That nearly a sixth of the students have dropped out of the ongoing Class 10 and Class 12 exams in Uttar Pradesh after the state government threatened a crackdown on cheating is a telling comment on the rot in India’s school system. On January 30, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath warned district magistrates and district inspectors of schools that they would be held responsible if unfair means were used at the centres under their jurisdiction. About 10.5 lakh of the 66 lakh students who were due to take the secondary and higher-secondary exams in the state withdrew their candidature after the warning.
The UP government has interpreted this as a success of its anti-cheating drive. But such stringent measures do not address an issue which educational policies have, at best, only scratched the surface of — pedagogic reforms. The fear of failure driving students to default on exams is, after all, a symptom of poor teaching.
Access to schooling, a proper learning environment and appropriate pedagogic tools are prerequisites of any educational system. While reforms in the past eight years have focused on the first element, there has been very little clarity on interventions that enhance learning outcomes. Two reports in the last month — the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) by the NGO, Pratham, and the NCERT’s National Achievement Survey — have shown that there is a decline in learning levels from lower to higher grades, even as the country has been inching closer to achieving the Right to Education Act’s objective of universal enrollment for six to 14-year olds. The ASER report also showed that more than 25 per cent of the youth in the age group of 14 to 18 can’t even read a basic text fluently — though more than 90 per cent of them were in school.
Why do an overwhelming number of schools fail to provide meaningful education? According to the District Information System for Education — a database developed by the National University for Educational Planning and Administration, Delhi — barely 10 per cent of the country’s 1.5 million schools satisfy the Right to Education Act’s norms on teacher availability and infrastructure. But the problem is not just of a teacher shortfall. The school system persists with the colonial view that regards teachers as dispensers of information and students as passive recipients of an education that seldom has any connection with their lived realities. This has fostered an examination system that makes students rehearse endlessly the skills of reproduction from memory. While cheating in school examinations is the worst manifestation of this system, an approach relying on punitive measures is unlikely to remedy matters.