A Humbling Experience

December 2, 2011
This publicity leaflet may appear strange to many, especially if one  can read Telugu. This one was brought out by a Sikshana school months back- even I did not know about its existence till yesterday.
It is from the Government (ZP) High school in Mulakalcheruvu ( Madanapalle Cluster), in which GORD and Sikshana worked together during 10-11.  In the SSLC Examinations of ’11,  85 students appeared and all but one passed. Even the failed student scored 60% on the whole but could not get through just one subject – Telugu- since his mother tongue was different. 27 students scored more than 500 out of 600, the highest being 562 (94%).  The biggest surprise of all: the average marks of all the students who appeared for the examination was 84%!
These are extremely impressive figures by any standards – Private schools included- but the one that took the cake was what followed in their presentation. 40 Students migrated from Private schools to this Govt school in 8th Std , 20 in 9th and 10 in 10th at the beginning of the current academic year! That is a real shocker for anyone who still doubts that Government schools can deliver on their promises.
This school was scoring 58% and 64% during the years preceding 08-09 when the current HM- Mr Prabhakar- came into the school initiating the upward swing. Of course the credit goes no less to the dedicated set of teachers who needed only this trigger to show their mettle.
That the school is putting in its best efforts to rope in the community through publicizing the improved performance , which incidentally has resulted in the above reverse  migration, speaks volumes about their determination to break out of the mold and show the better face of the Public Education System.
My next stop yesterday was the ZP school at Pulikallu. Here there were 29 students last year and all of them passed. The average mark here was 92%! There was very little I could ask for in terms of improved performance in the examinations when the scores are this high already. I did suggest to them that they should focus on two things now onwards. The first is the ‘Achilles Heel’ of the entire system, which is the learning level in English. Marks apart, the ability of the students to understand and handle the spoken language continues to be poor. The second was to share their experiences and help the other schools in the cluster to emulate their results. We do need badly ‘leaders’ in the field who can become instruments of change. Maybe we will find some of them in these schools.
It was seen that three out of the seven schools supported by us scored 100% results, something that has never happened in these schools in the past. I came back humbled by the experience; what a pool of talent is lying there waiting to be tapped by someone and how we are still reaching only the fringes with all that we are doing?  This is something that both Vibha and Sikshana should ponder – besides hosts of others who could also chip in.
Ramamurthy

The Other Side of the Picture – 1

September 26, 2011

On many issues, we are often fed with one side of the picture that becomes the reality for us for two reasons: anything that is repeated again and again assumes the face of truth over a period of time and in any case we do not ever get to hear the other side of it. This is a series on such contradictions in the Public Education System.

Case of the Missing Teacher

It is quite common to find people complaining about the irregular attendance of the teachers in Government schools. I have personally visited hundreds of schools and interacted with thousands of teachers; barring the marginal 10% in any sampling exercise, I found most of them to be reasonably sincere about their work. They did not appear to be the type who would deliberately shirk work; yet late arrivals and early departures were not uncommon even during my cursory inspection. I wanted to get to the bottom of this strange behavior and accordingly started a dialog with a cross section of them. What emerged threw a very different light on the whole issue; the complexity of it and the systemic fault lines can best be brought out by citing a test case, involving Ms R.

R always wanted to be a teacher and studied to become one. When she graduated, she found that it was not all that easy; the competition was intense. She could get a job with one of the local private schools but the salary they offered was too meagre to live a modest life; the good ones elsewhere would have offered her better terms but they will not have her due to her inadequate lingual skill – in English. Getting a job with the Government school is a tedious process and one needed a lot more than merit to get it; still she was willing to go through it.

The way the system works is that the vacancies are announced once in a year on  a district wise basis; the selection is done by zonal committees from candidates within that area. It is a good idea in principle. However competition being intense, as always with Government jobs, each candidate tries to find out where he/she stands the best chance and applies accordingly. R was  from North Karnataka where applicants were few but the available slots were far fewer. She found that the erstwhile Bangalore Rural District offered the best scope and went for it. The residential criterion was easy to meet ; all that was needed was to get the address of a friend or relative who lived here and give it as hers. Her calculation was correct ; she got selected and was posted to the village A in Kanakapura Taluk.

She was elated but this joy was short-lived. To reach A, she has to take a bus first from the City to Kanakapura; this itself is a 90 minute ride.  She had to take another connecting bus from there after a wait of 30 minutes which took 30 more to get to A. It needed a 15 minute walk to reach the school. If everything went off smoothly, which was rare, it took nearly three hours to commute to the school from home. The problem does not end there; the bus from KP runs infrequently making half a dozen trip in a day. The nearest she can get to reach the school  was at 1030. This means that even if she was willing to accommodate a three hour commute starting at 7AM, she would be reaching the school late since it starts at 10. You can easily imagine how the reverse in the evening would be; she needed to get out by 345 to be able to reach home by 7PM. The next bus from A will delay this up to 930 PM.

R is a conscientious girl who wants to give her best to the school; how much of it she can really do in practice can easily be seen from the above. She had since induction been trying to get herself shifted to another school nearer City- which is next to impossible- or in the North of the State nearer home. With similar applicants flooding the system and transfers becoming a ‘lucrative business’ , the State came with an annual computerized counseling session which reduced the scope for such interventions  but removed whatever width was available  to try and match a demand with a  need.

There are many ways by which this anomaly could have been avoided; the school committee or the Panchayath could have been empowered and kept in the loop during induction. A teacher from within the community or the neighborhood would have been the ideal choice – not just in ensuring proper attendance but also the level of commitment and empathy needed between the teacher and the taught. Compare this with a private school: every teacher is selected for the specific school by the Management out of applicants who have opted for it.

If you now find an ‘irregular’ teacher in a school, whose fault is it? In any case, how fair is it to compare the ‘attendance’ patterns of teachers in public and private schools- to the disadvantage of the former? The Jury should be out on both.

Ramamurthy

On the same Wavelength as Anna

September 1, 2011

I was delighted to hear Anna Hazare yesterday saying that the root cause of corruption is unwarranted concentration of power; and that the solution lies in decentralization and empowerment of communities. Does it look familiar? It has been the focal theme of Sikshana right from its inception. I hope that this amazing movement of Anna which has just had its first taste of success will eventually get round to the necessary reforms in other fields too.

It is sad that in our country the term ‘reform’ has become synonymous with the agenda of Industry and Big Business. Presently, it seems to cover only ideas like FDI in retail and opening up the Insurance sector; even in Education it is about the entry of foreign institutions and investments from abroad. The political classes- and a good part of the intelligentsia and media too- are almost totally engaged about the progress or lack of reforms in these sectors.  We see no meaningful debate or dialog on the essential changes in areas such as social services. It is because of this skewed approach that we are ranked 122 in Human Development Index among 170 countries – below Nicaragua and Equatorial Guinea- in spite of the fact that  we have an admirable  GDP growth second only to China.

One of the two core fields that contribute to this miserable performance in HDI is Education. We have been tinkering with the problem for decades.  Starting with a miserly 2% of GDP we have come a part of the way allotting 4.1% of GDP for this sector now. But allocation of more money alone does not make the problem go away; we need an effective system to administer the funds.  The much needed reforms in Education is not about entry of Institutions from abroad; it is not even about the pedagogy or the way we conduct examinations.  It is about the process of delivering this essential service to the communities and the students. It is here that the centralization – corruption nexus referred to above becomes apparent and relevant.

A few progressive States like Karnataka have done a great job in taking the first step towards reducing excessive centralization; they have made it an official policy that the schools belong to the communities. Unfortunately they have not backed it up yet with commensurate devolution of powers; after all, responsibility without power makes little sense. This step does not come easy for those who are accustomed to wielding power for a long time; distrust of the lower levels in the hierarchy is genetically coded into them.

I will take two instances of this mindset that prove the point. The first is with respect to the induction of teachers into the schools. It comes naturally to those in the system to say that they know how to select good teachers and post them to the schools. They dare not delegate this power or responsibility to the PRI’s (Panchayath Raj Institutions) who are the de-facto ‘owners’ of the schools and hence closer to ground realities.  Reason: they are likely to misuse this power. The fact that the centralized mechanisms have done no better has not deterred the application of this logic. Appointments, postings and transfers are perhaps the single largest source of corruption in this sector. Besides bringing in corruption, they also affect adversely the performance of the Education System. The centralized process of recruitment results in induction of teachers in places which are far from their own. These teachers do not move in and live closer to the school, as they expect to get a transfer nearer home sooner or later and keep trying for it. The daily commute involved as a result often makes it impossible for them to attend school on time. I have seen teachers who spend two hours or more either way, given the infrequent bus schedules in rural areas. This makes it difficult for them to focus on their work. Further hailing from a different part of the State, they find it difficult to empathize with the communities where they are required to work. Consequently, whatever appears as teacher indifference can be traced back to a systemic fault in the process of selection. If only the local communities were empowered to recruit the best local talent within prescribed guidelines, you will be having teachers, who not only attend the school on time, but also take a lot more interest in the education of the students.

 

Similarly, we have a system in which text books are prepared and distributed centrally.  This monopoly has opened up a major channel of corruption; the print order for an accepted book running into hundreds of thousands is too good an opportunity to miss. The State could as well have announced a syllabus and allowed different authors to come up with competing versions of a text book, leaving the schools to decide which one they would like to adopt in theirs. That a State like Tamilnadu has at last come forward  with a scheme on these lines shows that such initiatives are entirely feasible.

These two steps, which would possibly have reduced the corruption in the system by half, are great examples of what Anna was trying to convey in his message. The churning that has been initiated by his movement will hopefully result in such reforms too over a period of time.

E S Ramamurthy

 

Private Schools – Myths and Realities

August 20, 2011

It is time someone wrote about Private schools vis-a-vis the Government schools, bringing out hard facts to the exclusion of opinions.  I am taking for this exercise the State of Karnataka as the base; the data presented are all validated by NUEPA/ DISE / Govt of India.

Let us first take the reach of these schools in Urban and Rural areas. The number of Government schools in the urban sector is 6728; unaided schools amount to 5146 forming 44% of the total strength. The picture changes drastically in rural area where the total schools are 46421 of which 42286 are State run; only 4135 are in the private sector amounting to a meager 9%. Both taken together, the private schools account for less than 15% in the State. As for enrollment, the total strength of students is 74.57 lakhs of which 20.77 lakhs are in the Private stream, working out to 28%. That leaves us with the sobering thought that 72% of kids in the State still depend on the State schooling.

There has been a constant refrain in public domain that students are shifting away in large numbers from Government to Private schools because of perceived deficiencies in the former. The actual figures during the three year period 06-07 to 09-10 show that there has been a decline in strength of 6.28 lakhs in State run schools during the three year period from 06-07 to 09-10, of which 2.02 lakhs is traced to demographic changes, reflected in reduction in overall enrollment.  The remaining 4.26 lakh children could be deemed to have migrated to the private stream through lateral shifts. In effect this works out to an average rate of migration of just 1.33% per annum; in addition, there has been an increase of 3.51% in terms of enrollment over three years in the private schools, amounting to a rate of 1.17% per annum. For the present, a shift towards private schooling appears to be an insignificant phenomenon. (Source: DISE Report 2010)

As regards the principle of social equity, there are 20.30 lakh children from SC / ST categories in the State. Of these 86.70% are in State funded schools.  SC / ST proportion in un-aided schools number only 13.30%, presumably because they do not afford the fees charges by these Institutions. No survey has been conducted so far on the reasons behind this aberration.

There has been criticism of public schools on two counts- infrastructure and provision of teachers. Let us take the former first. Government schools have 218,097 class rooms for 5,343,054 students which work out to one room for 24.50; the corresponding numbers for Private perceptible difference here. The more interesting feature is that the ratio has been improving significantly every year in favor of public schools due to the implementation of SSA, while the numbers are more or less stagnant for the other stream. The situation in respect of other infrastructure is summed up below:

Facility 08-09 09-10 Change
C Toilet 82.95 88.01 +5.06%
G Toilet 50.23 64.66 +14.46%
Power 84.44 87.55 +3.11%
Drinking water 80.54 88.12 +7.58%
Library 86.44 86.97 +0.53%

Not only the current numbers under each head appear to be promising; the rate of progress seen over the last two years on all fronts bode very well for the future.

Of the above schools belonging to the State, 98.86% possess their own buildings; 0.94 percent of schools are run in rented premises while 0.20 percent of schools are run without any building.  During 08-09/09-10, 5897 class rooms were added , amounting to a 3% increase.  70.18 percent of classrooms are in good condition. 20.30 percent of classrooms need minor repairs, while 9.52 percent of classrooms are waiting for major repairs. Based on the above, there is reason to believe that the situation with respect of buildings and class rooms is under control.  There is no information in the public domain on the availability or the state of buildings/ class rooms/ infrastructure in respect of the private schools for a meaningful comparison.

The situation in respect of teaching staff shows little difference between the two streams. For 5,343,054 students, the State schools have 206,640 teachers working out to one for 25.85. The corresponding figures for private schools are 2,076,641/ 74,110/ 28.02 respectively.

As for the quality of the teachers provided, the State has well defined academic qualifications for all teachers being inducted; except for a few who were recruited a couple of decades back, every one of them fulfill these conditions. The data on the teachers employed in State schools are all in the public domain; on the other hand, there is none regarding the situation in private schools. It is common knowledge that Private schools engage unqualified candidates as teachers. Available numbers bear out this contention too. There is any number of them- whether in the cities or rural areas- that charge a student typically Rs 150 per month. With a ratio of 30 students to one teacher, how much can a school afford pay a teacher after providing for costs? It should in any case be well below the minimum legal wage stipulated by the Government.

Private schools have invariably a pre-school section for the age group 4-6, either of their own or through an associate. This provides them with a captive group of kids at the entrance to Grade I. This is a huge factor in their favor, since the Anganwadis, the State run Day Care centers, are a poor substitute for KG ‘schools’; further on bureaucratic considerations, these centers are controlled by the Social Welfare Department instead of Education with little or zero academic inputs. The day care provided by the private stream during the critical age group 3-6 turns out to be a major reason why they score over the Government counterparts in terms of enrollment; once they are admitted into the KG segment, it becomes next to impossible for the kids to get out of the System. Incidentally it is a myth that the parents or kids can opt out of a private school if they are not happy with it; the worse the school, the more difficult the process. The school normally uses all methods of coercion and persuasion to keep the kids in. The parents cannot but yield to them; more so since they know little about the State regulations or their rights.

That brings us to the intangible qualities of a good teacher such as dedication and effectiveness in the classroom. Here perceptions and prejudices seem to take over from a professional approach of collection and analysis of data. Even studies conducted by reputed organizations seem to depend on random observations of behavior of the teachers in the case of public schools, while none seem to have bothered to the same with private ones. It is taken for granted that the latter will always enforce ‘discipline’ and aberrations in this regard do not merit a study; suffice to look at the results which are bound to show the effect of both. And do they? Let us look at the findings of ASER of 09, which go as follows:

“When various variables such as family background, income and others are controlled for, the difference in learning levels between government and private schools becomes marginal.” “In part of course, the trouble arises on account of the usual assumption in reference to private schools—they are generally seen to be high-end private schools of the likes of say, a Delhi Public School in New Delhi or a Cathedral in Mumbai. The reality however, is that a majority of private schools are only marginally different from their counterparts in government; the major difference lies in their ability to ensure accountability amongst the teaching staff. In fairness, it must be said that this is an area that remains open to debate and further research.” “Once we control for characteristics other than the type of school the child goes to, the learning differential between government and private schools falls drastically from 8.6 % to 2.9 %. This means that 2/3rd of the learning differential between government and private schools can be attributed to factors other than the type of school.”

If this were not enough, let us look at the numbers at the SSLC examinations of ‘10, which should provide a more convincing picture.

No Schools >80% 60- 80% 40-60% <> Zero
No % No % No % No %
Govt

3714

1668

45

1162

31

630

17

254

7

1

Aided

2980

1358

46

900

30

458

15

192

9

2

Private

4149

2171

52

1042

25

489

12

447

11

32

In the >80% pass bracket private schools come out marginally better but in the next two, the State schools are well ahead; more impressive is the fact that the schools scoring zero are 32 out of 4149 among private schools while it  just one out of 3714 under the State! All this when the parents have chosen to admit their kids in these schools paying hard earned money in preference to Government schools exercising their right of choice; so much for judgment based on merit  by parents, which form the basis for schemes like vouchers!

It looks as if the much maligned teachers working in public schools that are in such rotten condition somehow still manage to produce results that are comparable to those obtained in an alternate system that seems to have everything going for it. Has it struck any one that this ‘miracle’ deserves a study too?

Let us admit that Private schools have always been a ‘ holy cow’ for most people in the field, academicians not excluded. I am aware that getting data from them would never be easy; that should not have deterred those who would like to make a meaningful comparison between the two streams as any output in the absence of such information would be lacking in intellectual integrity.  To start with, how many have targeted basic questions relating to their very existence, such as:

  • How did they come into being under the present regime of controls?
  • What are the conditions stipulated by the controlling authority and to what extent they are fulfilling them?
  • How do they continue to function in case the above conditions are not fully met?
  • What are the costs involved in the above steps which, in any case, have to be recovered from the students even while remaining as a non-profit?

Then there are lots more to be covered, such as their  fee structure, salaries paid to the staff, conditions governing their employment, operational costs/ margins,  admission/ transfer/ detention practices etc,.  For instance, not many are aware that it is standard practice in most Private High Schools to throw out poorly performing students at the IX STD with a Transfer Certificate in order to ensure that their own results in SSLC examinations are flawless. Government schools routinely take them in, coach them and make them pass. I have impressive data from the clusters that I happen to work in; how about some one getting the same over the entire State and place them in the public domain?

It looks as if the aura behind most of private schooling has more to do with perception and less to do with reality. Since they operate on a profit motive, they need to project an image of good performance to their prospective clientele, justified or not. They do a good job of it; sad there is rarely anyone to present the case for the public schools to the parents.  As a result, they can and do end up making the wrong choices.

Finally a personal comment: I believe that in any healthy society, there is space for good Public Schools and a vibrant Private school system; each has a niche of its own. The schools I have been referring to in this article belong to a third category which falls between the two; they emerged to meet an unfulfilled need at a certain point in time in our evolution. Even now, they do seem to meet the demands of a section of people who are non-discerning and have nowhere else to go. They may even look glamorous to some of the arm chair experts who are not aware of the harsh realities in the field. To me, they are an aberration which we can and should do without. Developing an effective and accountable Public Education System will not only achieve this objective; it will also go a long way towards fulfilling the aspirations of the people for a just and equitable education system. The schools presently in this segment will eventually have to decide whether they would like to evolve into a ‘legitimate’ private school at a cost or cease to exist.

E S Ramamurthy

Kids going to school in Kalghatgi

August 18, 2011

These pictures speak volumes about the interest shown by kids to attend school in villages.

 

 

It is sad that the State does not have the grace to provide them with free transport in their own buses. Does someone have to file a PIL for it?

E S Ramamurthy

Tapping Student Power

July 10, 2011

 

The performance of a group of students is affected by a number of factors that are routinely acknowledged and put to use by the teachers and Sikshana. During my field visits I found that we have not been realizing the full potential of one of them; it is the influence of one on the other. This is no less in the High Schools than at the primary level.

Setting out to tap this, I had some very interesting experiences. The first came up while trying to tackle the age old bugbear of the PES – attendance or rather the lack of it. During a visit to one of the Upper Primary schools in Anekal where a summer camp was being held, I found that there were 20 kids in the room out of a class of 21. A query on why one is missing when it should be fun attending the camp elicited a range of standard responses – not well , busy at home and gone away on a trip. I sought out the best friend of the missing girl who admitted she was at home and had no real excuse for not being present. I told her: ” if she is really your friend she should be happy playing with you here rather than spend time alone at home; can you go and get her now ? “. She rushed off and was back in minutes with the other girl; even the teacher was surprised at the promptness. I told the entire group that they are responsible for every kid attending the camp daily; after all, it is being organized against a specific promise that they would all be present. Later I checked and found the Group had kept up its promise; the attendance was total right through the remaining days of the camp.

When the schools resumed after the summer break, I started visiting High Schools to check how attendance was faring in the first few days. I knew from prior experience that it would take a couple of weeks before the strength picks up and regular classes commence. This of course is unacceptable in Tenth Standard where every day counts during the year; the best efforts on the part of the teachers however have had little effect till date. The first school I went to had a strength of nearly 100 in Tenth but the attendance was just 20 on the second day. Obviously these are kids who are serious about studies and could be expected to take a lead in bringing about a change. I talked to them for an hour about the effect of such laxity on the part of the missing students on their studies, lives and future career. If the  teachers now take time till Dec or Jan to complete the syllabus leaving little time for revision and tests, they cannot be faulted. I told them in effect: ” it is for you to go and get your friends to come and attend classes, because it is you who will suffer if they do not”.  I asked whether they are willing to take up this challenging task and if yes, how long they will take to get all their missing friends into the class room. To my surprise, they not only accepted it readily but also promised results in three days. I visited three more schools on this trip; the situation in the class room was no different – so too were the responses from the students. To my immense satisfaction, I found that the attendance after the stipulated period was near total in all the four schools. That was my second taste of student power in action.

The first one took place towards the end of last academic year. We were at this time pushing hard towards ensuring that no student fails in the SSLC examinations – a pretty stiff task in most schools. I was there in one of them – Thokasandra- during Jan 11; to my query on the prospects in his school, he categorically affirmed that at least 12 kids would fail in spite of best efforts and nothing can be done about it, since we had only to months left and these kids are way too behind in learning levels. I told him that I would like to talk to them once and see if we could ‘save’ some. The meeting was held under a tree in the school premises.  I found that there were actually 15 kids in the Group waiting for me; possibly the HM did not want to take a chance! I started off by asking them if they knew why have been sent to meet me; prompt came the response that it is possibly because the HM felt that they were all ‘dull’ –  a highly demotivating term used in Public schools which becomes self fulfilling- and would fail in the examinations. When I asked them what they wanted to do about it, there was silence. I told them that they had two options at this point. The first was the easiest – to do nothing and prove that the HM and the teachers were right . The second would be more difficult; they could treat this as a challenge, follow my advice during the remaining days – which would involve considerable additional effort – and go on to prove the prediction to be wrong and they were not ‘dull’ as claimed. The choice was entirely theirs; I gave them ten minutes to discuss this among themselves and get me their response. As I was walking away, I could already hear heated exchanges in the Group.

When I returned, I could see a distinct change in their mood. One of them got up and said that they were willing to do anything to prove their worth; in effect they said: “tell us what we should do and we will do it”. We promptly put them through the standard drill – identify the weak subjects and start writing one model paper a day; this effort which needs 2/3 hours should be over and above their normal workload given in the schools. We organized special coaching sessions and counseling too to hone up their exam skills. The kids put their hearts into it and did a great job. Ultimately, when the results came, it was not a surprise that all except just one had passed ! The same experiment was repeated in Bannikuppe where ten were identified as above; here too all except one passed.  More interesting was a subsequent incident : when Muthuraj , our Mentor for High schools, was passing through one of the villages after the results were announced, two boys came running and told him that they had passed the examinations – and they wanted him to inform me that they had won the challenge!

I wish I had started with more such schools to validate this approach; but whatever data  I could gather was enough to convince me that we need to do a lot more in the area  of  tapping student power. Psychologists do tell us that teens do not always perform well under external compulsions but they do rise to meet a challenge when they face one. Looks elementary isn’t it? It seems to work too.

Student power in the form of group leadership could also make a big difference; but then the teachers seem to get it all wrong here. The practice seems to be to make the student who scores highest marks the leader of the group or a class. Invariably this kid would be such that he or she would rather be left alone to pursue their studies. It is more likely that the one with the leadership qualities is the kid whose scores are modest or even less. It is easy to pick such boys or  girls out in any class; they stand apart from the rest. We need formation of groups around them; the kids in a group do not need to be taught, they need to be managed. It may look like a strange concept; but I am sure it is worth a try.

Maybe, this should  provide the basis for a ‘Nextgen’ initiative under Sikshana.

E S Ramamurthy

The Reservation Syndrome

June 25, 2011

It is ironical – and sad too- that the entire subject of RTE has been hijacked by one issue: the reservation stipulated under the Act for the neighborhood kids in private schools. In the context of solving the problems faced by the country in the field of Education, nothing can be farther in terms of its relevance than this one. Let us take the numbers that confront us by taking an example.

One of the areas we are active in is Kanakapura in Karnataka. This Taluk could provide reliable data since it is located 60-100 kms from a Metropolitan area; it is neither urban nor ‘too’ rural and hence could be taken as broadly typical of what is obtained across the  country.  For the limited purpose of this study, I am further confining myself to High Schools where the aspirations for inclusion in the private stream are far higher than at lower levels. It has 34 Government and 12 Aided schools with a total strength of around 12,000; against this, there are 17 Private schools with a combined strength of 2500. All the private schools are not of the same caliber; there is a lot that distinguishes one from another – to the extent that many are well below the standards obtained routinely in State run schools. Judging by their performance in the SSLC examinations which is a benchmark in public perception and the fee that they charge from the students, only three of them may be classified as aspirational; their combined strength works out to 750. An explanation is due here for bringing in fee as a factor. If the amount is Rs 200 per month or lower, the parents do not need the crutches of the Act to get a seat for their wards; it is only when this starts going higher typically in the range of Rs 5000 or more per annum, one can expect parents to press for accommodation under the quota prescribed in the Act. From the above, one can see that the total number of ‘aspirational’ seats in the Taluk, assessed at 25% of their strength, works out to less than 200; this is in the context of 12,000 kids in the System and 4,000 at the entry point – a 5% satisfaction level at the best. The State run Navodaya schools with their excellent record offer a far better option for the students in the targeted category, both in terms of Quality and numbers.

It is true that in the urban environment, as in Bangalore City, the seats in this category will be far higher; but then their near total absence in the remote Districts of the State will bring the ratio back near the earlier figure of 5 once again. It is obvious that the private stream does not offer a viable solution – either through direct absorption or through the reservation quota- to educating the large mass of kids knocking at the doors of the State. A vicious and vigorous thrust is being given by the interested lobbies to denigrate the Public Education System and promote the private stream as the solution for the future; in the process, PPP is touted as a magic panacea for our ills ignoring the simple fact that no developed/ civilized country has so far been able to get away without a healthy Public School System. Good private schools have their own place in the scheme of things, especially for those who seek excellence and/ or afford it; we can ignore this only at our peril. However in no case has it emerged as an alternate to the Public schools.

Reservation as envisaged under RTE also poses serious issues for the children who are thrust into premium neighborhood schools much against their wish. The concept of the latter, wherever it has been successful, is based on a simple assumption that the neighborhood is homogeneous- or at least nearly so. The current Indian version is more akin to bussing, which was tried out in USA once with well known results. It takes care neither of the system nor of the kids whose interests it is supposed to serve. To me, it looks more like an effort on the part of the middle classes to effect a back door entry into the portals of premium schools; after all it is they who are most likely to be available at the right place for making a claim under the Quota and use the provisions of the Act. The small print in the Act intended to avoid such misuse is not going to deter them from doing it; there are enough precedents in support of this conclusion.

If and when this happens, it will not be the first time that the politically active middle classes usurp the benefits offered by the State under a legislation, purportedly designed for the deprived sections of the society.

E S Ramamurthy

The Story of the Water Pump

May 30, 2011

It was more than a decade back – in my previous work place – that I came across the real facade of our Planning Process in first person. It was an unforgettable experience that has lessons for what we are doing today in the field of education.

We were told to go ahead and install a solar photovoltaic system in a remote tribal village in Tamilnadu; it was a project conceived and funded by the erstwhile Ministry for Non-conventional Energy Sources. The purpose was very noble; someone felt sad that the poor villagers had to draw water from a well manually and wanted to relieve them of this burden.

The village chosen was a tribal hamlet situated in the Kollimalai hill range and accessible only through a 7 km long narrow pathway up the hill from the nearest road. The well was an open one with water at around 30 feet most of the year. Digging that well was the best thing that the State did for the people of that area; it was in fact shared by many other hamlets in that area since they did not have their own wells. Apparently the generosity of the State had dried up by the time they dug this one. The villagers were happy drawing water from it with the traditional pulley and rope system; the women in the village were more than equal to this task. It is here that someone scented the possibility of new ‘business prospects’ and came up with a scheme to provide a concrete water tank and a diesel pump to the village. The Headman of the village was even provided with a monthly allowance for buying diesel to keep the pump going. We were informed that they had a gala function for the inauguration of the pump set; this was a few months before we arrived on the scene.

The first problem surfaced within a week: who will go and get the diesel from the nearest town? It was a 14 km trek with a head load, not counting the bus ride. Apparently no one had thought about it; with some coercion at periodic intervals the Headman was able to get this thankless job done by some of the villagers, taking turns.  However he soon ran out of ‘volunteers’ and the scheme came to a dead end. The news trickled up the bureaucratic hierarchy. Soon it reached the top guy who could not allow this to last for long since  it was not just an isolated village where this was happening ; there were quite a few in which the State had bestowed this favor. A meeting took place at the Capital where all the concerned Departments were called in to discuss and find a solution. One of the bright guys responsible for popularizing renewable energy systems came up with the idea that the Government could provide Solar Powered pumps in the place of the diesel run ones. The tank could be used as it is but the pump had to be changed to take the Photovoltaic Power system.  This will however eliminate the need for the fuel and hence no trudging. He pointed out significantly that the budget for the year for deployment of renewable energy systems has been underutilized and this will get two birds with a single stone.

The State machinery whirred into action; the project for installing and commissioning the solar powered pump was cleared with unusual speed and awarded to us. The necessary work in the factory premises was completed and the commissioning was due when I came to know about this project. To the surprise of the team that normally deals with such field work, I offered to join them on this trip; and to my surprise the Executive Engineer of the Electricity Board in the Salem zone also wanted to accompany us.

It was an uneventful trip to the foothills; the trek uphill was thoroughly enjoyable with the weather helping in. The Village Headman was totally taken aback by this invasion from the officialdom; later he told us that no one from the Government had ever visited his village during the last decade or two- not even the ‘lowly’ Revenue Inspector. We explained to him the salient features of our Project and how, with the press of a button, they will all be getting water on tap soon. He was very courteous to us – to the extent of getting us coconut water and enquiring about our physical condition after the ‘arduous’ walk up the hill; but on the project itself, he appeared surprisingly disinterested. It took some real coaxing from us – and a promise that this will not be held against him – before the real issues started tumbling out.

He took us to the water tank and showed us how filthy it was lined with scum and moss; he asked us how the State expects him to keep it clean when you have the all pervasive “why me, let Jack do it” syndrome at work. No provision has been made to maintain the system. Then he showed us the well, the water level was just about 30 feet below; the women of the village can easily draw all the water they want in minutes with a rope and a bucket. Finally he asked us the key question: why are you dumping on us all this stuff that we never wanted? He knew it would have cost a packet of money; then he delivered the punch line: if you had consulted us, we would have told you that we will all be better off if you had used the funds to dig a few more wells so that people from other hamlets will not have to walk miles to fetch water.

We knew then that all the hardware we had just installed would not last even a few days. The Electricity Board Engineer sadly acknowledged that all these schemes had little to do with the ‘beneficiaries’; they are being implemented just to meet certain targets set elsewhere, by people who have  no touch with ground realities.

That in short is the state of our planning process; we see it in the field of Education too. After decades of independence, taking people into confidence on issues that affect their lives seems to be still a far cry. All the legislation that you need for this is already there on the statute book; what is needed is the will to implement them. Who knows, we may get it one of these days. I am an eternal optimist.

E S Ramamurthy

 

 

 

 

The Unsung Hero(ine)s of Kalghatgi

May 23, 2011

It was just a routine visit for me to Kalghatgi to get a feel of the High Schools that we will be covering from June; but it turned out to be an eye opener for me in many respects. The school that I visited was Bammighatti, a remote village in the midst of nowhere far from Hubli. The summer camp was going on for the current IX Std kids.  I asked them about the SSLC results of last year; they said it was 92.80; I was surprised at this high score since the school was a random choice. I asked our Mentor about the strength in this school; I was told heard that 120 kids attended the examinations and 111 had passed. It was extremely unusual for such large schools to score high averages.  I thought that I might have stumbled on an extraordinarily good school by accident or design at the hands of our Mentor. I asked about the average score of the High Schools in the Taluk; it was 89.8, higher than the highest any District has scored in the entire State. The lowest school in this school zone had scored 77%, which was higher than the average in the State. Three of the 15 schools had scored a perfect 100. More surprise was in store for me; the highest individual score in this school was from a girl at 96.20%!! The next two kids had scored 94 and 93 in the general category; not to be outdone, the topper in the SC / ST group had scored 90!!!

I was accustomed to the Bangalore City scene where schools, many from the premium category, were routinely announcing in the media scores of 92 as major achievement with photos of the schools and the students thrown in. Even among the public schools, there was a Press release last week in which the City Corporation had announced with pride that they had got 52% pass rate this year, up from the 40’s; they even mentioned the few toppers who had scored above 85% . I am aware that most of the latter get special attention and support from the State as well as the Voluntary Sector, just because they happen to be located in the City. The difference in the yardsticks adopted for measuring success in these two cases is glaring; it does hurt the kids in places like Kalghatgi.

The issue that I wanted to raise is however not this; if one cares to look at the Kalghatgi scene closely, a powerful fact stares at us in the face. There are only two private schools in the entire Taluk accounting for just 100 kids out of a total of 1800. It means that a far higher percentage of the so- called good kids end up in a Public School in this Taluk, than in any other area. It is obvious that this ‘de- segregation’ in effect has done a world of good to all – the kids, the schools and the community.

The current ‘in-thing’ among the academics and the policy makers is to project choice for the parents as the ultimate solution for all the ills of the Educational Sector. Going against the tide, I would like to make a case for a good Common School System. If implemented properly in ‘letter and spirit’, it could be a far better and more equitable option for the country. Till now, I thought I would have to take examples from other exotic places to prove the point. Kalghatgi has proved that one exists right there in our backyard.

PS: Kalghatgi does not want to rest on its laurels; it wants to join the Sikshana family to take the performance a notch higher. For me, this is even more amazing.

E S Ramamurthy

Amazing success story of Sikshana High schools

May 14, 2011
Flash Results
Sikshana was implemented in 24 of the 34 Government High schools of Kanakapura Taluk. A comparison is given below on the performance of our schools against those in other streams. This shows we are coming out on top on all counts.
Schools with 100 % Pass: Sikshana: 3 (out of 24)/ Private: 3 (out of 17)    (Pl See Note * below). Some of the Government schools have one or two kids with serious issues such as migratory parents (leading to loss of attendance), socio-economic problems and learning disabilities( which qualify them for special schools but invariably rejected by the parents). If these students are accounted for, eight schools should be deemed to have acquired 100% pass rate, a phenomenal success by any standards. .
Schools over 90%: 11 out of 24 under Sikshana outscoring clearly private schools which had only 6 out of 17
Lowest score under Sikshana: 73%/  Private: 59 %. A scatter diagram will show the lead better.

Performance of the schools in different streams:

        Type of Schools
Number
Students
Passed
Failed
% Pass
Pass  Range
Govt Sikshana
24
1166
1015
151
87.5
73.5 – 100
Govt Non-Sikshana
10
784
498
286
63.5
40 – 80.2
Aided
12
1714
1225
489
71.5
54.5 – 86.7
Private
17
838
715
123
85.3
59.6 – 100
 A more detailed study along with the processes deployed follows separately.
Note *
A comparison between Government and private schools should take into account the following:
·         Admission to Govt schools cannot be denied to anyone, while private schools have and use the option of choosing their students. A study of the profiles of the parents under both streams will show a distinct difference, to the advantage of the latter.
·          Students are not detained either at 9th or in 10th from writing the final exams in Govt schools, except of prolonged absence. Private schools use the option of detention/ transfers based on poor academic performance to improve their final scores. In fact, schools under Sikshana routinely take in students at 10th who have been forcibly evicted from private schools with a transfer certificate.

·          It is not possible to enforce in Government schools many of the disciplinary measures routinely adopted in the private ones- for the simple reason that the State is keen and also obliged to keep the kids in school under all circumstances.