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What ails secondary and Plus Two education

A VERY important segment of school education comprises Classes VIII, IX and X, known as secondary education and higher secondary education which consists of Classes XI and XII, otherwise called Plus Two. In most States, Plus Two is part of school; in a few, it is called junior college and is part of college education.

The number of secondary schools in India rose from 7,416 in 1950-51 to 1,16,820 in 1999-2000. Between 1990 and 1999, 37,000 secondary schools were opened. The First Five Year Plan allocation for secondary education was Rs. 20 crores which rose to Rs. 2,600 crores in the Ninth Plan — yet it is only one per cent of the GDP.

There are two reasons why secondary education should be considered important. First, it is the bridge between upper primary school and higher education or to the world of work, if one has opted for vocational education in these classes. So it is a watershed in one's learning career. Secondly, it consists of students between the years 14 and 18-20, the teen years, which are the most perplexing times in a child's life. These are the adolescent years when physical changes take place which affect the child in some form or other. Unless the right guidance is given during these crucial years, there is scope for the child to go off-track, either through irresponsible sex behaviour, or recourse to bad company, leading to indulging in drugs and violence, and ultimately to depression and maybe even suicide.

In the first half of the 80s, the Plan component for development purposes in this segment of education was in the range of 8 per cent. In 1999-2000, this has dwindled to 0.97 per cent. Those in charge of educational policies and development have not given this sector the importance it deserves. Secondary education, one might say, is the weakest link in the chain.

It seems the Tenth Plan means to make amends for the neglect of this sector by focusing on revision of curricula with emphasis on "vocationalisation and employment oriented courses, expansion and diversification of the open learning system, reorganisation of teacher training and greater use of news information and communication technologies, particularly computers."

Private effort has always been visible in the secondary school sector from British times and now it is even greater. Private initiative in the secondary school sector is very much in evidence in most parts of India, it being 54 per cent in Kerala.

Teaching skills

It is in this background that we look at the most important priorities to improve the quality in our secondary and higher secondary courses.

First and foremost, we have to look at the teaching skills that teachers have in their subject and in communication. This is important in any sphere of education but more important in the secondary stage and up. Classes have to be joyful and interesting and promote inquisitiveness in adolescent children, encouraging them to think independently.

We have to look at the relative emphasis given to subjects in the curricula, particularly Maths and Science, which should not be lumped with other subjects for the SSLC examination.

Are there alternatives to the examination system of cramming the notes given by the teacher and spilling out in the answers, where a great deal depends on good luck rather than a child's understanding and self learning?

We need more libraries, books, laboratories, playgrounds, physical education equipment, and excursion tours. The reading habit and the `doing an experiment' and finding-out-for-oneself approach need to be greatly enhanced.

A good knowledge of two national languages and the regional language is to be promoted. It is said that communication skills are poor and there is much to be done in this area.

In what ways is value education being promoted? We need to follow what Gandhiji said: Live simply so that others may simply live. The spirit of tolerance must be fostered. This can happen through outreach activities where the rural and the urban, boys and girls, the rich and the poor, the able and the differently abled, learn to live with one another in a healthy and helpful way. Our schools have to become more "inclusive" and not neglect the hitherto "excluded."

Are students encouraged to discuss events happening in the neighbourhood/community/nation to encourage them to see for themselves the right and the wrong in things? Is there a discussion of diversity issues? Are they encouraged to become up-to-date in current affairs? This has to be in addition to taking part in extracurricular activities, in sports and other competitions which help in promoting team spirit. Activities designed to promote introspection of one's own attitudes to public and societal issues need to be encouraged in the teen years.

Vocationalisation has not been a success in our country. We have to ensure that we get the best teachers for vocational subjects and arrange for hands-on experience. Anyway, the view that only vocational schools should teach vocations and other schools need do nothing to teach life skills is a wrong notion. Driving, cooking, swimming — these are coping skills and they should find a place in the curriculum.

PADMA RAMACHANDRAN

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