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Socio-Economic Background of Students – a Cross Cutting Concern of NISHTHA

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“Learning is the only way we survive change of the times”

By: Dr Rabia Mukhtar

The Ministry of Human Resources Development has launched a very innovative programme ‘NISHTHA’ (National Initiative for School Heads’ and Teachers’ Holistic Advancement Programme). This programme is designed for training of teachers in order to improve learning outcome at the elementary level by equipping them with necessary skills on pedagogic perspective.

The first few pages of NISHTHA: A Handbook of Training Modules for Teachers clearly maintains that the training package is presented in two sections. Section I is generic in nature and includes seven modules. Section II deals with subject specific pedagogies and include five modules. The generic modules contrive about the curriculum and learning outcomes, inclusive education, personal social qualities, art integrated learning, school based assessment, health and well being and different initiatives under Samagra Shikhsha.  Section II is in integration with these generic concerns and includes pedagogy of subjects such as environmental studies, mathematics, languages, social sciences and science.  A part of module 1 of section I deals with how the context of socio-economic background and emotions of children make an impact on their learning.

Being a government school teacher, this concern that is ‘impact of socio-economic background on learning outcome of students’ caught my attention and I really became more apprehensive about this issue that is the actual challenge before the teachers working in government schools. We see in general, government school teachers are being targeted about the poor performance of students. But nobody riddles out the grass root cause of the poor learning outcome in these schools. The fact is that the government schools just cater to a homogenous section of children from low income background and the children are generally first generation learners. Most of these learners are children of agricultural labourers, other labourers with no educational background. One of the consistent findings of educational research studies is the effect of the family’s socio-economic background on the learning achievement of students. The children from these backgrounds mostly remain absent from schools as they prefer earning than learning. Very often parents take their children to work in fields and other income generating activities so that they can contribute towards the family’s income. Most of the girls from these sections of families are made to look after siblings and go for house hold chores at homes because their mothers go out to work in others’ houses and fields for earning.

Rashid (name changed), a parent responded that the help by the government like providing free books, uniform etc does not motivate them to send their children to school because it does not contribute to their family income. According to him when basic facilities are lacking, these things (books and uniforms) appear to be luxuries. Such parents are not ready to accept the fact that socio-emotional support of parents to their children spans both economic and emotional support that imbue a sense of belonging and worth and socialize children to the norms and expectations of society. The children of such families remain under-achievers, school dropouts and failures in academics. These children face a multitude of academic, psychological and socio-economic challenges. They don’t get a stimulating home environment to achieve cognitive development.

Developmental psychologists Bradley and Corwyn in Annual Review of Psychology maintain that socio-economic status that includes family income, parental education and occupational status is directly associated with a wide array of health, cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes in children.  Thus absenteeism of such students from schools hits education system badly and marks the low performance in government schools. This concern clarifies that the attendance gaps are larger by income status than by race/ethnicity etc. It is actually the socio-economic background of children that affects their attendance in the schools.  The bottom line is that the more days of schools a student misses, the poorer his/her performance is irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity or disability.

A teacher becomes helpless in dealing with such problems. He/she cannot seek explanation from parents of such students like there is accountability from private schools as they can fine them or expel them from schools easily for being absent for longer intervals. In this context, it really turns out to be a great challenge for teachers working in government schools.

Now here comes the skill of Empathy, a section of module 2 of NISHTHA. Empathy as described in module 2 is the ability to understand the feelings of another person from their perspective. Here teachers get empathetically stuck by poor students’ helplessness who try to help their families by earning. But on real grounds this empathy leads to extreme chronic absenteeism of students. As such impact of absenteeism on performance of students becomes a concern.

Module 2 of NISHTHA deals with personal-social qualities required to be developed in students, steps to be taken by teachers for providing emotional support to children, activities to be taken up in schools to create safe and healthy environment and finally ensure health and well-being and development of skills and values in students. These skills can only be developed if some steps will be taken up by the government so that the children especially from low income groups get motivated economically to attend the schools.

In order to make NISHTHA a successful programme and make government schools meritocratic, we need to find out a solution to minimise the absenteeism of students because of their socioeconomic background. Unless and until we don’t find a solution to their economic conditions, we cannot ensure their educational, social, health and emotional safety.

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