• Pranav Jha

Input Based Approach to Education

Right to Education or Right to Free & Compulsory Education Act, 2009 has undoubtedly been a groundbreaking legislation in the Indian education landscape. The right has been mandated to ensure that education becomes a fundamental right for all the children between the ages six to fourteen years. Right to Education (RTE) has been famous for its input based approach to education. Ellis (2012) defines input-based instruction as an instruction that “involves the manipulation of the input that learners are exposed to or are required to process.” Right To Education has mandated that schools ensure that the students attain learning outcomes in basic math skills, linguistic acquisition, etc. It has caused an enhancement in enrollment ratios across India and has been a phenomenal step in the direction of ensuring equitable access to education. RTE has been aimed to increase the efficacy of the education system as a whole by ensuring education centres have access to basic facilities. While school education had remained cornered in policy discussions before the advent of RTE, its input based approach to education has been a focal point of discussion in education policy circles.

It should be noted that learning outcomes as mandated by the RTE have become necessary in the current setup. Despite the debate whether solely focusing on inputs would reap any benefit, educators should have targets to attain. The basic arithmetic, linguistic & comprehension skills mandated by RTE have laid down a clear path for educators. The teachers need to devise their pedagogies to train the students in foundational numerical and linguistic literacy. These targets are relevant- they ensure that the students pick up the skills in the primary stage, which can help them cope with academic rigour later. RTE has accorded legal & legislative sanctity to these learning outcomes, with these targets aiming that the educational outcomes are in line with outcomes of other developing & developed countries. Lack of these targets could prevent the realization of academic potential of learners.

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RTE has laid out an emphasis on infrastructure. It is critical that we realise the importance of infrastructure in facilitating better learning experiences of learners. RTE has mandated that schools should have a minimal infrastructure in place. This has in turn helped to incentivize the students to come to schools. Setting the required number of teachers has ensured a healthy teacher-student ratio. Indeed, the majority of schools don’t comply with infrastructural norms. However, the ones which do so are in a better position to retain students. Compliance with minimal infrastructural requirements has been a crucial component of RTE. The recent success of the Delhi government educational model has shown with proper investment in infrastructure the schools can do wonders. Within the Delhi government schools, there has been a focus on building better staff rooms that incentivize teachers. Setting up of School Management Committees has ensured the voices of stakeholders can be heard. Importantly, the legally enforced representation of students from economically weaker sections in the private schools has been a crucial step to curtail the under-representation of students from the underprivileged groups in the educational setup.

It is important to note that these inputs have been carefully curated after including immense research from different quarters. Age-specific educational outcomes have been curated to ensure holistic development at the right stages. There has been an increase in enrollment rates across India. Yet, we cannot ignore the fact that students in the primary government schools have underperformed in Maths and language. We have witnessed sky-rocketing enrollment rates in Indian primary schools. However, even as we talk about this, half the students in 5th standard can’t read a simple text of 2nd standard and 1/3rd of them can’t do simple division. High enrollments have not translated into better learning outcomes.

Massive focus on inputs has resulted in underperformance of primary schools. The input-based approach restricted the system to text-bookish knowledge. It has clamped down on low-cost innovative learning methodologies. This approach has emphasized hardware infrastructure over virtual infrastructure. In the time of the pandemic, an abysmal virtual school infrastructure wreaked havoc. The sudden switch to online learning was just not possible in rural areas and this has widened the digital divide. Heavy focus on this input-based approach constrained the use of technology. Technological tools can come in very handy in the teaching-learning process. It has also failed to incentivize the teachers who can be real drivers of change if they are empowered to make decisions. There is no recognition of a mismatch between the learning levels of students and the prescribed academic curriculum. The unhealthy teacher-student ratio restricts the ability of teachers to maintain track of the progress of individual students. Students lagging in primary levels can’t perform well in later stages in basic linguistic or numerical literacy. Many education systems in other parts of the world have discarded conventional modes of evaluation and adopted innovative measures to track academic progress. We need to reward schools that have recorded an improvement in the learning outcomes of students. The input-based approach has limited schools to the prescribed curriculum, hampering creativity & innovation. Most schools don’t have an intensive feedback mechanism for teachers under this approach. Religiously sticking to the prescribed syllabus will have a detrimental impact on the engagement of students. In the era of artificial intelligence, the need of the hour is technological-driven personalized curriculums.

Furthermore, there has been little effort to integrate community participation in learning & teaching. Community participation can ensure improved access to equitable education for all. It is very crucial to treat communities as an important stakeholder in the education process. Many successful education models in various Indian states have had community participation at their core. Legislation to ensure integrating community participation in primary education could be a good step forward. Policymakers haven’t paid attention to the fact that innovative activities like enhancing peer-to-peer interactions can tremendously impact the growth of students. Learning process could be revolutionized if group learning activities could be prioritized. The input-based approach remains devoid of emotional support to students while they are in a critical learning phase. Simply restricting education to picking up a language or arithmetic might not be helpful in the long-term. Experiential learning practices could be introduced in the curriculum for reaping great benefits. It is essential that tutors are provided with enough incentives to ensure that universal literacy and numeracy is driven on a large-scale. Improvement in learning outcomes needs to be identified & rewarded. Proper technological supplements need to be made available at different levels.

The pandemic has caused a spike in inequality across sectors. Education is considered to be a great leveler and the pandemic has exposed the digital divide impairing it. RTE has been instrumental in ensuring equitable access to education. It becomes essential to uphold the RTE Act in these times. It is very critical to address the issue to address the problem of digital divide. Ensuring technological supplements to schools at different levels can help solve the problem. Going forward, technology is going to play a crucial role in education and it is crucial that we address these issues.

Learning is not a function of restricting one to the standardized syllabus but putting in efforts to pick up life skills. Holistic education is an amalgamation of relationships, emotions, values, critical life skills, standard & efficient learning, and it is imperative that policymaking takes this into account.

By Pranav Jha