The Mess in Our Schools

G Vijaya Raghavan

Sometime back I sat on an interview board. The applicants were fresh B-Com graduates from Universities in Kerala with over 75% marks. Just to check their basic arithmetic skills, I popped a question that many of my fellow board members found too silly to be thrown at such candidates. The question went something like this: ``Company A had a profit of 500 million rupees last year. If the profit rose by 12% this year, what would be the amount it would have earned?”

The young lady whom I asked the question struggled to do the mental math. I offered her a pen and paper. After some calculations, she came up with this figure: 1.2 billion rupees. When she was told it was incorrect, she again calculated another number, which too was way off the mark. To our astonishment, only two out of nearly a dozen candidates gave us the right answer, and they didn’t require a pen and paper for the calculation.

So what does this show? The quality of basic education in our state has deteriorated, and how! Kerala’s success as a socially advanced state was also largely because of the quality of the education system prevailed in yesteryears. Through that system, we produced brilliant minds including a President of our nation, a Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, a Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and dozens of eminent professors, doctors and scientists who exceled in their fields around the world. What is also noteworthy is that most of these people, who competed globally and succeeded, were products of our government schools or government-aided schools.


The fundamentals of our education system were indeed good in those times. Today we have a situation where students in class 7 or 8 can’t read properly or do simple additions and subtractions. In comparison with the national average, we may be doing better in terms of the number of school dropouts, facilities in schools etc. Still, there is a terrible deterioration in quality of learning, especially in mathematics, science and English, among our children. The culprits are the all promotion policy, the politicians who think that declaring a high pass percentage for the SSLC exam is good for their reputation, and the failure of teachers to sincerely do continuous evaluation and follow the specified teaching methodology.

In the past, the best in society became teachers. Today, the top talents are not enthused to take up teaching as their profession. One reason is that income levels are not high enough to attract quality people into teaching. So we get people who have no aptitude to become teachers. If you probe deeper into children who hate math or science or any subject, you will find that there was one teacher in their school days who was THE reason why they hate that subject. The damage a bad teacher does to the society is so severe and long lasting: He or she can harm an entire generation. The excuse cannot be the size of the class, as the results are equally bad in schools with very few students.

In order to fix our education system, we need to start reforms with our teachers. Today, graduate degrees aren’t required for primary school teachers. That’s so lopsided. The most important period of a child’s education is the formative years. We need to ensure that the most qualified people teach children in their early years in school. Another crucial thing: We need to introduce an aptitude test for teachers before hiring them.


Another disturbing trend is that teachers are used for conducting surveys and other kind of activities that take them away from their main job. That has to stop. Schools shut at the drop of a hat, which means the mandated 200 days of classes a year never really happens. Then you have union activities of teachers that again affect their functioning. All this should be controlled. Also, the remuneration of teachers must be raised, so that we can attract and retain great talents.

It’s not too late to stop the rot in the system. Otherwise, our children won’t excuse us for messing up with their future.

Photo credit: Sandy & Alan via / CC BY-NC-SA fabola via / CC BY-SA