Stimulating syllabus can spark learning

A large proportion of our school-going population, especially those at the secondary and high school levels, is dropping out. According to the data collected by the National University for Educational Planning and Administration, which the Ministry of Human Resource Development made public recently, dropouts at the secondary school level in 2013-14 were higher than that at the primary level. Odisha stood first with the highest dropout rates in the country; 50.09 per cent of boys and 49.62 per cent girls dropped out at Class IX and Class X in 2013-14. Karnataka emerged runner up with 40 per cent of its boys and 39 per cent girls dropping out at the secondary school level. The situation across the country is worrying as it threatens to undo the significant gains made in the educational field in recent decades. Thanks to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, for instance, school enrolment is almost universal. However, while children are joining primary school, the system is not able to retain them.

A year ago, HRD Minister Smriti Irani promised to provide school dropouts with an incentive to return by offering them financial support. Has there been any progress in
fulfilling that promise? Importantly, does the HRD ministry have a comprehensive strategy to address the dropout problem, one that goes beyond monetary handouts? While financial assistance will provide poor families with some relief, this is not the best solution as the dropout problem has its roots in a complex web of issues. Students are not staying in school as the curriculum does not stimulate them and is unrelated to their lived reality. They fear it will not prepare them for a job. Teachers in rural schools rarely show up, lack teaching skills and are uninspiring. School infrastructure is way below par; many schools still do not have toilets for girls, an important reason for the high dropout
rate among girls. Caste discrimination in schools is forcing Dalit and tribal children to quit school. 

Addressing the problem of school dropouts thus requires a multi-pronged approach. It is a pity that instead of giving this problem the priority it deserves, the government is frittering away funds to rewrite history and science books to further its communal agenda. It should be updating curriculums in a way that stimulates the curiosity of children and sparks their desire to learn. If children are encouraged to think, question and challenge and learn via exploring rather than rote learning, they will want to come to school to discover the world. Else, the quitting will continue.
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