This article has been written by Aksshay Sharma, Department of Laws, Panjab University, Chandigarh. This article deals with qualitative education, with special emphasis on the quality of School education. The article also explains a few impediments to the attainment of quality education and solution envisaged in NEP-2020 based on which all education laws will be made.
Education is a virtue which stays with an individual throughout his/her life. Educated masses are think tanks, growth drivers as well as the contributors in various domains of any nation. Up until 2020 education meant the amount of content a student can learn and reproduce it in exams. This system was against innovative ideas, creativity, critical analysis etc.
High cut-off marks for college admissions and students scoring near perfect in board exams shows serious flaws in an education system. As Sonam Wangchuk said, “why are students with 95% marks made to feel like failures”.
However, quality in education has a direct effect on not just economic development i.e on its GDP or standard of living, reducing poverty, but also on social development i.e reduced discrimination, reduced caste consciousness, decreasing gender gaps and gender bias etc and ethical standard of citizens, innovation, livability.
What does qualitative education mean
In simple words, Qualitative education means the level of education with which a person can become a contributor to society. Quality education provides the outcomes which are needed for individuals, communities, and societies to prosper. Quality education should include not only literacy and numeracy but also wider life skills that empower them to be leaders and change-makers.
According to Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, “A quality education is one that focuses on the whole child i.e. the social, emotional, mental, physical, and cognitive development of each student regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or geographic location. It prepares the child for life and not just for testing (examinations)”.
For education to be qualitative, it must focus not just on “teaching students” but also on “what is being taught (curriculum) and “how it is being taught” (Pedagogy). Schooling does not always lead to learning. Worldwide, there are more non-learners in school than out of school.
Thus qualitative education focuses on the “outcomes of learning” or learning outcomes, learning life skills, ability to explain abstract concepts in a simple manner (The Feynman technique). This requires a shift from memorisation and rote learning to understanding, analysis and application in real life- this involves learning through experience.
The earlier focus of education, especially in India, was primarily on “Access to primary education”, “Retention of learning” and “Competition of primary education”. The focus was thus on access to basic education by a large number of children and how much knowledge can students cram at a particular grade, rather than on educational outcomes. Earlier the thinking was that by memorisation of content children will be educated. The quantum of content was considered as a benchmark of quality education, at least in India. SDGs are a recognition that this idea of education is insufficient and outdated. Education is not simply a content delivery system in an exam. It needs to be seen as a system to help all children reach their full potentials and enter society as full and productive citizens.
Key Elements of Qualitative Education
Safe and supportive learning environment:
For meaningful learning, the environment must be conducive for such learning. The environment here means Physical environment, early childhood experience and support from parents, teachers, governments etc. Healthy development during early childhood plays an important role as it forms a foundation for a healthy life and successful formal school experience. Children with behavioural problems have usually experienced “deprived or dysfunctional families” during early childhood.
The quality of a child’s development in early life influences the development competence and coping skills throughout his life.
Quality education cannot take place without a safe and inclusive learning environment. Environments safe for girls and marginalised section i.e. Socially and educationally backward classes, should not face discrimination based on caste, ethnicity, language etc. is essential for better learning outcomes as well.
Teachers for imparting knowledge is the base of qualitative education along with the curriculum. There should be professional learning for teachers to help students learn. Teachers should have mastery over their subject as well as pedagogy. Competency of a teacher is vital since students achievement beyond basic skills depends largely on the teacher’s command over the subject matters, eg. Teachers in secondary education institutions and Higher Education Institutions, for more check this.
This includes safe physical structures (like washrooms, classrooms), the establishment of environments that boost the learning process, encourage staff a student’s voice, and promote social and emotional development It also includes the availability of schools and how safe is the process of accessing education through schools. Journey to schools like in India is unsafe if girls experience harassment both physically and sexually in both rural as well as urban areas. Availability of infrastructure is crucial to a safe and quality learning environment.
A child’s exposure to the curriculum significantly influences his achievements and chances of the child remaining in schools. High dropout rates significantly affect the quality of education of children in like India and Africa.
Qualitative education standards in international law
According to UNICEF, Qualitative education includes:
- Healthy learners who are well-nourished and ready to participate and learn. They must be supported in learning by their families.
- A healthy environment which is safe, protective and gender-sensitive i.e accommodating to girls and provides adequate resources and facilities to aid the learning process.
- Content which includes, among other things, materials for acquisition of basic skills, especially in the area of numeracy, skills for life and knowledge in areas like gender, health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS prevention and peace.
According to UNICEF quality education is characterized by:
- Quality learners: This depends upon “Good health and nutrition”, Early childhood psychological experiences, regular attendance at school- for quality learners children must attend school consistently.
- Quality Learning Environment: It also includes adequate instructional material and textbooks, working conditions for the teacher, availability of lavatories and clean drinking waters. When students have to leave school and walk a significant distance for clean drinking water, then they may not return to class. Further availability of school itself plays an important role. Even when schools have adequate infrastructure, parents could be reluctant to send children, especially girls to school if they are located far away from their children’s home.
Further, a welcoming and non-discriminatory environment is critical towards creating a quality learning environment. This is even more crucial for women’s education. Once girls have access to schools they may experience direct physical threats and subtle assaults on their confidence, dignity, self-esteem and identity.
3. Teachers Behaviour: Apart from teacher knowledge and training, teachers behaviour towards students is extremely important. Teachers who create an unsafe environment for students affect the overall quality of education a student gets. When parents in Mali and Tanzania were asked about reasons for withdrawal of children from school, parents cited lack of discipline, the violence of teachers towards pupils and the risk of pregnancy due to male teachers. In developing countries, a severe form of punishment is common and often considered as necessary for quality learning. This is an extremely flawed notion Thus teacher behaviour is crucial because learning cannot take place when the basic needs of dignity and self-protection are threatened.
4. Inclusive environment: An environment which does not discriminate based on gender, caste (India), ethnicity is critical for improving the quality of learning. Most countries in all parts of the world struggle with the effective inclusion of students with special needs and disabilities. According to UNICEF children of ethnic and language minorities, politically or geographically disadvantageous groups and groups of low socioeconomic levels suffer from discriminatory policies and practices that hinder the advancement of qualitative education.
5. Quality Content: According to UNICEF curriculum should be such which enables a deep understanding of the subject. It should enable contextualised study i.e. understanding and solving problems by applying theoretical knowledge in the context of the real world. Contextualised learning means to link theoretical constructs that are taught during learning, to a practical, real-world context.
Importance of Qualitative Education
“Education must fully assume its central role in helping people to forge more just, peaceful and tolerant societies”. (Ban Ki-moon, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations)
- Goal-4 of Sustainable Development Goals focuses on “Quality Education”. According to SDG-4, quality education is the foundation of sustainable development, and therefore of the Sustainable Development Goals. Every child must be able to access and complete an inclusive, quality pre-primary, primary and secondary education in order to meet the Global Goal for education by 2030.
- Education reduces poverty and hunger across generations and improves health outcomes, especially for mothers and children. Thus it is crucial for nations socio-economic indicators.
- Education improves the economic health of nations, enhances civic participation, and raises the likelihood of peaceful resolution of conflicts. Quality Education must not be left to chance since it is the foundation upon which countries rely to improve overall health, well-being, and economic vitality of its population.
- Quality education also ensures that humans live in harmony with nature and sustainable use of natural resources. People around the world should have the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills to build a sustainable future.
- Lack of trained teachers, inadequate learning materials, makeshift classes and poor sanitation facilities make learning difficult for many children. Unicef describes it as “The learning crisis”. Lack of quality education is the greatest global challenge to preparing children and adolescents for life, work and active citizenship.
- According to UNICEF access to education of poor quality is tantamount to no education at all. Quality is influenced by not just what happens in classrooms but also what happens beyond classrooms.
Indian standards to ensure qualitative education
In India Qualitative Education is not specifically defined, rather it is understood by various indicators or qualities which a person or child is supposed to possess at a certain stage of his life. Such as the ability to critically analyse, aptitude, employability, efficiency in doing a task etc.
At primary level, the quality Early childhood care and Education (ECCE) is understood as to have qualitative education. According to UNESCO ECCE is more than just preparing for primary school education. It is the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs to build a solid foundation for lifelong learning and well being.
Learning outcomes at Primary Level
To monitor a child’s learning outcomes, National assessment Surveys (NAS) were conducted of students in class 3rd, 5th and 8th. The purpose of these surveys was to get an overall picture of what students in the specific class know and can do and to use these findings to identify gaps, diagnose areas that need improvement. Data analytics through this data helped to formulate policies and interventions for improving student learning.
In 2017 NCERT released the document titled Learning outcomes at the elementary stage. This for the first time provided a benchmark on learning outcomes for schools. It provides in detail what students from classes 1 to 8 should be able to understand and do, including achieving problem-solving abilities in English, Maths, Environmental Studies and Science. Many experts have welcomed this because this for the first time has institutionalised goals to be achieved by schools in the form of learning outcomes that students should ordinarily posses.
School Education Quality Index (SEQI)
NITI AYOG has developed SEQI to evaluate states and Union Territories (U.T.) performance in school education. For NITI AYOG it is a way to further cooperative and competitive Federalism. The index reflects the diversity and complexity of the school education landscape in India. It also provides useful insights to States and UTs for data-driven decision making, including better targeting of interventions for quality enhancement.
SEQI aims to improve “education outcomes” by improving learning levels, access, equity and infrastructure and governance process.
The learning outcome is shown in the form of how children are performing in Language and Mathematics in Class 3, Class 5 and Class 8. According to Section 4 of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, if a child is directly admitted in a class which is appropriate to his or her age, then that child has a right to receive special training to be at par with others. Further Section 4 states that a child admitted to elementary education shall be entitled to free education till completion of elementary education even after fourteen years.
Access outcome is measured by analysing the enrollment ratio i.e. how many new students join the school and by transition rate i.e. how many students move from primary to secondary level. In this regard. Section 4 of MODEL RULES UNDER THE RIGHT OF CHILDREN TO FREE AND COMPULSORY EDUCATION ACT, 2009, has played a crucial role, as it imposes a duty on the State to ensure access to schools.
According to Rule 4(1), the state government has a duty to establish a school within a walking distance of 1km of the neighbourhood for children in classes 1st to 5th (Primary school) and also establish a school within a distance of 3 km of the neighbourhood for classes 6th to 8th.
Further under Rule 4(7) for children with disabilities which prevent them from accessing the school the State Government/Local Authority must make appropriate and safe transportation arrangements for them to attend school and complete elementary education. According to Rule 5(1) children with disabilities shall be provided free special learning and support material.
Equity outcome measures the performance (learning outcomes) of Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes in comparison to General category students. This gives an idea of how much of disparity exists between learning attainment and outcome. It also measures the difference in learning outcomes between students in rural and urban areas and boys and girls as well.
The index is crucial for qualitative education because early years of childhood (globally 0-8 years) is the most important stage of cognitive, motor, social and emotional development in the human life cycle. According to SEQI 2019, early childhood has the potential to be the greatest and most powerful equaliser.
Impediments to Quality education in India and suggested reforms from NEP-2020
The education system in British India was elitist, though the literacy rate was 16% of which the female literacy rate was mere 8.9%. The focus thus after independence was to ensure enrollment of students in schools and colleges expansion of educational institutions, equity i.e. to include the excluded from the education system due to caste, religion, region, customs etc. This went on for 6 decades. The current education system is mechanistic, which treats children as cramping machines. This used to suppress creative thinking, values, behaviour etc. it focused more on rote learning and learning-for-exams (Retention).
The National Educational Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) has completely transformed the education system in India. It marks a significant shift from earlier NEPs and notions on quality education.
At the outset, according to NEP 2020 quality education, at the primary level means not only attaining “foundational numeracy and literacy skills” but also understanding India’s rich and diverse, ancient and modern culture and knowledge systems, ethics Constitutional values like empathy, respect for others, cleanliness, courtesy, democratic spirit, the spirit of service, respect for public property, scientific temper, liberty, pluralism, equality, and justice. It also recognises multilingualism and the power of language in teaching and learning. NEP 2020 aims to develop these qualities in citizens through the newly reformed education system.
Teacher absenteeism in a government school, particularly in rural and semi-urban schools. “Teacher absenteeism” means when a teacher does not have a legitimate reason for their absence. This is different from “Teacher absence”, which may be because of a lack of teacher or teacher on an authorised leave or teacher performing other departmental work. According to Azim Premji University report typically, teacher absenteeism is in the range of 2–5%, whereas the overall teacher absence is in the range of 20%. With no teachers to actually teach in classrooms, students are hardly ever motivated to come to school, preferring to stay at home and help in family occupations.
NEP-2020 provides for a teacher-to-pupil ratio of 30:1 i.e. 1 teacher for every 30 students and at schools where a large number of students are from Socially and Educationally disadvantageous section the teacher-to-pupil ratio will be of 25:1.
Solution: To tackle this, State governments asked government schools to install biometric machines to prevent teacher absenteeism.
Poor Learning outcomes:
According to ASER 2018, only half (50.3%) of all students in class 5 could read a text for class 2. Further, in 14-18 age groups, only 43% were able to do simple division correctly, while 47% of 14 years old could not read simple English sentences. This is because the earlier focus of education policies and schemes was predominantly only on access to schools and not much of the quality of education imparted. Even if the cycle of primary education is complete but if the education curriculum is of poor quality then foundational literacy and numeracy skills will be poor. quantity-quality trade-off results are defined as “Learning crisis” where a large proportion of students in elementary school have not attained foundational literacy and numeracy skills. This shows the quality of education on the ground.
Solution: India’s demographic dividend depends on the earning levels of students, it has a direct bearing on the economy. According to the ASER report, this can be solved by focusing on cognitive skills rather than subject or content learning. It suggests focusing on play-based activities that build memory. Reasoning and problem-solving abilities are more productive than mere content knowledge.
The NEP-2020 aims to tackle this through the new Curriculum of 5+3+3+4. Under this new framework for children from 3-6 years of age are now part of the formal schooling system as a “foundational stage”. It aims to achieve Foundational Literacy and Numeracy by all students by the time a student reaches class 3. 2020 policy emphasises on “Early childhood care and education” (ECCE). Appropriate brain stimulation in the early years is required for healthy brain development. Good ECCE enables young children to flourish in education throughout their lives. According to NEP2020 “due to lack of universal access to ECCE, large portions of children already fell behind within the first few weeks of Grade 1. NEP-2020 aims to achieve “universal foundational literacy and numeracy in primary school by 2025. This aspect is so crucial that it says the rest of the policy will become relevant for students only if this most basic requirement i.e. reading, writing and arithmetic skill st foundational level is achieved. It also provided for one-on-one peer teaching as a voluntary and joyful activity for students under the supervision of a trained teacher. This would enable giving attention to children who need it.
Dr Shashi Tharoor says that earlier when children were out of school it was parents fault, but if now they are out of school, it’s the system’s fault Many children in government-run school, especially in rural areas, drop out of school because they are unable to understand what is being taught in the classroom. Lack of quality of the content (curriculum) and the manner of teaching (pedagogy) is crucial to this aspect. Further teacher education also plays an important role. NEP-2020 states that the Gross enrollment ratio for Grades 6-8 was 90.9%, while for Grades 9-10 and 11-12 it was only 79.3% and 56.5%, respectively indicating that a significant proportion of enrolled students drop out after Grade 5 and especially after Grade 8.
Further according to a report by Council for Social Development, New Delhi based on 71st NSSO more than 4.5 crore children in the 6-14 age group were out of school. This is a serious concern because even under the Right to Education Act which provides for free compulsory education the drop-out rates are high. This is because of the majority of students who drop-out are from low-income families, landless or marginal families, leaving families in a dilemma of survival and education. A most important reason for boys to drop out was to supplement family earnings and for girls was the compulsion to participate in household work. However, the major reason was the poor implementation of rules under the Right to Education act. It provides for the availability of a primary school within 1km and upper primary school within 3km. If these were implemented a reason for drop-out i.e. distance of school would have been eliminated especially for low-income families.
Solution: Until the prescribed number of schools with required teachers and infrastructure is not available, providing subsidised modes of travel to school is necessary. Thus amending Right to Education Act, to include financial support to poor families to send their children to school. Ensuring quality in imparting education is essential for the retention of students so that they (particularly, girls and students from other socio-economically disadvantaged groups) do not lose interest in attending school.
Further focus on play-based, activity-based, and inquiry-based learning as envisaged in NEP-2020 will help students understand abstract concepts. Educating through experience and learning is extremely crucial as rote learning has clearly failed. Education should be from the known to the unknown. Reformed curriculum and increased focus on foundational literacy and numeracy apart from, on reading, writing, speaking, arithmetic, and mathematical thinking throughout the preparatory and middle school is required to stop the drop-out rates.
An outdated curriculum that focuses on memorisation:
Till now the focus of education policies was to make students learn more content so that they could score better in exams. Education should not be a “ritual” with a textbook in front and regurgitating the content. This is the state not just of school education but also of Higher education. Outdated texts are still being used by children and college students with virtually no focus on practical and real-world aspects of knowledge. At early childhood levels, this method of rote learning is detrimental and makes learning uninteresting. The curriculum should be based on contextualised learning, when students can relate theoretical knowledge in books to real-world context, they will be able to retain it and will help to imbibe the concept completely.
Solution: To ensure learning for all students, with emphasis on Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups, NEP-2020 provides to broaden the ambit of school education to have multiple pathways to learning which involves both formal i.e. within the classroom and non-formal modes of educating children like through outdoor trips, learning by observing phenomenons or by application of theory to simple day to day process. Open and Distance Learning (ODL) Programmes offered by the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and State Open Schools will be expanded and strengthened to cater to the learning needs of young people in India who are not able to attend a physical school.
NCERT is also mandated to develop a “National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCPFECCE) for children up to 8 years of age. Development of Early education at Foundational stage (3-8 years) will be based on “play-based, activity-based and inquiry-based learning”.
A new and comprehensive National Curricular Framework for School Education, NCFSE 2020-21, will be formulated by the NCERT based on the principles of National Education Policy 2020. This new curriculum would ensure qualitative education to Indian masses.
The further the policy recognises the importance of developing Mathematical skills and thinking Thus, mathematics and computational thinking will be improved throughout the school years, starting from the foundational stage and through innovative methods like regular use of puzzles and games that make mathematical thinking more enjoyable, activities involving coding will be introduced in Middle Stage.
Further use of ICT will also improve learning curves at school and also at the higher education institution. ICT helps in making learning intuitive and interesting. when learning is not boring or difficult to grasp drop-out rates will also reduce. This would also reduce the education divide between urban and rural students because of a lack of qualitative content. However, ICT tools are more than just providing computer labs. Today it means entering into the 4th Industrial Revolution which involves tools for Artificial Intelligence, Internet-of-things, Big-data Analytics. Early exposure to ICT tools at schools will also help children not become victims of Cyber-bullying and Cyber-crimes.
Investing in a teacher is investing in the future. According to the Justice Verma Commission, the 2012 broken teacher education system is putting over 370 million teachers at risk. It said that over 85% of teachers fail the Central- Teacher Eligibility Test (C-TET). Quality teachers are central to a Qualitative education system. The quality of teacher education, recruitment, service conditions, and empowerment of teachers is not where it should be, and thus the quality and motivation of teachers does not reach the desired standards.
Solution: For ECCE, 2020 policy provides for the recruitment of teachers and workers specially trained in content and pedagogy of ECCE. For ECCE it emphasises the role of specialised ECCE trainers. The NCERT is mandated to develop a system for an initial cadre of high-quality ECCE teachers and Anganwadi workers will also be trained in ECCE. This would enable developing “early literacy and numeracy skills”. The further high-quality material on foundational literacy and numeracy will be made available on DIKSHA- Digital infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing.
All curriculum and pedagogy, from the foundational stage onwards, will be redesigned and will be based on Indian and local context including India’s culture, traditions, heritage, philosophy, geography, scientific needs, to ensure that education is relatable, relevant, interesting, and effective for our students.
The most crucial reform to teacher education in the new policy is the introduction of a 4-year B.ed course. Teacher Eligibility Tests (TETs) will be improved to inculcate better test material, both in terms of content and pedagogy. The TETs will also be extended to cover teachers across all stages (Foundational, Preparatory, Middle and Secondary) of school education.
Teachers will be given opportunities for self-improvement to learn the latest innovations and advances in their professional field through local, state, national, and international workshops as well as online teacher development modules. Thus policy focuses on a Continuous Professional Development.
How can education strengthen the Rule of Law
Education has an important role in promoting the rule of law and a culture of lawfulness. The Rule of Law is fundamental to all aspects of society, both public and private, shaping the way individuals interact with each other and with public institutions in all sectors of society – forging relationships of trust and mutual accountability. This is why education that promotes the Rule of Law and a Culture of Lawfulness (CoL) is so important.
As a public good, national education systems have a responsibility in upholding and advancing the principles of the Rule of Law; which includes supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.
Education can prepare future generations to hold state institutions accountable and equip learners with the knowledge, values, attitudes and behaviours that are required to take ethically responsible decisions that support justice and human rights. Since Rule of Law is crucial for a Democracy to survive, educating masses on this principle will help in the sustenance of democracy.
Promoting the Rule of Law has been universally accepted by the UN Member States as one of the Targets under SDG 16 “to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. Further Target 16.3 explicitly says to ‘Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.
Education enables the personal and societal transformations that are needed to promote and uphold the Rule of Law by:
- Ensuring the development and acquisition of key knowledge, values, attitudes and behaviours.
- Encouraging learners to value, and apply, the principles of the Rule of Law in their daily lives.
- Equipping learners with the appropriate knowledge, values, attitudes, and behaviours they need.
- Contributing to its continued improvement and regeneration in society more broadly.
Education is a human right and a public good that is critical to the health and future of the world. access to quality education must be considered a basic right of every child (NEP-2020).
NEP-2020 has laid down various guidelines and future prospects to ensure that the goals laid down in “Vision 2030” is achieved and that India could deliver on Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
- www.un.org: SDG 4
- Unicef, education
- Education in India: Are students failing or the system? Sonam Wangchuk TEDxGateway
- The Feynman Technique
- Brain development, child development – Adult health and well-being and paediatrics, J Fraser Mustard, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Toronto, Ontario
- Eze, S.G.N. (2009). FEATURES OF QUALITY EDUCATION. link.
- The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the Pursuit of Quality Education for All: A Statement of Support from Education International and ASCD
- Defining Quality in Education, UNICEF, The International Working Group on Education Florence, Italy June 2000
- QUALITY EDUCATION FOR ALL, From a Girl’s Point of View, UNICEF, April 2002
- TEACHER ABSENTEEISM STUDY: FIELD STUDIES IN EDUCATION March 2017, Azin Premji University.
- A well-educated mind vs a well-formed mind: Dr. Shashi Tharoor at TEDxGateway 2013
- National Education Policy-2020
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