Understandably, the parents pay a colossal amount of money buying tuitions. Indeed, the tuition culture has proliferated like cancer in the State. While the middle/elite class can afford tuition, the low-income families are left out, erecting a massive division between the rich and the poor.
Can the schools of Assam emerge as the centres of effective learning? While trying to probe this question, one needs to acknowledge that the schools of Assam are mired in multidimensional challenges. Among the many challenges, to name a few, dilapidated school buildings, especially in the remote areas, with inadequate teaching tools (blackboard, chairs and desks), lack of access to toilets, drinking water and erratic power supply can be cited. Importantly, many schools lack quality teachers triggering poor learning outcomes among its pupils, which in turn lead to ineptitude cognitive skills.
As per the mandate of the 86th Amendment of the Constitution of India, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was launched in 2001 aimed at accomplishing universalization of elementary education embracing free and compulsory education for all the children aged 6-14 years, a fundamental right. Subsequently, with the promulgation of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act from April 1, 2010, India is one of the 135 countries to mandate education as a fundamental right for the children aged 6-14 years. In so doing, it aims to develop the facilities of schooling not only in remote regions but also increase the enrolment of all students (irrespective of caste, class, creed, religion, tribes, transgender, differently-abled) aged 6-14 years in schools/alternative schools/back to school camps; reduce the percentage of dropouts; improve the quality of education through training of teachers; supply of textbooks and maintenance of gender sensitivity.
The Government of Assam in tandem with the UN Sustainable Development Goals have been making attempts to move towards achieving inclusive and equitable quality school education aimed at stimulating lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030 with its motto ‘All children in school and learning with quality within and outside school’, which undoubtedly is ostentatious. Of course, there have been improvements in some basic indicators in elementary education such as increase in gross and net enrolment ratio in both lower and upper primary sections, improved gender parity index, reduced percentage of dropouts and out-of-school children. However, these are insufficient.
It remains well-documented that the schools in Assam follow a traditional approach to learning based on teacher-centric learning, which is known as the didactic approach. As opposed to student-centric learning, in didactic methods, the teacher who is considered as the agent of knowledge and active participant in the classroom teaches lessons based on the content of the syllabus, which is primarily theoretical in structure. In the didactic method, the students participate as passive listeners, where there is a rare scope for the students to raise questions about any confusion they might have regarding the contents taught.
Besides, there is infrequent cross-examination of the quality of the contents delivered in the classroom and the knowledge of the teacher. Indeed, the current education system in Assam is examination-centric and marks-oriented, which is more or less like a memory test (rote learning) debarring an individual from digging deeper on gathering knowledge on a particular subject. Student-centric learning, on the other hand, is an approach based on independent learning empowering critical analysis and more in-depth understanding of a subject, thereby fostering lifelong learning and problem-solving. Of course, both methods carry their own merits and demerits. Arguably, a blended method of teaching incorporating the elements of both didactic teaching and student-centric learning remains paramount to augment quality education. The question remains: Can this be achieved? Of course, it can be achieved; however, there are challenges.
In the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown, the majority of the schools of Assam shifted to virtual and semi-virtual modes of teaching. The pandemic has a silver lining too. During this ongoing pandemic, few devoted teachers of Assam have dedicated their time to record videos on their subjects of expertise, signed in to their respective YouTube channels and have uploaded their videos therein for their students to watch and learn from them at their own pace. For example, Chandana’s Geography and Social Sciences class is one of the classic examples of the virtual mode of learning. Chandana Sarma, a teacher at the Railway Higher Secondary School, Maligaon, has dedicated the lockdown period starting from May 27, 2020 to deliver online lessons in Assamese based on SEBA curriculum by recording videos and uploading the same in YouTube. As of November 15, 2020, she has recorded 36 videos, which has over 400 subscribers and over 1500 views. Indeed, her video on ‘Drawing the map of Assam’ has the highest demand. Similarly, Aparna Devi, with 456 subscribers, deliver lessons for upper primary and high school students on various topics of Social Sciences. Another teacher Norul Alam with 1.16K subscribers delivers classes in English language for Class 10 students. Nalini Kanta Deka of Darrangipara Lower Primary School, Udalguri has embarked on this venture to upload multiple types of videos on teaching and learning for students of different grades starting from lower primary. These noble steps taken by very few ardent teachers are in their nascent form; however, they bear the potentiality to transform the school education of Assam into a silent revolution. The untiring efforts of these and such other teachers should be recognized and applauded where all these lessons are delivered in Assamese for students of Assamese medium schools.
Based on the school curriculum, there should be similar videos in Science, Mathematics and other subjects. All these ventures launched either individually or by a group should be developed systematically for the benefit of the student community. This should be publicized widely via electronic and print media.
Understandably, the parents pay a colossal amount of money buying tuitions. Indeed, the tuition culture has proliferated like cancer in the State. While the middle/elite class can afford tuition, the low-income families are left out, erecting a massive division between the rich and the poor. Undoubtedly with the videos available on the internet, the students can repeatedly watch it at their own time and pace until they grasp the topic. This form of blended learning would help the students to develop their cognitive skills.
At the same time, one has to acknowledge that there are many challenges in remote areas concerning the availability of electricity and internet. Nonetheless, we live in an era of smartphones and digital platforms. With sheer motivation and determination amid challenges, the students dwelling in the remote areas will benefit watching the videos. If a few more teachers across different subjects come forward to render voluntary services to record and upload videos based on the school curriculum for all the classes systematically, there would be a reduction in tuition culture. In doing so, the school education of the State bears the scope to excel in effective learning, and the unparalleled legacies of these few teachers would be acknowledged for generations to come.