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stray thoughts on learning outcomes

stray thoughts on learning outcomes

july 2021


we have been discussing about the annual report of grading of states in education. the grading heavily depends upon the infrastructure and management. the real purpose of education – the learning outcome is given less importance. since the basic idea of education is to train competent persons, this should be given a cardinal role. proper evaluation should be done in the light of the anticipated outcomes..


what is to be evaluated? if the examinations are ruled out on the basis that it tests memory not knowledge, what is the alternate mode of evaluation? and that raises a more fundamental question. what is education supposed to do? what should be the final outcome of education? the answer would be knowledge but then knowledge will have to be defined. everyone agrees now that information is not knowledge. so what is it? the fundamental question remains what is the purpose of education?


according to bruner, an educationist, they are –

1. it takes us somewhere.

2. it makes the going forward easy

the steps involved are

1. activate prior knowledge by asking them what they know, and

2. what they want to know

3. tell them where to find the knowledge

the bottom line is that the students help themselves.


i would like to add another purpose.

1. to express oneself both orally and in writing.

how?

1. one of the ways is "show and tell" exercise.

2. another is to ask open ended questions with multiple replies possible

3. role play is also a useful strategy


in 1996, the international education commission laid down the following purpose of education for the twenty-first century

1. learning to know

2. leaning to do

3. learning to be

4. learning to live together.

unfortunately, the first point is the dominating factor so far.


but this is true not only for education. the bane of our country has been lack of implementation. there is no dearth of great and ideal schemes which would overhaul the conditions of people completely. but then we failed to take off. it is not difficult to see why. the five year plans started with emphasis on expenditure. all monitoring was done on that basis. when this did not result in getting the desired results as outlined in the grandiose schemes, the emphasis was changed to targets. targets were fixed and reports sought about reaching them.


assessing progress of schemes on the basis of targets is a tricky issue. targets can only be physically measurable. the quality aspect is missing. how many villages electrified? how many toilets constructed? these question measure output in terms of quantity. whether the electricity has been put to a good use is not measurable. whether toilets are being used is never a surety. whether the irrigation facilities have resulted in increase of yield or has only led to salinity and alkalinity thereby ruining the soil can only be ascertained by inspection and targets become irrelevant in such cases.


what is true of other sectors is also true of education sector, but with a vengeance. ensuring universal elementary education for all in 1950, we are as far away from the target as can be, not to speak of quality of those considered literate. one scheme followed another and culminated in sarv shiksha abhiyan (and now saakshar bharat). but the lure of target setting could not be overcome. for many years, the enrolment of students in class one was the target it still is being monitored though it is said to be over hundred percent for the past many years. the sarv shiksha abhiyan regularly monitored the availability of building for the school, availability of electricity for the school, availability of toilet for the students, especially girl students. steady progress has been reported on all these counts with scant regards about their usefulness in practice.


and yet something is missing. and that is learning outcome. in their wisdom, the authorities, by law, abolished the examination up to class 10. examinations are held to be evil, blocking the student mind from all things useful. learning by rote is bad for education, it is said, but what is the substitute? without giving a substitute, mere mouthing sentiments do not produce results. when the results of class ten disappointed, the policy of no examinations was reviewed, and all but given up. but has it made a difference?


the new education policy has declared that examinations, which are held for class 10 and 12 only, are based upon memory and not a creative understanding of subjects. these examinations are also held on annual basis and, if missed, mean another year for the student for re-appearing. secondly these examinations are for prescribed subjects only and thirdly the marks obtained therein are binding for the whole life. this system requires changes


once again, what is the alternative? there was a big talk about continuous and comprehensive evaluation. another noble idea. but the big question remains – who will do it.

as per the u-dise report (available for 2016-17 as per reply in lok sabha on february 7, 2019) there were 92,275 schools with a single teacher. madhya pradesh had the highest number at 18,307 and rajasthan followed not a great distance away with 12052. together they account for one third of such schools. which teacher is capable of continuous comprehensive evaluation when he has to handle five classes simultaneously, not to mention making arrangements for the mid day meals and other non teaching activities.


but we are jumping the question. we have to still consider what is to be evaluated? what are the aims of education?


to my mind, the only learning outcome of education is "the ability to express oneself". man is a thinking machine. he thinks and then he should be able to tell others what he thinks. be it a scientific issue or an economic issue or even plain household issue, the persons concerned should be able to express themselves. all education should be a process to enable a student to express herself. it can start even in aanganwadi (or the english equivalent kindergarten). the girl sees something and then she describes it to her fellow students, that is the crux. in the west, the schools regularly have a test "show and tell". the subject is not set. let the student decide.


I have seen demonstration of this method in some public schools and also its misuse. the subject is given and also the reference books. you learn from them or from the internet and then speak about it to the assembly. the student memorized the information and blurted it out. it completed the formality but left the student where she was. it is only when she can speak about her personal observations, does it become knowledge in its true sense. it means the selection of topics where observations can be made.


can it be done at the elementary education level? certainly. it can be even at aanganwadi level. i recall my two and a half year old son who was in shishu vihar, gwalior, coming home and showing us how to open a lock, and again, on another occasion, how to fold a handkerchief. he liked the action and was keen to show it. same for, say class three level, read a lesson and then extempore talk about it not just recite like "jack and jill went up the hill". (incidentally the rhyme says they went up to get water. actually you go down to the river to get water, not up the hill – but that is another issue).


obviously this is not being done at present. the emphasis is on learning what is in the book and ability to reproduce it. but it is done as per the book, not by understanding it, the difference is important. i recall a situation in which my knowledge was tested by my eight years old niece. she simply asked टीटो क्या खाता है. not having an iota of idea who teeto was, i was floored. then she showed me the book and it turned out to be a story about children in japan. .


but then can the insider teacher carry on continuous comprehensive evaluation of learning as defined above. this is a tough task. at that level, the elementary education level, it cannot be self study. study has to be done in the class and it has to be uniform for all the students. the ideal thing would be to teach student according to her understanding but when the number of students is large. it cannot be done. a pattern of uniformity sets in whether one wishes for it or not


to overcome this difficulty, evaluation by an outsider has to be resorted to. the inspector of schools used to be a regular feature in good old days. it worked when the number of schools was limited. random selection of students and random questions tested the efficacy of teaching. with the present large number of schools, it may be difficult to get a sufficient number of persons to do it, volunteers can help but the help will be limited. the only way, to my mind , is to have peer evaluation. students in grades, two or three higher, than the target group can do it.


pratham organization has been doing something of this random sampling and random testing. a good thing. but then the whole thing comes down to statistics. here we meet the numbers again. the percentages cited and compared with figures of the previous years with remarks that things have improved or deteriorated. the margin of error, inherent in all sampling methods, is not cited. the individual school is not identified where the remedy has to be applied. this can be done only by a state agency or state sponsored agency.


to sum up, learning outcomes have to measured in terms of ability to express and it can be checked only by frequent inspection by an outside agency, which should not just publish anonymous reports but specifically directed towards a particular school to enable its teacher(s) to improve. .


obviously, this would need a set of teachers who are aware what the education should be about. as has been well expressed, the teacher should know what we are teaching and why are we teaching it. it would mean changes in pattern of training of teachers and also reorientation of those in service. it will be a tough and slow task but a necessary one. the process must start with teachers training institutes and district institute of education and technology (diet).


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