Another Brick in the Wall: Za v. Are

“Absolute rubbish laddy! Get on with your work!”

“Repeat after me, An acre is the area of a rectangle, whose length is one furlong and whose width is one chain”

After being insulted by the teacher for not sticking to the script (read curriculum), young Pink builds a personal wall around him. Pink dreams that all the children in his school have started protesting against their abusive teachers.

Recently, I had the opportunity of visiting a small village near Agra in Uttar Pradesh as part of my training for ASER 2018. Just to set a little context, Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is the largest citizen-led survey conducted all over India to assess the basic reading and learning levels of our rural children.

This visit was my first actual glimpse into Bharat (read Rural India). On the basis of caste, the village was very distinctively divided into two hamlets. The Jatavs refused to enter the area inhabited by the Thakurs and vice versa. ‘Education is for the rich and the powerful’ was the popular opinion in the village. Amidst all this ruckus, I ran into Manoj, a native of the village who was working as a security guard for a Call Centre in Agra. Manoj realized the importance of education and was hopeful that his children would lead a better life if they were provided good education.

Curious about what we were up to, Manoj stopped us while we were walking down a tight and congested street. On getting to know that we were assessing children for an educational survey, he got really excited. He wanted us to test his daughter. With a sense of pride, he told us that he had been sending his daughter to a big private school in Agra. “My daughter would not have any trouble reading this” was Manoj’s reaction on seeing our testing tool.

The ASER testing process (for reading) involves the following steps:

We started the assessment. Manoj’s daughter Diya could not read the paragraph at all. Hence, we administered the words section to her. To our surprise, she could not read any of the words either. This surprised Manoj too. “She’s just a little intimidated by you” was Manoj’s response on his daughter’s inability to read the text that he earlier presumed Diya would have no trouble reading.

He took out Diya’s bag, got out her Hindi textbook and asked her to read the first page. Diya had no trouble reading it at all. This development made us curious. Hoping that Diya would be feeling more comfortable now, we administered the reading test again. Yet again, she could not read a single word. Manoj got out her textbook again and asked her to read the second page. Shockingly, she read it fluently with just a couple of words being missed/interchanged. We repeated the process for the third time and observed the same thing.

Shocked and confounded, I went to my field mentor looking for an explanation. His two worded response “Rote Learning” saddened me to my core. The term ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ suddenly made a lot of sense to me.

Our education system is letting down a lot of hopeful parents like Manoj and a lot of capable children like Diya.

I hope that we move towards an education system which stresses more on explaining how 2 Ones are 2 and 2 Twos are Four rather than forcing 2 One Za 2 and 2 Two Za 4 down the child’s mind.