26, Jul 2018 | CJP Team
A recent report from the Pratichi Institute and shiksha alochana outlines the state of primary education in West Bengal, highlighting successes such as the reduced student-teacher ratio, as well as gaps that need to be filled, such as a shortfall in funds. The report, titled ‘Primary Education in West Bengal: The Scope for Change’, emphasises the need for reforms in policy and social attitude to ensure further progress in delivering quality primary education in the state.
“At a time when anything in the state-owned or public sphere is frowned upon, this report indicates how publicly owned state-run schools can be improved through collective efforts of schoolteachers, parents, administrators, educationists and other public-spirited participants,” it notes.
About the report
Its preface calls the report “the product of a shared exercise by a group of teachers, ranging from primary-school to university level, and socially oriented researchers and activists of West Bengal,” saying the report is “a part of collective action towards ensuring primary education with quality and equity.” The preface notes,
While the moral commitment and forward-looking activities taken up by this group of teachers and others, assembled on a platform called shiksha alochana, amply indicate the scope for positive changes in schooling at the primary level, they also underscore the urgency for some major changes in public policy on primary education and its delivery.”
The preface also stresses that while the report maintains that “motivation is crucial, that alone cannot bring about the required improvement sin the delivery of primary education. Changes in public policies on primary education, with a guarantee of their implementation, are as imperative for the secure delivery of primary education as air and water for the survival of plants.”
According to the report, the study it discusses “has made a significant departure from the conventional methods of social research,” and “attempts to place the practical experiences of schooling and school improvement at the heart of the debate on how feasible it might be to improve the state school system.” The authors and contributors write that they “hope that the exercise, perhaps the first of its kind at least in West Bengal, will inspire the teachers and all others involved in the delivery of primary education, and encourage the government and the wider public to address the centrally important concern: quality primary education for all.” They acknowledge that the report is not “comprehensive,” but say they “believe that the experience based remedies suggested in the report will be useful for the larger public as well the education planners.”
Thoughts from Amartya Sen
Sen, in his foreword, highlights some of the conclusions of the report. He notes that “Along with a general expansion of schooling facilities in West Bengal, there has been substantial progress in improving the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) for West Bengal as a whole,” stating that although there are still some schools “with an unacceptably high PTR, including some with a ratio over 40, the average PTR is now down to a much more favourable ratio of 23 to one.”
According to data presented later in the report, the PTR during 2004-05 was 49, and decreased to 23 during 2015-16. However, while acknowledging this development, the report still highlights the “uneven distribution of teachers,” saying that while the average PTR is 23, some schools have a much higher one; other schools are much more fortunate, some with a PTR of 12. “In other words, at least 20 per cent of the primary schools in the state suffer from teacher shortages, while many other schools have an excess number of teachers. The problem is acute in Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur,” the report says. Sen has noted that, in light of this, “There is scope for redistribution of resources”.
Sen has also explained that there have been “substantial improvements in some of the schools in their functioning and in the learning achievements of their students, partly benefiting from the new educational strategy of ‘continuous and comprehensive education’ (CCE).” However, he notes that “in a large number of schools the implementation of CCE has been quite poor, in contrast with what has been achieved in the ‘transformed’ schools,” stating that the “gap needs to be closed–or at least systematically reduced.”
Sen stresses the need to have “the cooperation and enthusiasm of the teachers” to improve the functioning of schools. He highlights the “need for leadership, with the encouragement of the unions of primary school teachers,” calling this “critically important”. Sen also emphasises that “many schools need much greater supportive facilities,” including the basics, as “the schools are still under-funded and under-resourced even in terms of very elementary provisions”. There is also a “lack of skilled instructions–and necessary instruments–for music, dance, drawing and sports,” Sen writes, calling this “a substantial resource need, with a deficit that has been estimated to be, on an average, Rs. 69,000 per annum per school (in today’s prices).” He also writes that although “there have been big improvements in the implementation of the Mid-day Meal programme…there is a deficiency of support the government provides,” pointing out that while an adequate meal costs more than Rs. 7 per child, the government allocates just a little more than Rs. 4.
Sen also takes note of “the tendency to overload the formal requirements that a student has to fulfil,” saying that a textbook meant for six-year-old students is 348 pages long, “which can be rather hard for a 6-year-old even to lift”. “There is room for some practicality here,” he says.
Sen agrees that although the progress in primary education “gives us grounds for some satisfaction…we cannot escape the diagnosis of a number of serious gaps”. “Policy reforms and attitudinal developments are closely related. We need both,” he concludes.
Highlights of the report
Following Sen’s foreword, the report’s Highlights section notes several points that report has made. At first, it reiterates that while “Access to primary education in West Bengal has increased substantially…this does not automatically translate into assured quality education for all.” The report explains that “inequitable delivery is a problem in itself,” noting that analysis of secondary data indicates that “it also becomes a cause of drop out.” Inequitable distribution of resources is clear from the data presented, with the report saying that the U-DISE 2015-16 shows that 847 villages in West Bengal “do not have a government-run primary school, while there are villages which have more such facilities than required.”
Still, the report says that “the equitable delivery of quality education” is not unachievable, pointing to how “societal interventions by a section of primary teachers, in collaboration with Pratichi Institute and some academics and researchers, resulting in the creation of a quality-alert platform called shiksha alochana, eminently demonstrate the possibility of change.” It explains that such “interventions demonstrate how a holistic approach can transform the schools into vibrant social institutions.”
The report goes further, saying that “The inspiration for these improvements” stems from “a sense of belonging among children, teachers, and the local community, encapsulated in the shared notion that ‘It is our school'”. Indeed, at all the “transformed schools,” emphasis was placed on “the importance of building up a lively relationship between the children, teachers and parents.” The report opines that these initiatives bolster the philosophy that education goes beyond “learning the alphabet and numbers,” and is about “enabling the students to develop their intellectual, physical and social capabilities. Importantly, enhancing the children’s capabilities also results in enhancing the capabilities of the teachers and others involved in running the schools.” It notes that school activities’ “implementation depends primarily upon two inseparable factors: (a) motivation and commitment, and (b) a decent infrastructure to viably translate that motivation and commitment into action.”
However, the report warns that the current “political, economic and social conditions…have created a system where imparting education cannot rely on volunteerism alone.” It offers an example of data collected from 37 schools about their minimum requirements to function, saying the data indicates “a deficit of Rs. 33,000 per annum.” According to the data, the schools’ total expenditure amounts to Rs. 45,500 for day-to-day expenses, but grants received from the School Education Department amount to only Rs. 12,500. This means the schools are forced to come up with nearly Rs. 3,000 per month, with the gap being filled by “contributions from teachers and the local community.” The report also mentions the need for funds for skilled instructors in dance, music, drawing, sports, and to care for pre-primary children, and also mentions the shortfall in government funding for the Mid-Day Meal scheme. The report stresses that “Moral inspiration cannot and does not always translate into efficiency.”
The complete report may be read here:
About the Pratichi Institute
The Pratichi Trust was founded in 1999, and is chaired by economist and Nobel Laureate Dr. Amartya Sen, who contributed some funds from his Nobel prize winnings towards the institute’s establishment. The Pratichi Trust and the Pratichi Institute, which grew out of the Trust’s research team and was officially formed and 2011, work to improve efficiency and equity in the areas of education and health, particularly in the context of gender equality. They work in the fields of literacy, child nutrition, basic affordable healthcare, and to alleviate the disadvantages faced by women and girls. The Institute is based in Kolkata, but has worked in West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Bihar.