A story retold
The Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme a discovery-based approach that enables students to learn from experiments conducted in the classroom is on its way out. MEENA MENON writes on why, in spite of differing views, the programme should be revived.
The reason for the slow spread of education programmes in rural areas is a point to ponder over.
"I REALLY liked the litmus test," said Rajesh. "I enjoy the world of animals, in particular the life-cycles of frogs, or mosquitoes," said Narmadi.
"It is nice to see plants grow," said Suren Singh. All these students of Class VIII from the government middle school at Rani Pipariya village, 70 km from Hoshangabad, seemed excited about their science class and the things they did.
The Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme (HSTP) or Hoshangabad Vigyan, introduced in the district in 1978 in government schools, for the first time used a universally acknowledged pedagogical approach to the teaching of science. The guided discovery-based approach used experiments performed by students to generate knowledge. It changed the traditional architecture of the classroom from rows of children listening to a lecture to small groups interacting with each other while performing experiments. Instead of memorising a body of knowledge, students discussed their observations, leading to a conceptual understanding of scientific principles. Children are encouraged to conduct experiments and find their own answers there are no guidebooks or question papers with readymade answers. Examinations are conducted with open books and children do not know how many marks they will get for each question.
Pradeep Sharma, a teacher in Pipariya who has interviewed 900 students for a comparative study of HSTP and non-HSTP students (for his Ph.D thesis) found that students who studied the new curriculum were eager, active and engaged teachers in dialogue. They had keen observation and reasoning powers, apart from good analytical abilities.
However, HSTP faces closure in a State which advertises itself as moving to "redefining the paradigm of democracy", while it targets adivasis and organisations working with them. Though the BJP has been making noises about the programme since long, for the first time it found an ally in the government.
In February, the Hoshangabad district planning committee (DPC) recommended to the State government that the programme be discontinued. The BJP MLA from Itarsi, Dr. Sitasharan Sharma, in a letter to the district collector, on December 27, 2001, said HSTP has no linkages with the earlier and post 6-8 class curriculum. The students had to conduct experiments and also collect a number of leaves due to which they are greatly inconvenienced. "If it is such a good programme, why has it not spread to other districts?" Dr. Sharma asked. "HSTP had ruined the careers of many children. They are brainwashing our students," he proclaimed.
The programme was last sought to be banned by the Sunderlal Patwa government in 1992. It had even appointed the Mishra committee to evaluate HSTP but the government fell and the orders were not implemented. The Mishra committee report was not even made public. HSTP is a comprehensive science curriculum package for classes six to eight. The draft programme was developed in 1972 by academics and scientists from premier institutions such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the Indian Institutes of Technology, among others, apart from activists and academicians of two NGOs, Kishore Bharati and Friends Rural Centre.
The Madhya Pradesh government allowed the two NGOs to test the programme in 16 middle schools in two blocks of Hoshangabad district in 1972 which continued till 1977. In 1978, the government extended the programme to cover all 250 middle schools in Hoshangabad district. In 1982 Eklavya, an NGO, which is now looking after the programme, was set up to work with the Madhya Pradesh government and its educational agencies, including the State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT) and the District Institutes of Education and Training. It extended HSTP to school complexes in 13 districts of the State.
The programme covers about 1,000 schools with around 2,500 science teachers and covers over 1,00,000 children every year. About 550 schools in Hoshangabad and 250 in Harda district (formerly part of Hoshangabad district) are covered by this programme. The real reason for Dr. Sharma's opposition to HSTP was soon apparent. "Eklavya has influential backing and they have a political ideology behind the programme. Education is just a front. Most of the Eklavya activists are members of a political party. They are not content with science; now they have ventured into social science," he said. "The social science textbooks (also from class 6 to 8) say that cows were slaughtered for the Rajsuya yagna; Muslims were traders was Mahmoud Ghazni a trader and the Aryans were outsiders. What is the source for all this?" he asked.
Eklavya's social science curriculum was introduced since 1986. Eklavya has since clarified all these points. Chief minister Digvijay Singh made a statement in the Assembly on March 5, 2002, that HSTP was repeatedly evaluated and the results were not good. However, he said that the good points of the programme must be integrated State-wide along with its strong teachers' training aspect.
M.L. Patel, a science teacher, at Rani Pipariya school, started his career in 1978, the same year HSTP was introduced in all schools in Hoshangabad district. "The initial response to the programme was enthusiastic. In traditional science curriculum, we had no experiments so this was a novel idea for us teachers as well," he said. The relationship between students and teachers also changed. "Students were more open with us, they learn to articulate better and they learnt simple everyday things," he added. The decision to end HSTP was taken in a most undemocratic fashion, according to Rajesh Khindri of Eklavya.
On January 28, 2002, the issue was taken up in the education sub-committee of the District Planning Committee (DPC). The district education office had prepared a brief outlining the main achievements of the programme and sent it to the DPC. The DPC meets every month and in the meeting on February 7, neither the minutes of the education sub-committee meeting nor the brief prepared by the education department was presented to other members, he said. The real grouse seems to be our social science programme, he added. Mr. Khindri who was invited for the meeting, said the Eklavya members hardly spoke when the (former) minister in charge of the district and DPC chairperson, Ajay Narayan Mushran, said it was a unanimous decision to end the programme. "Puri sadan ko lagta hai kikaryakram nahi chahiye", he reportedly said.
Dr. Sharma has been raising this matter repeatedly since he was elected to the Assembly in 1990. It was anything but a unanimous decision, said Mr. Khindri. However, now eight of the DPC members have sent letters asking for a review of the decision. The Collector of Hoshangabad, Mr. Ashish Upadhyay, who is member secretary of the DPC, said contrary to popular belief, the DPC did take a unanimous decision and Eklavya was also given a proper hearing. The education department note was circulated and discussed as well. He said HSTP was not implemented in all districts and students going out of Hoshangabad faced a problem.
Secondly, the examination system is not familiar to children. They do not know how many marks they will get for the questions they are answering. It is like a lottery, he added. "HSTP has been in place for 30 years; how long can we go on experimenting?" he asked. "Why should Hoshangabad be a guinea pig for this programme? Let the local people decide what they want. DPC is a constitutionally elected body, once it has decided, people should abide by it," he added.
The much-awaited DPC meeting which was to review the decision on HSTP, was finally held on May 9, 2002, under the leadership of the new minister-in-charge of Hoshangabad district, Shri Harvansh Singh.
It was decided that status quo will be maintained as far as the earlier decision to close down HSTP is concerned. In view of the fact that a review process regarding HSTP is under way by the State government at the behest of Mr. Digvijay Singh, the final decision regarding the continuation of HSTP within the district has been left to the Chief Minister. However, Eklavya and the persons concerned will be given a chance to present their case.
An evaluation committee set up by the ministry of Human Resources Development in 1991, said the programme was based on sound pedagogical principles and the State must accept these principles for science education in all levels of school education. It also recommended an evaluation of the impact on students, expansion of HSTP in a phased manner to the whole State, preparation of a proper syllabus and revision of the curriculum to make it more meaningful. Eklavya did prepare a phase wise introduction of the programme to other districts but the government was preoccupied with the district primary education programme (DPEP) and did not take it up. In fact, said an Eklavya member, the government wanted to focus on middle school education from last year but it felt there was a lack of expertise to extend the HSTP to all districts. The Harda DPC had also decided against HSTP but later revised its recommendation last year. HSTP has won several awards and many schools in other parts of the country also use the textbooks. The Hoshangabad district machinery has an elaborate system in place for HSTP. Each block has a Sangam Kendra or a resource group of trained teachers that meets once a month to discuss issues related to HSTP.
Government sources said that trained teachers were a must for the programme and with the proliferation of private schools, and the high turnover of teachers, this was difficult. Two to three hundred teachers are trained every year and funds for training did not come last year. Teachers and students have launched a signature campaign against the DPC's decision and felt it was undemocratic to stop an innovative curriculum.
In a State that is proud of its radical governance, surely their voices must be heard.
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