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Could Remedial Instructional Aides Programme Help Eliminate Foundational Literacy Gap Among The Students In Rural India?

This article challenges the viability of Remedial Instructional Aides Programme (RIAP) suggested by the National Educational Policy Draft, 2019 to bridge the existing foundational literacy gap among the students in rural India.

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The National Education Policy (NEP) was released by the newly formed National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on 30th May 2019. It was opened up to the general public for suggestions post release and has received at least 77,000 suggestions approximately. According to its vision statement, the draft focuses on creating an “India centred education system” which would lead to an “equitable and vibrant knowledge society”. NEP, 2019 addresses a variety of issues in the education landscape, including the importance of “Foundational Literacy and Numeracy” among school students. Foundational literacy and numeracy means the “ability to read and write, and to perform basic operations with numbers”. It stresses on community engagement to tackle this issue, through programmes such as National Tutors Programme (NTP) and Remedial Instructional Aides Programme (RIAP).

The Problem

According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018, only 50.3 per cent of children enrolled in standard V and 73 per cent of standard VIII students in rural areas can read at least a standard II level text. This figure suggests an alarming disparity in the reading levels of students in government schools in rural India. Since 69 per cent of the population resides in rural areas, this data has a broader impact on the overall literacy rate of the country. Hence, the sizeable gap in basic literacy skills requires immediate and effective attention. 

Remedial Instructional Aides Programme

RIAP is a temporary project with an objective of involving community volunteers to help students “who have fallen behind and bring them back into the fold”. The community volunteers, termed as ‘instructional aides’ (IA) will tutor the students during school hours on basic reading and mathematical skills. The eligibility criteria for IAs is graduation from Grade 12 and those who have been “good performers in their school”. It is an unpaid programme, and upon completion, IAs would be given ‘suitable credit’ for their service, should they choose to pursue their B.Ed. Training and management of IAs will be undertaken by the existing teachers. 

Challenges

The minimum basic requirement for community volunteers to be a part of this programme is to be literate. Hence the question arises- is the community literate enough to educate the students in the first place? The national literacy rate (rural) is 67.8 per cent. However, due to the presence of drastic variation across the states and union territories, let us consider data from the state level. For instance, in Bihar, the adult literacy rate in rural region is 61.83 per cent, which is almost 6 percentage points behind the national average. Adult literacy apart, the percentage of children in rural Bihar who are in Std V and cannot read a Std II text is a mere 58.7%3. It then follows that even if each literate member of the community volunteers under the RIAP, there would still be an insufficient number of literate people present in the communities to teach the students in the surrounding schools. The need of this state for qualified volunteers is quite high. On the contrary, the availability of persons who fulfill the minimum basic eligibility for this position is comparatively lower.

The opposite can be observed in a state like Kerala. The literacy rate in rural Kerala is 92.98 per cent and the number of students in standard V who cannot read at least a standard II text in rural Kerala is 22.8 per cent. In this state, the success of this programme is more likely than Bihar, as the number of people who fulfill the minimum basic requirements for RIAP are higher, and the number of students who require immediate aid is lower. Hence, the implementation of this programme cannot be done uniformly across the states.

Another challenge with the RIAP is the absence of child protection and safety provisions. The IAs are expected to take remedial classes during school hours, under the supervision of school teachers. However, the fact is that on any given day, 25 per cent of the teachers are absent in government schools. Additionally, due to the overload of non-teaching tasks, it may not be possible for a teacher to ensure the safety of every child who is a part of the remedial programme. The teachers, overburdened by non-teaching tasks, may feel stressed. Due to this stress, they may not be able to monitor the students and the IAs closely. For this reason, there is a necessity for the introduction of child safety standards and regulations for the IAs, which are enforceable by law. This is especially relevant due to large scale physical (66 per cent), sexual (53.22 per cent) and emotional (50 per cent) abuse faced by children in India according to a survey done by the Ministry of Child and Women Development in 2007 (Kacker, Varadan and Kumar 2007).

Furthermore, according to RTE, any and all persons are required to clear the TET (Teacher Eligibility Test) to teach in government schools in classes I to VIII. By contrast, there is no such standard eligibility test specified for IAs. The process of teaching basic reading and writing requires a prerequisite knowledge of certain pedagogical techniques and methods. Due to lack of an eligibility standard for the community volunteers, under-qualified people could join the programme which would then compromise the student learning outcomes. Moreover, the draft mentions that the volunteers would be provided with training which would “concentrate specifically on the teaching of foundational literacy and numeracy”. They would also be given the necessary resources to work with children, such as workbooks and learning materials. There are no detailed information given about the type of resources or training which would be given to the IAs. Hence, the capability of the IAs to successfully teach the students is uncertain.

Another concern with the RIAP is the possible lack of investment and enthusiasm from the IAs in the proper implementation of the programme due to unsatisfactory incentives for the volunteers. It also mentions that if the IAs choose to complete a B.Ed and become full time teachers, they will be “given suitable credit for their years of IA service upon employment”. It is possible that all IAs may not want to pursue B.Ed post completion of this programme, in which case this incentive becomes ineffective. Apart from that, the volunteers will be offered certificates from the government “honouring their invaluable contribution to the State and to the nation, and indicating the hours served as a tutor or IA.” The programme requires a great deal of commitment from the volunteers in terms of time and effort, which is why it is necessary to build a structure through which IAs develop a vested interest in the success of the programme. The policy must include a more desirable incentive system to ensure sustainability of participation from the community. 

Lastly, the policy draft does not specify the metric which will be used to accurately assess the learning level of the student before and after the programme intervention. The policy states that it is the teachers’ responsibility “to assess the learning levels of each student in class”. The mechanism of assessment is not listed in the draft, due to which there may be discrepancies in the data collected across various schools. The assessment metric needs to be uniform for all classes across the country, and the approach taken by teachers to conduct these assessments should consistent. To accurately judge the effect of this programme, there should be an establishment of causality between assessment results and volunteer interventions. The nationwide success or failure of the programme cannot be precisely judged unless a common assessment methodology is followed across the schools. 

Conclusion 

The education draft policies has widespread and deep implications on the future of the country. Hence, a detailed framework has to be established which contains provisions for child protection and safety, training and selection criteria and assessment metric to ensure maximum student learning. As we saw before, the problem of literacy gap in school students is quite significant and thus, any initiative taken by the government to resolve this issue must be precise and effective to the greatest possible degree. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house



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