Friday March 22, 2019

Resurrect Government schools to revive our education system

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By Harshmeet Singh

Government educational institutes in the country are a study in contrast. While the Government controlled institutes of higher education such as the IITs and IIMs rank among the best in the world, the government run primary schools are in shambles since time immemorial. From avoiding government schools as a kid to aspiring for government colleges for higher education, the students witness contrasting aspects of education system in the country.

With the Right to Education coming into force in 2010, Education was made a fundamental right in the country. While it drastically improved the enrollment ratio in schools, it remained silent on the quality of education that the child deserves.

The result? According to the 10th Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), about 1/4th of the class eight students in India can’t read the text meant for class 2nd. Reports like these underline the fact that national literacy rate of 74% is just eyewash.

Nowhere is the division between India and Bharat more evident than in our education system. A multitude of problems have been plaguing our education system for quite a while. The first and foremost is the lack of funds when it comes to government-run schools. While the private schools get a shot in the arm by raising enough finances through sky-high fees, the government schools are at the mercy of the budgets allocated by the government. Not only can the government slash the budgets anytime (like Jaitely did this year), only a fraction of the total allotted sum reaches the ground. Nothing else can justify classrooms where kids sit on the floor due to lack of chairs and no lectures taking place in the rainy season since the classroom has no roof. For long, government schools have been regarded as the dumping ground for the kids who couldn’t afford anything better.

Another factor that has further aggravated the problem is our affinity towards the English medium private schools. Realizing the financial potential of the idea of opening a private English medium school in small areas, a number of such schools have mushroomed in our villages over the past decade or so. The parents, who are usually poor farmers in such cases, willing to give their child the best possible education, admit them to these schools. And thus begins the erosion of their savings. Most of these private schools pay a meager salary to their teachers (Rs 500-1500 per month) since their solitary aim is to fill their own purses. It is impossible to imagine any learned teacher working for such a sum. With the parents themselves being too uneducated to check their kids’ progress, they continue paying the fee from their hard earned money, under the delusion that their kid is learning.

But if teacher’s salary determines his dedication towards his students, why is the standard of teaching so dismal in government school? While the government schools pay their teachers a healthy salary, they do not impose any accountability on the teachers. Unlike the teachers in the private schools, the teachers at government schools have a permanent job with almost no chance of being ousted (unless they create a major blunder). There are hardly any checks on whether the teachers are actually teaching in the classroom or whether the syllabus is covered in the allotted time period or not. And for those who give their best inside the classroom, the rewards are few, in any. The promotions are arbitrary and majorly based on your tenure and your connections. Their performance inside their classroom is seldom appreciated by anyone. All these things are no secret, but that hasn’t forced anyone out of their slumber.

While we take utmost pride in making education a fundamental right in our country, we must accept that much more needs to be done. Imagine what if the solution to some of the world’s biggest problems lies in the mind of a kid who goes to a school where teacher never turns up! Let’s do ourselves a favor by taking care of our school system.

 

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More Science Careers: African School Of Physics on Mission To Educate New African Generation Through Traveling Program

"Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement," she wrote in an email. She noted "increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce."

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Ketevi Assamagan, a particle physicist at the U.S.-based Brookhaven National Laboratory, co-founded the African School of Physics, a training program for graduate students in math and sciences. (Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory) VOA

Africa-born particle physicist Ketevi Assamagan is a man on a mission. His goal is to bring science education to a new generation of young Africans through a traveling program known as the African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications, or ASP.

“Sometimes, people just need some help to be able to find the right resources,” said Assamagan, an ASP founder who works at the U.S. Energy Department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory here on Long Island. “So, together with some colleagues, we decided to create this school.”

Born in Guinea, Assamagan grew up in Togo and earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia in 1995. Gratitude to past mentors fueled his desire to start the ASP, he said.

Positive elements

The ASP program runs for three weeks every two years in a different African country. The first was in 2010 in South Africa, with subsequent gatherings in Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and Namibia. The next is planned for July 2020 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Each workshop brings together up to 80 students, who are treated to intensive lectures and training by top-flight physicists.

Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)
Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)

“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.”

The students’ expenses are covered by roughly 20 international sponsors, including the Brookhaven lab; the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy; the South African Department of Science and Technology; and Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics.

Another sponsor has been the European Center for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, in Geneva. Assamagan worked on CERN’s particle accelerator for several years while conducting research on the elusive Higgs boson subatomic particle. He left in 2001 to join Brookhaven.

Sustained support

After the program, participants are paired with senior mentors who offer advice on additional education, teaching and research opportunities, both in Africa and abroad.

For Zimbabwe native Last Feremenga, participation in the 2010 ASP workshop served as a springboard to a doctorate in physics from the University of Texas. Now he’s a data scientist with Digital Reasoning, an artificial intelligence firm headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I sift through large datasets of written text in search of rare forms of conversations/language. These rare conversations are useful for our clients from health care to finance,” the 32-year-old told VOA in an email. He added that he’s using “similar tactics” to those he learned at ASP.

Julia MacKenzie, senior director of international affairs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says training programs such as ASP are especially important in developing countries.

“Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement,” she wrote in an email. She noted “increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce.”

“A potential impact of graduate training is exposure to new ideas and people,” MacKenzie added. “Any time graduate students can come together, it’s likely that new friendships will form, and those relationships can provide support through inevitable challenges and spawn new collaborations.”

application learning
“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.” Pixabay
Hands-on learning

Assamagan says that when he was in high school in Togo, science was taught from second-hand textbooks from abroad. There was no experimentation.

“Direct involvement … in terms of playing with things and getting mental challenge to try to figure it out was not really there,” he said. “We want to resolve that” through ASP.

The 70 or so science teachers at the workshop last year in Namibia learned hands-on experiments that could be replicated with scant equipment and resources.

For example, using only a small plastic box with an aluminum plate, tin foil, Styrofoam, pure alcohol and dry ice, high school students could build a tabletop “cloud chamber” to simulate the detection of cosmic particles from outer space. Another experiment taught physics to elementary school children by way of art. The children could drip paint on a canvas tilted at various angles, then observe the patterns the paint made as it descended.

Also Read: E-Commerce Policy: Centre To Regulate Cross-Border Flow Of Data

“You can then start introducing the idea of gravity,” Assamagan said. “And then relating things falling down to the Earth going around the sun as being driven by the same force.”

Assamagan predicts a bright future for physics research in Africa. He says he sees talent and commitment, but that more digital libraries, along with continent-wide access to high-speed internet connections and the political will to provide them, are needed. (VOA)