Editorial: Quality Education on the Agenda

Study and evaluate, then replicate best practices For quite a while now, politicians, bureaucrats, teacher associations and even student groups have been speaking of the need for government schools in Sikkim to impart quality education. The Board exam results have just come in, and in the absence of any other, easier, yardstick to measure “quality,” this data should be studied some more. May be not how high the marks were, but more on how some students still manage to fail, because, let’s accept it, even if one has issues with exams as the deciding factor for quality, one needs to accept that a decent education will at least equip students with enough to at least pass the exams. That said, with the big exams over and the results out, chances are that Quality Education deliberations will get mothballed again, so here goes another attempt to reiterate how quality could be achieved in education here. To qualify the following comments, it is also recognized that experiments and efforts are currently underway in an organized manner to inject improved learning at schools and what follows should be seen as something complementing that effort. While ‘quality’ is welcome in any field and because there is always room to improve quality in everything, Quality Education will be welcome. To have such a thing, however, will require more than rhetoric; it will not deliver by itself just because it is a felt-need or because it is demanded. ‘Quality’ will have to be defined first and then ways and means devised to meet that definition. Not enough has been done in any earnest thus far. If the policy-makers in Sikkim believe that the quality of education in schools here is inadequate, then, the first thing they will have to do is identify the gap that spans between schools in Sikkim and schools that deliver quality education here or elsewhere. Since China seems to be devising ways to deliver results on issues that India continues to only aspire for and pay lip-service to, perhaps even in this case, Sikkim should take a leaf out from how its northern neighbour achieved this end. China, with a human resource base rivaled only by India, realised that knowledge was the strongest weapon in the new millennium. Many other countries, including India, have realised this but only China appears to have addressed the issue with any intelligence and long-term commitment. One might add here that the Chinese experiment was with regard to higher education in universities. That said, the model could be adapted for school-level education as well. Recognising that the quality of its universities could use some ‘quality’ enhancement, the first thing that China did was carry out an honest and earnest ‘Academic Ranking of World Universities’ in the year 2003. The universities were graded according to the quality/ qualification of its faculty, the range of research undertaken by its students, the academic output of its staff [research papers, dissertations etc], number of awards tagged against the names of faculty and amount of future involvement of its students in path-breaking research. Then the Chinese studied the world leaders among the universities and tried to replicate their management and academic models at home. Higher education in China is already improving at a fast nip. Sikkim needs to do something similar. It has to commission its own ranking of schools that deliver quality education and then send its officials from the HRD Department to these schools to learn how they deliver quality. While Sikkim learns what quality education is and how it can be delivered, it could also free the sector from all unproductive influence. Politics, for instance, should only influence the policy directions, not the actual human resource management and bureaucrats should be facilitators, not directors of the effort. Appointments and transfer of teachers should be freed from influence of any kind. A basic problem with government schools in Sikkim is their retention failure - their inadequacy to retain students [reflected in high drop-out rates] or even the teachers [manifested in high absenteeism, some schools without enough teachers and others with over-staffed faculty rolls]. This problem might get redressed if students had classes taught by qualified teachers to go to and if teachers had schools with at least the basic infrastructure to impart education in. If this is achieved, education would have become uniformly accessible in Sikkim and then can begin the process of improving the quality.