Lecture by Dr.Rukmini Banerji on “Challenges in Indian Education: Lessons From Asia” held December 10, 2016

Society for Policy Studies in association with India Habitat Centre, lecture on “Challenges in Indian Education: Lessons From Asia”

By Dr.Rukmini Banerji

Programme Details
Date: December 10, 2016
Time: 7 PM
Venue: Gulmohar Hall, India Habitat Centre


The Society for Policy Studies (SPS), in association with the India Habitat Centre, as part of the Changing Asia series organised a lecture on ‘Challenges in Indian Education: Lessons from Asia’ by Dr. Rukmni Banerji, CEO of Pratham Education Foundation on December 10, 2016.

Mentioning Pratham’s work, Dr Banerji opened her lecture with the observation that, in reference to education, the concept of ‘Lessons from Asia’ is wide and a challenging canvas, given the Asian diversity. Whilst cooperation among Indian practitioners with similar organisations from Pakistan or Bangladesh is common and well sustained, links are yet to be made with the rest of the Asian continent.

Dr Banerji provided an overview of the current education system in India based on data from the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), which is the largest non-governmental household survey undertaken in rural India and facilitated by Pratham. With near universal pupil enrollment rates and on average, a longer period of study, enormous progress has been made in India the past decade alone. However, low and even decreasing levels of basic arithmetic and reading skills remain major challenges. If children do not master basic skills from an early age, they do not benefit from teaching in subsequent year groups, leading to limited learning trajectories.

The Indian education system’s structure, which focuses on the passage from grade to grade, leaves many pupils behind: in the whole of India, half of private school and 20% of public school pupils in grade three are at the appropriate level for their age. The variation is also felt across states: in 2009 in Himachal Pradesh, 62,5% of students achieved their prescribed grade level, while only 13,7% did so in Uttar Pradesh in the same year. Further, Dr Banerji highlighted that, despite these discrepancies, an overall decline in basic learning skills has been recorded throughout the country over the past five years.

Referring to studies on the big demographic and economic shifts associated with the East Asia “miracle”, the speaker emphasized the importance of looking at education dynamics within neighbouring Asian countries, notably as a means of self-reflection. Dr Banerji cited an interesting case study of Japanese teaching culture. It was highlighted that Japanese teaching aims to develop conceptual thinking among children, with a focus on independent problem solving rather than an approach based on skill acquirement and giving correct answers.

Dr Banerji also mentioned Vietnam; whose participation in cross-national test such as the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment ) , saw Vietnamese students, especially those in the bottom quarter in terms of academic attainment, fare well. This is the result of Vietnamese policies in which teaching, unlike in India, is aimed at reaching out to and encouraging students with comparatively weaker educational outcomes. In India, teachers tend to focus only on the upper / brighter end of the class – though private coaching is on the increase in both societies.

Referring to workshops organized by Pratham under UNESCO aegis, with teachers from many countries, Dr. Banerji narrated an instructive conversation with a teacher from Afghanistan. While discussing a visit to a village school near Aurangabad, Maharashtra and the interaction with the parents – the Afghan teacher wryly observed: ” You are lucky that you can visit your villages in this manner. We have to worry about the bombs and terror attacks.”