June 20, 2012
(Names of schools have been changed to protect confidentiality.)
The emerging story from Kerala is one of gaps rather than of frictions or connections, and these gaps are strikingly similar across public and private school networks. Talking to educators at the Department of General Education and the Directorate of Public Instruction, Learner Centered Education (LCE) with its theoretical frameworks of social constructivism and critical pedagogy makes a lot of sense. Yes, students should construct knowledge out of their own experiences, they should learn how to learn, they should critically sift through the knowledge that is presented to them, and evaluation should be continuous and formative not terminal. Even the “all pass” government policy (all students are promoted till they reach 10th grade) was explained with sophisticated pedagogical arguments. What is the point of a year-end exam when it is the learning process that should be continually evaluated so that present learning can improve?
However, LCE practices in classrooms fall far from policy expectations. At FCC high school 9th grade teachers and students construct “knowledge” from Labour India student guides. These guides provide ready-made answers for activities and projects that are tailored to 10th grade exit exam evaluation schemes. Furthermore, teachers and parents complain that students know they will be promoted to the next grade come what may. Therefore students do not care about projects or assignments. In fact, external faculty inspect all continuous evaluation projects and school teachers literally have to bribe truant students to ensure that their teaching clears inspection.
I find similar gaps between policy and practice in the private school network. The largest private school affiliating board in Kerala is the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE). CBSE is also based on LCE and social constructivism and critical pedagogy. However, most students who enroll in private schools desire to prepare for medical or engineering entrance exams. After all many CBSE schools openly organize their higher secondary cohorts as Medical and Engineering prep classes. Learners feel that social constructivism and critical pedagogy do not help when it comes to entrance exams; it may even deskill them from essential test-taking skills.
There is no friction here, just gaping gaps. The only friction that I did come across was government exasperation over the proliferation of CBSE schools. According to the Economic Review released by the State Planning Board, 177 CBSE schools started functioning during 2009-10. But in 2010-2011, only 33 new CBSE schools received No Objection Certificates from the State Government. In informal conversations, this discrepancy was explained as a conscious government policy to curtail the private school network. On the other hand parent groups including the Dalit group Sadhu Jana Paripalana Yogam recommend that all public schools adopt CBSE syllabus. The friction between CBSE and the state Education Board is logically absurd since both are government organizations with the same objectives and the same theoretical frameworks, one operating at the national level and the other at the state level. However differential access—of CBSE being available through fee-charging private schools, seems to change the game completely.