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Ignorance is bliss
The innovative Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme is under fire because it is making the Madhya Pradesh government very uncomfortable
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October 2002 - The Madhya Pradesh government has virtually sealed the fate of the pioneering Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme (HSTP). On 3 July 2002, the government extended the science curriculum prevalent in the rest of the state to Hoshangabad district, making the programme in future, a supplementary curriculum. The non-government organisation, Eklavya, which is implementing the programme, was not taken into confidence and came to know of it over a week later.

However, now the government has stopped HSTP in about 1000 schools in the remaining 14 districts as well. On 9 August, the government of Madhya Pradesh issued another order closing the HSTP as well as the social science programme in all government schools in 15 districts. "To enforce a uniform curriculum, textbooks and examination system in all the government schools of the state from the academic session 2002-2003, it has been directed that curriculum and textbooks notified by Madhya Pradesh government are to be implemented in class one to eight. If any school wishes to use Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme, Hoshangabad Social Science Programme and experimental curriculum that has been notified by the government, it can use them as supplementary in addition to the curriculum and textbooks notified by the state government," according to the order.

The Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme (HSTP) or Hoshangabad Vigyan, introduced in the district in 1978 in government schools for the first time, used a universally acknowledged pedagogical approach to the teaching of science. The guided discovery based approach used experiments performed by students to generate knowledge. It changed the traditional architecture of the classroom from rows of children listening to a lecture to small groups interacting with each other while performing experiments. Instead of memorising a body of knowledge, students discussed their observations, leading to a conceptual understanding of scientific principles. Children are encouraged to conduct experiments and find their own answers, there are no guidebooks or question papers with readymade answers. Examinations are conducted with open books and children do not know how many marks they will get for each question.

Pradeep Sharma, a teacher in Pipariya, who has interviewed 900 students for a comparative study of HSTP and non-HSTP students (for his PhD thesis), found that students who studied the new curriculum were eager, active and engaged teachers in dialogue. They had keen observation and reasoning powers, apart from good analytical abilities.

Though the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has been making noises about the programme since long, for the first time it found an ally in the government. In February, the Hoshangabad district planning committee (DPC) recommended to the state government that the programme be discontinued. The BJP MLA from Itarsi, Dr Sitasharan Sharma, in a letter to the district collector, on 27 December 2001, said HSTP has no linkages with the earlier and post-six to eight class curriculums. The students had to conduct experiments and also collect 'a number of leaves' due to which they are greatly inconvenienced. "If it is such a good programme, why has it not spread to other districts" Dr Sharma asked. "HSTP had ruined the careers of many children. They are brainwashing our students", he proclaimed.

The programme was last sought to be banned by the Sunderlal Patwa government in 1992. It had even appointed the Mishra committee to evaluate HSTP but the government fell and the orders were not implemented. The Mishra committee report was not even made public.

HSTP is a comprehensive science curriculum package for classes six to eight. The draft programme was developed in 1972 by academics and scientists from premier institutions such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the Indian Institutes of Technology, among others, apart from activists and academicians of two non-government organisations, Kishore Bharati and Friends Rural Centre. The Madhya Pradesh government allowed the two organisations to test the programme in 16 middle schools in two blocks of Hoshangabad district in 1972 which continued till 1977. In 1978, the government extended the programme to cover all 250 middle schools in Hoshangabad district.

In 1982, Eklavya, a non-government organisation which is now looking after the programme, was set up to work with the Madhya Pradesh government and its educational agencies, including the State Council for Educational Research and Training and the District Institutes of Education and Training. It extended HSTP to school complexes in 15 districts of the state. The programme covers about 1,000 schools with around 2,500 science teachers and covers over 100,000 children every year. About 550 schools in Hoshangabad and 250 in Harda districts (formerly part of Hoshangabad district) are covered by the programme.

The real reason for Dr Sharma's opposition to HSTP was soon apparent. "Eklavya has influential backing and they have a political ideology behind the programme. Education is just a front. Most of the Eklavya activists are members of a political party. They are not content with science, now they have ventured into social science", he said.

"The social science textbooks (also for classes six to eight) say that cows were slaughtered for the Rajsuya yagna, Muslims were traders - was Mahmoud Ghazni a trader?, and the Aryans were outsiders. What is the source for all this?" he asked. Eklavya's social science curriculum was introduced since 1986. Eklavya has since clarified all these points.

ML Patel, a science teacher at Rani Pipariya school, started his career in 1978, the same year HSTP was introduced in all schools in Hoshangabad district. "The initial response to the programme was enthusiastic. In traditional science curriculum, we had no experiments, so this was a novel idea for us teachers as well", he said.

The relationship between students and teachers also changed. "Students were more open with us, they learn to articulate better and they learnt simple everyday things", he added. "I really liked the litmus test", said Rajesh. "I enjoy the world of animals, particularly the life cycles of frogs, or mosquitoes", said Narmadi.

"It is nice to see plants grow", said Suren Singh. All these students of class eight from the government middle school at Rani Pipariya village, 70 km from Hoshangabad, appeared excited about their science class and the things they did. But from this term onwards, its back to the old science curriculum.

The decision to end HSTP was taken in a most undemocratic fashion, according to Rajesh Khindri of Eklavya. On 28 January 2002, the issue was taken up in the education sub-committee of the district planning committee (DPC). The district education office had prepared a brief outlining the main achievements of the programme and sent it to the DPC. The DPC meets every month and in the meeting on 7 February 2002, neither the minutes of the education sub-committee meeting nor the brief prepared by the education department were presented to other members, he said. The real grouse seems to be our social science programme, he added. Khindri, who was invited for the meeting, said the Eklavya members hardly spoke when the (former) minister in charge of the district and DPC chairperson, Ajay Narayan Mushran, said it was a unanimous decision to end the programme.

Dr Sharma has been raising this matter repeatedly since he was elected to the assembly in 1990. It was anything but a unanimous decision, said Khindri. However, eight of the DPC members have sent letters asking for a review of the decision. The collector of Hoshangabad, Ashish Upadhyay, who is member secretary of the DPC, said that contrary to popular belief the DPC did take a unanimous decision and Eklavya was also given a proper hearing. The education department note was circulated and discussed as well. He said HSTP was not implemented in all districts and students going out of Hoshangabad faced a problem. Secondly, children are not familiar with the examination system. They do not know how many marks they will get for the questions they are answering. It is like a lottery, he added.

"HSTP has been in place for thirty years, how long can we go on experimenting?", he asked. "Why should Hoshangabad be a guinea pig for this programme", he asked. "Let the local people decide what they want. DPC is a constitutionally elected body, once it has decided people should abide by it", he added.

HSTP has won several awards and many schools in other parts of the country also use their textbooks. An evaluation committee set up by the ministry of human resources development in 1991 said the programme was based on sound pedagogical principles and the state must accept these principles for science education in all levels of school education. It also recommended an evaluation of the impact on students, expansion of HSTP in a phased manner to the whole state, preparation of a proper syllabus and revision of the curriculum to make it more meaningful.

Eklavya did prepare a phase-wise introduction of the programme to other districts but the government was preoccupied with the district primary education programme (DPEP) and did not take it up. In fact, said an Eklavya member, the government wanted to focus on middle school education from last year but it felt there was a lack of expertise to extend the HSTP to all districts.

The Hoshangabad district machinery has an elaborate system in place for HSTP. Each block has a sangam kendra or a resource group of trained teachers which meets once a month to discuss issues related to HSTP. Government sources said that trained teachers were a must for the programme, and with the proliferation of private schools and the high turnover of teachers this was difficult. Two to three hundred teachers are trained every year and funds for training did not come last year.

It seems unlikely that faced with the prospect of implementing a full-fledged science curriculum, schools will opt for HSTP as a supplementary one. Khindri said, "The content load in the state science textbooks for middle schools would make it impossible to fit in anything else during this schedule. They should have orders for procuring low-cost science equipment necessary for HSTP from the middle school science fees, etc. apart from additional time for it".

Representatives of Eklavya had met the chief minister on 3 March 2002, and a decision was taken in this meeting that useful aspects of HSTP programme should be identified and assimilated in the main curriculum. This has not been done and Eklavya, which has strongly protested the decision of 3 July 2002, demands that it be put on hold till a review of HSTP is carried out. The government has tabulated the tenth standard board examination results of 2002 to show that Hoshangabad (together with Harda) do not come within the first fifteen districts in terms of performance in Science. According to The rejection of the curriculum of Eklavya implemented by it in the district of Hoshangabad by the district planning committee of Hoshangabad: report on assessment of performance and options, this data calls into serious question any impact in terms of learning outcomes from the HSTP. Added to this is the fact that 69.62 per cent of children in Hoshangabad scored less than 50 per cent in Science, which to some extent may explain the dissatisfaction, expressed by the district planning committee (based on whose recommendation the government has made this move), the report said. This government report is the one used to explain the decision to relegate HSTP to a supplementary option. Statistics, according to the government, clearly show that the educational initiatives under HSTP over 30 years have not been able to make Hoshangabad even an average performer in terms of learning outcomes as measured from indicators related to school education. The tenth class board result shows that at least in 26 non-HSTP districts children do better than those in Hoshangabad.

Eklavya contends that results of the tenth standard examination are not a gauge for assessing performance. It said that the report was a totally inadequate basis to discontinue HSTP. In a letter to the government, Kamal Mahendroo of Eklavya said the present examinations at the tenth class level are largely confined to information recall testing with little or no emphasis on testing a student for problem solving, experimental or analytical skills or conceptual understanding. Since HSTP gives more emphasis to development of these skills and discouraged learning by rote, it would be unfair to assess the impact of HSTP by analysing the results in these examinations only.

To Eklavya's contention that one of the positive aspects of HSTP was the obvious enjoyment of children while learning science, the government report said, "The only remaining argument in its favour is the 'enjoyment of children' which is an intangible and an inadequate index of the quality of learning."

It has castigated HSTP for not impacting on social processes in any significant manner. This, it concluded, is based on indicators like increase in literacy (which has not risen in comparison with neighbouring districts that have not had this additional input) but also from other proxy measures like the gender development index.

It is unfortunate that while Hoshangabad, in terms of human development index based on index of deprivation, ranks thirteenth in the state (undivided Madhya Pradesh), it slips in gender development index to becoming the 28th in the state (Source: MPHDR 1998). Clearly, the educational efforts have not had the reach or the scale to impact on any larger societal empowerment.

Going by the same yardstick, how much has the government's own educational curriculum impacted on social awareness or gender equality, question activists in favour of the programme. But the government report does not stop there. It goes on to say that, "To put it starkly, Eklavya as a non-governmental organisation is a 'tenant' in a very small part of the government's public schooling system. Therefore, their prescriptions for change based on the small sample would have limited empirical validity for the larger system even if, unlike the data presented here, its performance was outstanding. The issue of illegitimacy of space that Eklavya has occupied in government schools, though historical, is now an issue that would be dangerous to leave unsettled".

"The fault with the Eklavya-type of intervention is that it is seeking to alter a space that it does not own. Just as a tenant in a small part of the building has no right to alter the design of the building, Eklavya, even if it had performed well, would not have the legitimacy to ask for the entire design to be changed on their pattern. In that sense Eklavya has chosen a 'lazy' method of not taking the trouble to create its own schools but take part-tenancy in a part of the larger government system whose policies have to represent the popular or democratic will".

And the popular and democratic will has been enacted by the district planning committee, where at least eight members demanded a review of its decision to stop HSTP! In August 2000, the chief minister, in a meeting with Prof Yashpal, the state bureaucracy and Eklavya, had said that an evaluation of HSTP should be done. "Till late 2001 we did keep hearing off-and-on that such a process is on, and that State Council for Educational Research and Training had sent a proposal to the state government", said Khindri.

An internal evaluation of the programme by the HSTP group had admitted that it is clear that no drastic social change is likely to ensue as a result of one or two 40-minute science sessions every day in middle school alone. The changes, if any, are likely to be delicately nuanced, fine shifts in emphasis. However, all the government has seen in Eklavya is its 'laziness' and weak tenancy rights, not to mention the fact that students were actually enjoying what they studied!

Over 1800 signatures have been collected in favour of HSTP from students, teachers and parents. In a state that prides itself on innovation and people's participation, the decision to close HSTP comes as one more example of the government's double standards. Not entirely unexpected from a government that has been trying to repress people's movements and their demand for democratic governance.

Meena Menon
October 2002

Meena Menon is an independent writer and researcher based in Mumbai. This article is reproduced with permission from Humanscape, under our Space Share program.

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