AN ANNUAL evaluation exercise carried out by Gujarat in its government schools, Gunotsav, threw up shocking results this January when students of upper primary classes failed to read and write simple words and sentences.
Following the results, the state government decided to incorporate a live evaluation of students as part of another exercise — Kanya Kelavani and Shala Praveshotsav. The exercise on school enrollment and girl education is held in June across 40,000-odd government schools in the state.
Teams of more than 500, including Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, her ministers and senior officers, headed out to rural and urban areas between June 8-10, and then June 15-17 for the enrollment. The Sunday Express tracked one team led by Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama that visited schools in Bavla taluka (in his constituency), near Ahmedabad, for a day. The results were no better.
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The Centre, incidentally, is planning to extend Gunotsav across the country.
Bhayla Government Primary School: 155 students Chudasama, accompanied by Dholka Sub-Divisional Magistrate Ruturaj Desai and local BJP leaders, reaches the venue for the day’s enrollment drive, Bhayla Government Primary School, dot on time: at 8 am. The thin gathering at the school is taking its time to settle down under the colourful tent on the green synthetic mat laid on the floor.
Only a few minutes ago, perturbed by the low attendance, school principal Bhagwanbhai Dabhi had made repeated appeals to the villagers on the microphone, requesting them to reach the school at the earliest. The women teachers were busy taking roll calls of students, scolding a few in between, “why did you not come to school all these days?”
The minister summons the principal and gives him a dressing down for not being ready for the exercise. After nearly 30 minutes, with the arrangements finally done, the programme kicks off with the lighting of the lamp and welcoming of guests.
As the show goes on, villagers and students, a few in school uniforms, continue to pour in.
Bhayla village has a population of 2,579 and a literacy rate of 78.92 per cent. This year, the school had 22 new admissions in Class I, taking its strength to 155 students.
By 10 am, Chudasama completes his address on enrollment and heads towards the classrooms for the evaluation exercise. The teachers have already selected 10-12 students each from Classes II, III, IV and V and made them sit on the floor in separate rows in a classroom, with their teachers.
The minister tells the assembled students the government is holding the evaluation at the beginning of the academic session “so that we can plan remedial teaching practices well in time”.
Chudasama then asks for a Class I textbook and picks a Class II girl and a boy to read out everyday words in Gujarati — bhar (weight), bhains (buffalo), bhajan (spiritual song), hichko (swing), chokha (rice). They can read only a few, and for the rest, are prompted by the minister. A girl from Class III is asked to read out the sentence, ‘Chali vahli mari gai (There goes my dear cow). She can’t. Class IV students are told to read and write a few two-syllable words on the blackboard. They struggle.
“Please get them to practise reading words together, not alphabets in isolation,” Chudasama tells the teachers.
Parulben Rana, class teacher of Class III, tries to cover up: “They have had a long break for the summer vacations… they have forgotten what they learnt in previous classes.”
The next questions are on math, with students asked to solve basic addition: 5+1, 53+21, 34+21. Most of them take five to 10 minutes to solve the sums, a few succeed after some prompting from teachers.
The teachers are nervous but Chudasama is encouraging. “Overall, the performance is good but they need more practice. Get them to write on the blackboard and ask them to read loudly in the class,” he says.
An hour into the evaluation, the minister and his team move to another room on the first floor where students from Classes VI to VIII are seated. “Who is the CM of Gujarat?” he asks them in Gujarati. About five hands, from about the 50 children in the classroom, go up. Only one girl answers it right.
More hands go up when asked about the prime minister. But when asked about the president, only two offer an answer. “Mahatma Gandhi,” says one. “Manmohan Singh,” says another. A few mumble, “Narendra Modi”.
At 11.30 am, Chudasama holds a staff meeting and asks a teacher to explain the “poor performance”. “Students do not complete their homework. The principal is overburdened as he has nine schools under him,” she says.
Chudasama isn’t impressed. With the experience of the classroom behind him, the minister asks, “Do you teach the students about famous personalities and their life experiences… Gandhi, Vivekanand?” The teachers nod in the affirmative.
A G Vidyalaya Chiyada: 201 students
This is where students from Bhayla primary school and the nearby villages enroll for high school.
Here too, the minister is greeted with a cultural programme. Chudasama soon begins the evaluation exercise with students of Class VIII. He asks them questions on electrons and solar energy. Only one girl manages to answer.
A round of general knowledge follows, with a question on ‘who is the president of India’ getting answers like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi. The minister drops several hints but none from the over 30 students in Classes IX-XII can answer.
Many of them even fail to get school principal Mukesh Patel’s name right. An embarrassed Patel, who is also the math teacher, says, “Sir, these students have recently joined us from nearby primary schools.”
The secondary school, which has classes from IX to XII, had a pass percentage of 45.90 per cent in this year’s Class X exams and 84 per cent in Class XII.
Later, at a meeting with the staff, Chudasama asks them to explain the low pass percentages. English teacher Smita Patel says, “Students of Class IX do not know the basics. Over 60 per cent of the students can’t read English. We conducted special classes for over 27 students (out of 87) who were promoted to Class IX.”
Chudasama, who has been a vocal opponent of the ‘no detention policy’ under the Right to Education Act, says, “Students know they will not be detained, so they do not study. Should teachers teach a Class IX student his own curriculum or the Class III syllabus, which is his learning level?”