in the State.
For the last two decades, Kerala has been engaged in a process of continuous revision of its school curriculum and pedagogy, shifting away from text book-oriented teaching to activity-oriented learning methodologies.
To this end, a new set of text books were introduced in 2014 for Class 2 to 10, after repeated calls for change in textbooks were made asking for them to fall in line with the changes in the education curriculum under other boards. Post this, the textbooks were developed with an ‘Outcome-focused assessment approach’. These initiatives were aimed at improving the quality of school education with a focus on developing skills such as critical thinking, rational thinking, and interrelated knowledge among the learners. Having invested a considerate amount on this, the time for assessment has come; whether the quality of education has actually improved or not? Whether the learning outcomes intended were achieved or not?
A recent study conducted by the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) on the achievement level of Standard VI students in Mathematics and General Science subjects in government and aided schools shows that in spite of all these initiatives, for improving the quality of school education, there has been no significant gains in the learning outcomes of these children. Our field study results show that students continue to make spelling mistakes even with basic terms and were not able solve simple arithmetic operations such as multiplication and/or addition. Apart from this, many schools still follow the traditional teaching methods in spite of the shift in focus from textbook-oriented learning to activity-oriented learning.
The performance of students in schools (classified as tribal area by SSA Kerala) was found to be remarkably poor compared to those from schools in urban and rural areas in this study.
Based on our findings, we feel that one of the main reasons for the poor performance of the students can be that schools mainly focus on completing the curriculum as opposed to delivering quality education that results in learning. This is because there is a great focus on enforcing the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) that stresses on age-grade learning and stipulates that the syllabus must be completed within the allocated time period. As a result of this, the system fails to lay a good foundation in basic learning in the child’s early school years.
Apart from this, the workload of teachers has increased significantly due to the focus on activity-oriented learning as it is in addition to the task of completing the syllabus within the stipulated time period. Moreover, studies based on surveying the teachers show that the teachers are still not aware of how to implement the activity-based learning effectively in spite of the huge amount spent for training teachers by SSA Kerala.
All these issues have resulted in the utter failure of the curriculum reforms in the government and aided schools. The rising popularity of the unaided CBSE/ICSE schools in Kerala can be considered as a result of the poor quality of education in the government and aided schools.
All the reforms here aimed at improving the quality of education in the government and aided schools are formulated by copying changes carried out in the education curriculum under the other boards. Whether the existing learning environment in these schools is conducive to enforcing these reforms and how far the teachers in these schools are ready and capable for carrying out these reforms needs to be evaluated properly before enforcing the different reforms aimed at improving the learning outcomes of children.
A SWOT analysis of the existing educational system in these schools needs to be conducted before experimenting with such frequent changes in the curriculum and pedagogy. As long as SSA is embarked on grants to schools, the system does not allow the competition and innovation. A state like Kerala which faces second generation issues is imposed by the universal approaches. It is the time to go beyond the conventional grant based approach.
Standardisation of the activity-oriented learning is a major challenge as the abilities of the target group (students) varies from place to place. A systematic and continuous analysis of the target group is a very important element in the process. Introduction of the technology and audio visuals are very important in this modern era. One can extent the scope of MOOC and SMART CLASS that could help to collaborate between teachers and learners locally and internationally. This will reduce the burden on the teachers and save time and improve the performance of both the teachers and students.
 Dr D Dhanuraj, Chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research
 Dr Lekshmi R Nair, Manager, CPPR- Centre for Comparative Studies
This article is a reproduction of views which appeared in Pallikkutam, a monthly magazine published by Rajagiri Group of Educational Institutions.Views of the authors expressed are personal.