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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Every child matters, learns differently

Every child matters, learns differently

Hyderabad-based educator James Tooley has spent long years in India, China and Africa studying private schools that are not recognised by the government. Tooley’s studies defy traditional wisdom that government must provide the poor education. He spoke to Nandita Sengupta:

Your book, The Beautiful Tree, documents the achievements of unrecognised private schools, a sector that education experts have ignored.
The book brings into focus what the poor are doing for themselves. Our study in Hyderabad two years ago showed more children were in unrecognised private schools than in government ones. There’s room for improvement though. But these schools are off the radar. It’s a perplexing conundrum. Every development report talks of government school inefficiency, yet as a solution returns to government schools. What development guys fail to realise is that in every country these schools are highly regulated. Certainly, the regulations may be of the wrong kind and invariably lead to corruption.
Is there a low-cost model then for schools?
That’s what we’re working on. Even if you get the funding, you want a replicable model. It has to be very low cost. With expensive teachers the model collapses. I’m interested in peer-learning models. It’s at an embryonic stage in Hyderabad. We are trying in Ghana too. Peer learning is inevitably tied to differentiated learning. So a group of 10 has a pupil teacher. As they master the class, they move on. We’re focused on pre-primary and primary because there’s freedom there. We’re not exposed to tests. Exams, certainly, is an issue. In higher classes we’re looking at improving students’ spoken English, doing foundation courses for exams.
One reason entrepreneurs give for not training teachers is that once trained, they’d move for higher salaries. Teacher retention is hard. Short, sharp-focused training can be one way ahead. We do an initial five-week training programme during the summer holidays followed by shorter modules. Teachers’ mentoring posttraining counts. In our model, as much importance is given to an academic coordinator who works with three or four schools and mentors class teachers. I’m interested in making these local private schools great places of learning. My guiding principle is every child matters, learns differently.
Should government get out of schooling?
To an extent, government has got out of education. Majority of school kids are in private schools. Not as if government decided to get out. But parents pushed it out. Do we want it back? I’m not sure. The question is what role do we want the government to play? It’s probably not the historical role of providing schools, managing schools etc. For whatever reason, it hasn’t proved very good at that, barring a few exceptions. Even if you get into private-public partnerships, if teachers aren’t in your control and continue to be government teachers, it’s a complete waste of time.

Copyrights TimesofIndia Newspaper 30-12-2009

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