By Joyeeta Banerjee
Have you watched 3 Idiots? Mostly, the answer is ‘yes’. People go on praising the movie, highlighting the lacunae prevalent in our educational system. What is common between the three leading characters in the movie? All kinds of words pour in but no one mentions that all the leading characters were first generation learners trying to ‘adapt culturally to academic life’ and ‘integrate themselves into college setting.’1
The policies, schemes, programmes, and legislations targeted for the development of India’s secondary education post-independence have immensely influenced the quantitative growth of education. Overemphasis on the quantitative growth has given fillip to enrolment and retention with decreased dropout rates (8th All India School Education Survey report). The report has also revealed that the number of recognised secondary schools in India is 11,725. Among them, 70.33% are in rural areas and 29.67% are in urban areas. The enrolment percentages in rural and urban areas are 71.48 and 28.52 respectively. But all this data with their best of intentions fails to delineate the number of first generation learners enrolled in the rural schools. The first generation learners are those learners who get the opportunity to step into the realm of formal education for the first time after many generations. Due to their generational status in the realm of formal education, they face many more challenges than their non-first generation peers.
Source: Single institution survey by Author
“India’s destiny is being shaped in her classrooms,” particularly the rural ones. The classrooms in rural areas now have learners with two distinct statuses: the first generation and the non-first generation, with the first generation learners being the dominant group in the classrooms. Therefore, to achieve the target of Universalization of Secondary education (USE), it has become imperative that the first generation learners in school succeed. The success of the first generation learners depend on several factors of formal education, both extrinsic and intrinsic. Here we focus on the curriculum, and the teachers, the two most important factors that play a major role in providing a protective, moral, and therapeutic environment to the learners “so that recognized and measurable outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.”2 Are our educational policies and schemes really aiming at removing all the hindrances that impede the first generation rural learners’ success at school?
Let us have a look:
The recent World Bank report3 mentions that one-third or one-fourth learners of the primary schools have not acquired the basic skills – the 3Rs. With the no detention policy in effect, all those learners enter the arena of secondary education. It is deemed urgent to assess that the learners in the rural secondary schools have acquired the necessary proficiency in “literacy, proficiency and life skills” so that our nation could keep pace with the worldwide knowledge society. It therefore becomes pertinent that there is a nationwide survey of first generation learners in secondary education, especially in the rural areas where the government-managed institutions are the only source of providing secondary education and those institutions are burgeoning with first generation learners. Keeping this in mind, the curriculum should be realigned with the needs, the knowledge base, and the cultural base of the learners.
Why this is urgent? Analysis of an excerpt from the English book of Class XI, (Nobel Lecture; Mother Teresa4) using the Readability consensus calculator, will provide an evidence of the urban inclination of the syllabus. It is found out that the Gunning Fog index of the text is 19.8 with the grade level of difficult to read. The Flesh-Kincaid score is 16.7 with the grade level of college graduate and above. The automated Readability index is 19.6 with the grade level of college graduate. To the learners of ESL, the learning of a second language is akin to learning a second culture5. How do we expect to kindle the learners’ interest in a second language when they feel a sense of alienation from the texts?
Teachers’ accountability seems to be one of the most crucial links in the qualitative growth of education in rural schools, when the learners are ‘doubly disadvantaged’ owing to their generational status and rural background. All the talks to improve teacher’s accountability is nullified since we have failed to detect the underlying problem: how much time is lost in classroom transitions? If the transition time from one class to another for a teacher is 10 minutes on an average, then a school loses 7*10 = 70 minutes of intended instructional time regularly. It amounts to a yearly loss of 236 days * 70 minutes = 16520 minutes i.e.; 275 hours of intended instructional time yearly by a single institution. It is high time we sensitize the teachers and ensure the maximum use of the intended teaching-learning time in the classrooms. Then only we can aim at ‘improving learning outcomes’ by creating a sense of ‘ownership of the learning’ among the first generation learners whose manner of motivation, self-efficacy, language learning beliefs and acculturation6 is different from that of the non-first generation learners.
The dynamics of education and its role in national development and social transformation make it essential that educational programs keep continuously renewing in order to maintain its relevance to the changing societal needs, personal needs of learners and to the emerging national development priorities7. Therefore, it is urgent that the number of first generation learners in the secondary education is calculated carefully and then the policies and schemes be sharpened to remove the hindrances that impede the success of the rural first generation learners in the realm of education.
1 Macho`n A.R, Diaz. A, Muldoon.N., Cullen L (2016). The relationship between First generation college status and co-curricular engagement on the university satisfaction of students, International Catholic Journal of Education.
2 The Dakar Framework for Action – UNESCO, Dakar, Senegal, 26-28 April, 2000.
3 Dundar, Halil et. al. (2014). Student learning in South Asia:Cchallenges, opportunities, and policy priorities.
4 Mindscapes: Higher Secondary English selections: English B
5 Valdes, J. M. (Ed.) (1986) Culture Bound: Bridging the Cultural Gap in Language Teaching
6 Kobra, J. (2013) “Generational status: an ignored variable in language learning studies?” The Journal of ASIA TEFL, vol. 10, no.2, pp-35-62.
7 Bhattacharya, R (2014), Education for All: Towards Quality with Equity, Foreword, Page iv, 9 July, 2014.
Joyeeta Banerjee is an ESL teacher, working in a rural high school for the last sixteen years.
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