A tale of two government schools
by H N Ananda
The contrast between the two government schools could not have been more telling. Both the schools faced similar problems of infrastructure. But, one school proved that lack of infrastructure could not deter learning while the other school refused to create a conducive atmosphere for learning.
Needless to say, both the schools that I visited to study the assessment being undertaken by the Karnataka State Quality Assurance Organization (KSQAO) provided me insights about learning and assessment.
The first government school
Situated amid slums, the school hardly has the ambience of even a typical government school. Once inside, when the bell rings, you would not know whether it is the school bell or the temple bell! This, because a temple is attached to the school and there is no wall to separate the two. The School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) president doubles up as the temple secretary also.
The school has no quadrangle for the kids to assemble or play. So the children line up for prayer in the foyer, which also houses a staircase, and in the narrow verandah attached to their class rooms. After school, the kids literally step on the road as the school is situated on the busy road where, till recently, lorries were being parked.
All that this 66 year old school has to offer is a depressing sight.
The second government school
This school is more than 100 years old and is housed in a dilapidated structure — an indication of the education system in ruins. There is stink all around; a bore well meets the water needs but there is a puddle around the tap where the kids wash the vessels and plates after the midday meal. The area around the school is a dumping yard for chillies where loads of chillies are weighed and packed in bags. Helplessness is writ large on the faces of staff and students, who seem to have resigned themselves to this scenario.
Both the schools have similar infrastructure problems. What, then, is the difference between the two schools?
Teachers make all the difference.
In the first school, teachers have risen to the occasion and contributed towards learning in their classrooms. But in the second school, the teachers offer you a string of excuses as to why there has been no learning in their classrooms.
The proof was the assessment of the KSQAO.
Children of the first government school were cheerful and earnest. When the KSQAO exam was conducted, they looked forward to the question paper and were eager to write. They were prepared. As soon as the question paper was distributed, they put pen to the paper and were engaged in answering. There were no attempts at copying. Students who finished revised their answers. In fact, it was a picture of near perfectness.
On the other hand, in the second government school the entire 7th standard students did not know what to do and how to answer the question paper. Forget about the answers, not many could write their names on the answer sheet. They looked left, right, up and down but not at the question paper. And those few who ventured to look at it seemed to find nothing that they knew in it.
The class was full of craning necks and blank looks that presented a picture of utter helplessness. Some yawned, some whispered, some fought with others but few wrote the answers. Even if they were given access to books, their performance would not have been any better as learning had not taken place in the classroom. When the time to answer the paper had ended, none seemed to have answered all the questions; in fact, it was more appropriate to find out if anybody had attempted at least one question!
A chat with the teachers of both the schools highlighted the contradiction in their attitudes and perceptions which could be linked to the performance of their students in the KSQAO assessment.
While teachers of the first government school were eager and willing to put in extra efforts to coach their students, teachers of the second government school gave excuses like pressure of non academic work, lack of parental support and excess load of syllabus for the poor performance of their wards. They vehemently opposed the idea of mass promotion because of which even the chaff got promoted to the next class. Hence the falling standards, they argued. But it was obvious that there was no conviction in their arguments.
Back to the first government school.
This school had the advantage of being a Learning Guarantee School under the expansion programme. This exposure was of great help, admitted the teachers. They took on the task of training students to face the KSQAO assessment. Extra classes were held even on Sundays and the model questions in the KSQAO booklet were practiced. Even though similar questions were framed, the students were told not to expect the same and were prepared for other questions. It meant they never encouraged rote learning. Examples from daily life were drawn out while structuring the model questions. Learning centered around non rote practises only help the child to broaden his horizons of learning. This school only emphasised this principle.
Tailpiece: At the first government school, a girl entered the class crying while the evaluation was about to begin. She had met with an accident on the way and was shaken by the incident. The evaluator, a teacher from another government school, took the girl in her arms, consoled and cheered her up. Sensing that it would not be enough, the teacher asked the entire class to join her in a small dance and she herself led way by singing and dancing. The whole class was on its feet swinging. The shaken girl was all smiles now. The right mood had been created in the class room.
H N Ananda is Consultant, Documentation at the Azim Premji Foundation
Reply to all
Karnataka worse than Bihar
Karnataka worse than Bihar
By Dr. Bhamy V. Shenoy & Ashvini Ranjan
Karnataka is at the bottom of the performance tables based on tests
In Karnataka 53 per cent of children between the ages of 7 to 10 years attending schools in villages (private and government) cannot read even a simple small paragraph (level 1) and 72.5 per cent cannot read a story (level 2). Of the same age group, 60 per cent cannot solve numerical sums of subtraction and a whopping 91 per cent cannot do a division (3 digits divided by 1 digit).
These shocking statistics were revealed during a recent survey initiated by Pratham and completed between November 14 and December 20, 2005 by about 20,000 volunteers in 485 districts covering 9521 villages and 3,32, 971 children across the country. The ASER survey results have been presented to Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission.
Karnataka, which takes pride in having the maximum number of high-tech firms in India, is at the bottom of the performance tables based on tests conducted to measure reading and arithmetic abilities of children. While the all-India statistics is appalling, Karnataka’s statistics is shocking. We rank well below Bihar. While in Bihar only 29 per cent of children attending Standard V cannot read at level-2, in Karnataka it is 49.4 per cent. In the case of solving division problems, in Bihar 39 per cent of children attending Standard V cannot solve division problems, it is 76 per cent for Karnataka. While in India where we want to usher in our own industrial revolution based on knowledge industry why is there such an indifference?
Umpteen high-level committees have taken a look at the sorry state of affairs in our education sector over the years. Intellectually challenging reports with high sounding recommendations have been submitted by them. Still we have not made any significant improvement in universalising education. However there were some bright facts revealed by ASER. Of the children between the ages of 6 to 14, only 2.9 per cent have dropped out and 3.7 per cent have never enrolled at the all-India level. Thus we have made a quantum leap in enrolling children. But what about the quality of education they are receiving in school?
India already spends Rs 60,000 crore annually towards elementary education. The Planning Commission has promised to spend more money on the latest scheme known as Serva Sikshana Abhiyan. We wonder if spending more money by itself will solve the problem. Today, in Karnataka teachers in government schools are paid four to six times the salary of teachers of private schools. Government school teachers are given regular training and have access to teaching resource materials. In some respects, many government school teachers hired in recent years are better qualified than teachers in private schools. Still it is difficult to find a single government teacher who would like to send his or her child to a government school.
The School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) was one of the best strategies developed in recent years to improve education in our school. During our survey work, we have found out how that strategy has failed in most places because of total politicisation and indifference on the educated people to stay away. All of us know how our examination system is totally obsolete and corrupting the system. But we as a society have failed to come up with an alternative way. What we need is a total revolution in our education system. To usher in such a revolution we are suggesting the four policy decisions to be adapted by our government. All of them look simple and straightforward. However if there is general awakening in the society as a result of one more survey like the one by ASER, we should be able to implement these reforms.
There should be an independent body to evaluate the teacher performance at every district level. Teachers’ promotion and increments should be based on the evaluation by the independent bodies. Every effort should be made to keep politics as far as possible from these institutions. Teachers should not be transferred from place to place. It should be made mandatory that every government teacher send his or her child to government schools.
Education management should be decentralised as envisaged by 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution.
Each city, taluk or group of villages should have an autonomous education body with full financial and operating responsibilities and as well as authority to manage educational institutions under them. We need to completely dismantle the current dysfunctional top heavy and bureaucratic education system.
Information of Schools in Karnataka State
Schools Search by District, By taluq, By Village
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INFORMATION OF SCHOOLS IN KARNATAKA
(Information is being updated)
To View a School Search Report :
Here you can search a school if you know a school’s District, Taluk/Block, Village and the school’s name.
Click on the Hyper link.
Select District, Block/Taluk, Village, School and click on Search to view the particular School Information.
The school information is based on the EMIS 2006-07 (Education Management Information System) data collected by Sarva Shiksha Abhiyana, Karnataka.
Effective Government Schools
by Melliyal Annamalai
|Editorial SummaryThis article raises some pertinent and less talked about concerns about government schools in India. It stresses that flawed education policies cannot be blamed for many of our government schools’ problems, and one has to address the issues of implementation and people involved in implementation of schools’ curricula, teaching methodology, and administration. The author convincingly argues that factors influencing apathy of teachers, orientation of parents and local governing bodies can possibly be addressed by directly working on procedures relating to ownership and control of school administration, criteria for selection of school teachers, teacher-student interaction, and teacher-parent interaction.|
Should education be the responsibility of the government or solely the responsibility of the community? There are a wide variety of perspectives on this issue, ranging from complete community control to complete government control. This article is based on the premise that it is the obligation of the government to provide education to all its citizens, just as it is its obligation to provide security to all its citizens. Defense is accepted to be something the government must provide for national security. Similarly education is the responsibility of the government for the social security of its citizens. This does not mean that the government retains control over everything in the education system. The government’s role may be that of facilitation and intervention, but not of control. Finances may be provided by the government to schools, but managed by the community – local management (day-to-day running of schools), hiring of teachers, introducing locally relevant curriculum material, ensuring universal enrollment etc. Management by the community will protect against bureaucratic apathy, inefficiency and corruption. Government control has the advantage of ensuring adherence to a standard – to protect against undesirable forces such as fundamentalist forces taking control of schools (assuming of course, that the government is fair (and neutral), which is not necessarily the case. That is an entirely different discussion which the article will not get into).
When we talk of government schools, what comes to mind is a dark and dirty building, paint peeling off, chipped blackboards, large scale teacher absenteeism. Schools pretty much most middle class children have nothing to do with. But schools which are the only ones accessible to a vast majority of the population. Schools where enrollment is 100% in class I (in states such as Tamil Nadu) and only 40% or so remain by class V. The rest drop out. Government schools clearly have various problems. Let us examine just a few:
- Teachers appointed are not local. They commute from nearby urban cities. As an example in all government schools in villages around Mysore the teachers commute from Mysore. Even at a school as far as 60 kms away from Bangalore the teachers commute from Bangalore! They want to stay in the cities for better amenities and better facilities (schools, hospitals, exposure) for their children. This is not conducive for quality teaching. The teachers have a long commute, cannot stay after school hours for meeting with parents, and worst of all, do not have any feeling of identity with the village community. They are ‘urban’ and hence ‘superior’ to ‘rural’ folk. This attitude manifests itself in various ways – the dedication to their job, their treatment of children, their treatment of the parents, their connection to the school.
- Teacher quality. The social background of teachers contributes to their having no knowledge of the environment in the home of a first generation learner. They have little or no knowledge of the gap between the school and the home of these children and hence have no empathy and take no extra measures to address that issue. Teacher training is of poor quality in general, and do not take such issues into account.
- High teacher absenteeism. In spite of drawing high salaries, teachers seem to have very low levels of motivation to their jobs and their professions. Their job is viewed simply as a job. As discussed above they do not identify themselves with the villagers, and the government system does not allow any kind of accountability to be built into it. Processes like school inspection merely mean another set of unmotivated government employees who can be circumvented by corruption. It is very hard to check blatant absenteeism in this environment.
- Unimaginative curriculum. This is known to anyone working in the field of education. Teaching is based on rote-memorization and has no relevance to the student’s environment. Also, India has diverse cultures and groups of people – a uniform curriculum biased towards the middle class alienates others who don’t belong to that class.
- Very poor infrastructure. Again this is common knowledge. Decrepit buildings, leaking roofs, not enough pacca classrooms, no libraries, no educational tools, no toilets, no drinking water – these are very common in many schools across the country.
- Centralization. Bureaucratic control of the school education system is centralized. Decisions are made by some far of bureaucrat who might not be aware of the local situation. It also makes it difficult for parents to addresses any grievances and to suggest changes. The rigid system disallows any attempt to make local changes to the functioning, curriculum, hiring of teachers.
One is tempted to say that the government policies have completely and utterly failed, when they have resulted in a system with problems such as those described above (and more). It is true that the government policies have flaws. But they cannot be blamed entirely. The implementation of the policies, and the various powerful forces that come into play during implementation are also to blame for the current failures in the system.
Teaching is a privileged position because of the relatively high salaries and favorable terms of employment. The job market being the way it is in India, teaching jobs are highly sought after – they are secure jobs and have convenient hours. The economically privileged classes are in a better position to get these jobs, and they do, irrespective of whether they have an aptitude for it or not. Though reservations and other schemes have helped in getting some diversity into the teaching profession, the upper castes are still over-represented. Many are urban based. Even teachers who might be from a rural area choose to live in a urban city when their economic status (made possible by their salaries as a teacher) allows them to do so, for better amenities for themselves and their children. There is a sharp gender bias too – only 21% of teachers in primary schools are female. So in summary, the economically privileged, upper caste males tend to get teaching jobs more easily.
The government requirement for hiring teachers is not very high. For primary school teachers, a high school certificate, with a teacher training program (Basic Training Course) is sufficient, which applicants from the underprivileged classes and castes might easily possess. But the job market being the way it is today, there are plenty of candidates with higher qualifications available – B.A even an M.A. In the bureaucratic selection process, a candidate with a higher qualification, when available, is selected. It might be more probable that this ‘better qualified’ candidate comes from the privileged classes. Worse, the B.A or the M.A degree does not have any relevance to the job, and even the B.Ed degree is more relevant for secondary school teachers. This is an example of a sound government guideline, which recognizes that a high school certificate with the Basic Training Course is sufficient for teaching primary school children, being preempted by other forces in the job market and blind implementation which assumes that more the formal qualifications, better he or she is suited for the job.
Teacher training programs are inadequate. Good training programs might compensate for the lack of teaching in the qualified teacher’s background. The material used is often outdated, and worse, is designed with the middle class in mind. The training programs do not take into consideration special needs of a first generation learner, leading to large number of dropouts. The teacher training programs should have a special focus on primary children, especially first-generation learners and not be biased towards the middle class. Delhi University has attempted to introduce a teacher training course for primary school teachers but it has not met with the approval of the University Grants Commission. Government guidelines are not followed up with appropriate actions.
High Teacher Absenteeism
The government system, while ensuring job security, makes it very difficult for any kind of accountability to be incorporated. Powerful teacher unions have ensured promotions based on seniority and additional degrees and not performance. It is virtually impossible for an education department official to do anything about it. Recent attempts to improve the situation with community involvement is described under the decentralization section below.
The curriculum, for both privileged and under-privileged children, is void of any kind of material which would make learning interesting for the child. Government reports have long focused on this issue, starting with the Kothari Commission in 1968. They have bemoaned the large loads of books children carry to school, and the rote memorization which is the main mode of learning. But other aspects of the education system in India have unfortunately not kept up with this – such as examinations. Examinations are the single most important thing for ‘success’ in life. One needs an examination to get the high school certificate, to get admission to college, to get a job, to get into the civil services. Doing well in an examination is of utmost importance. Towards this end, all schools, especially middle class ones, focus on the best way to do well in an examination at the cost of actual learning. The examinations, unfortunately, do not test real learning, but test facts. Often these facts have to be written down in a precise manner which the examiner is used to, to get high marks. Given this situation, it is not surprising that ‘good’ schools focus on getting high marks.
Poor parents often view middle class folks as models of success and want their children to get a ‘job’. The route to get a job is filled with examinations, and so are themselves are happy with a teaching method of rote memorization if examinations can be passed easily. Recent attempts by the government to introduce better teaching techniques such as the joyful learning techniques can be seen in the DPEP (District Primary Education Program) scheme of the 90s. Using these techniques, teachers supplement the curriculum with their own material and teaching methods. However, the effect it had on the parents was interesting. The parents have a preconceived notion of learning, and this is reinforced by what they see among middle class students. In many DPEP schools the parents complained saying ‘the teachers send their children to English medium schools but have our children dance like donkeys’. And ‘ my daughter is class V and is learning of elephants and rabbits’. It is very hard to change what the parents want from education, and is especially hard for middle class parents who would much rather follow the tried and tested path to ‘success’.
Poor parents also want to follow the middle class desire for English medium, or the medium of the powerful language in the region. A ‘powerful’ language meaning a language which opens up more opportunities for a ‘job’. Research in educational techniques has shown extensively that learning during the early years must be through the mother tongue, the language of the home/early childhood; that language bridges the home with the school, followed by gradual switching to the dominant language of the region, the switching being woven into the curriculum. Government schools follow this to a large extent. In Karnataka, all government primary schools use Kannada medium. But people who can afford it, the middle class, choose to go to private English medium schools. Going to an ‘English medium’ school carries with it so much status. There is nothing wrong in wishing to learn English, or the dominant language. One can learn a language while the medium of instruction is the mother tongue. But the desire for English medium (which is rightly not recommended by the government policy) has contributed to the large scale exodus of the middle class from government schools. And the poor follow suit when they can afford it. And fail because there is no reinforcement of English outside the classroom.
The school is hardly a place where a child will want to go willingly. The school building is usually bare, often dilapidated, even filthy, no attractive pictures on the walls or any kind of teaching aids. The reasons given by the Karnataka government are interesting. 90% of the education budget goes for teacher salaries, leaving very little for other improvements. The teachers’ unions have been partly responsible for a disproportionate amount of the education budget going towards salaries. Government revises the pay scales periodically, but the education budget is not revised correspondingly.
Decentralization is a complex issue. Government policy makers in recent times have moved towards decentralization through community involvement in schools through local government bodies. The DPEP program heavily stressed Village Education Committees which would have both teachers and parents as members. State governments have attempted, through various schemes, to bring about more community control of schools. Implementation of these schemes however is a telling illustration of the complex factors that influence the education system today.
In Tamil Nadu for example, the panchayat was put in charge of teachers. It is far easier for a local person to build some accountability among the teachers, instead of a far-off government bureaucrat. It was hoped that the teacher’s performance would improve. The teachers did not like it at all (the panchayat leaders were also a bit at fault because were cases of misuse of power over the teachers). The teachers’ unions fought against this and won, and control was transferred back to the far-off government bureaucrat. The teachers are happy, the bureaucrats are happy to regain control, the losers are the children.
The Karnataka government wanted to transfer management of schools, including payment of salary to the panchayats. The teachers feared misuse of power by the panchayat leaders and a consequent cut in salary and opposed the move. The government has now dropped it. The government has now started school improvement committees in village schools whose members consist of panchayat leaders and parents. Things such as teacher’s leave has to be approved by this committee. Some verbal reports say that teacher absenteeism has come down after formation of these committees. But teachers find it undignified to ask ‘illiterate’ parents for things such as leave (they don’t resent this when they have to ask a education department official who can be considered to be the same class as them), and are opposing this structure. If they win, its yet another loss in the attempt to decentralize education. This is not to say that there will be no corruption at the local level, but corruption at the local level can be relatively easily discerned and corrected than corruption in a distant government office.
There are however, several cases of successful execution of decentralization schemes. The school in the village of Khetolai in Rajasthan is one example. Initiation by the Sarpanchs and parental involvement and commitment have contributed to a school which is the best government school in Jaisalmer district and the ninth best in Rajasthan. Teachers appreciate the support of parents. The economic prosperity of the parents in the last two decades might have contributed to the teachers feeling less of a divide. In Himachal Pradesh, there is cooperative action amongst parents and between parents and teachers with respect to functioning of the school. Parental vigilance has resulted in accountability in the system. The community participation seen here is not through formal structures such as the panchayat, or parent-teacher committees, but through informal channels. It is possible that this model works because of the relatively small social distance (in terms of educational level and economic status) between teachers and parents in Himachal Pradesh. To the teacher, what the community thinks of him or her is important. If a school does not function well, the whole village community has a stake in solving the problem, not just the privileged part of the village.
It has to be kept in mind that community control of schools need not be simple and straightforward as doing what the community wants. The community may want education that increases the market value of the students and pay little attention to inculcating the values of social justice and equality. It may not be the ‘right thing’ to always go along with what the community wants which could be English medium or professional education at the cost of science and humanities education or non-secular education with a bias towards one religion. Interaction with the community might be essential to illustrate the pros and cons of the various things they want.
Functioning Government Educational Institutions
Let us now take a look at some government educational institutions which function extremely well.
There are three kinds of institution with regard to relation with the government: funded and administered by govt., funded by government and administered by other bodies which are constituted by the government or elected, funded by non-government bodies including individuals and administered by bodies nominated by the fund giver or elected. The first and second kinds are relevant to this article, the third kind covers private schools.
Government schools come under the first group. As discussed above the problems here are that funding is limited, accountability is lacking with government administration, motivation to excel is lacking since promotion is based on seniority and since most of these institutions are in poor areas the disparity in status between the teachers and parents is large leading to very little constructive interaction between them. However consider the example of Kendriya Vidyalayas. They are government schools. But they are mostly located near towns and the teachers live in that town. Many middle class children go to these schools and the teachers don’t feel superior to them. Perhaps funds are allocated more smoothly by bureaucrats since several of their own children go to that school. Many would agree that Kendriya Vidyalayas are good schools. This again illustrates that if the community whose children go to school are the ones who manage the school, there is potential for tremendous improvement.
Government aided schools, most universities, IITs, IIMs belong to the second category. Here accountability is strong. The reasons for lethargy on the part of teachers (lack of motivation to excel and disparity in status) are not there. Because of the community it caters to (privileged and powerful) sufficient funds are available. Most people would agree that IITs are excellent educational institutions – yet they are not private, but government institutions. The government institutions are managed with accountability. Autonomy (a form of decentralization) given to universities, IITs and IIMs gives the administration of the institutions to the local bodies who have the freedom to innovate and power to effect change. In universities the governing bodies like the academic council and the senate have members from the teaching community of the university (though the syndicate has political appointees). There is some risk, however, in having autonomous schools like autonomous colleges – the elected body may be sectarian or feudal or both. There are however, several bad examples in this category also – aided schools and universities that are bad because the management is inefficient or corrupt.
Why have government schools become bad now? It is not because of policy. There have been many acclaimed policies, but none have stopped the downslide. It is not because of lack of funds. Schools get more money now (not all from the government) than twenty years ago. I suggest that it is because of various factors which impede the intended form of implementation of policies. Teaching has become a job rather than a vocation (correlating with salary increase for teachers) and is like a government job with no accountability to the people/children they serve, they do not even have faith in their own schools to admit their children into them; decentralization has been thwarted by powerful lobbies and misuse of power by vested interests in the local communities; changes in the curriculum makes slow progress given the reluctance of the privileged classes to adopt them. While we do need to make many changes in policy and need to persuade the government to put aside more funds for basic education, we need to also work on procedures to combat the complex factors that influence the behavior of the people in the education system. Only then will better policies and more funds be effective.
Melliyal Annamalai is affiliated with ASHA, Boston. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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