Posts Tagged ‘Bangalore Schools’

A Matter of Perception

December 20, 2011

A Private School that got reported – and Many that go scot-free  

I had been writing about Private schools that are no more than ‘Teaching Shops’. I also wrote about the manner in which they ‘recruit’ students and retain them once they get in.   Many would not believe me when I said that it is difficult to get away from one, once the kid is admitted. They felt that I ought to be exaggerating; if not, why are parents trooping to these schools? You will find answers to many of these in this Report.

Whoever has read Tooley’s “Beautiful Tree” should read this too. Did he not make it all appear to be so ‘glamorous and sanitized’? His thesis: In an open system market forces will prevail and the parents can opt for the schools of their choice;  if a school is not good enough, parents can always walk off . Or can they?  Remember, this school too would have got away but for one case of misbehavior by the Principal- that too detected  and acted upon ‘unfortunately’. Worse still, the recruiting processes referred to here do not seem to reflect the ‘noble’ sentiments glorified in the book.

There are enough warning signals here for all of us in the context of the ongoing glorification of the private schooling and the drive towards privatizing the public education system.



(Courtesy: Deccan Herald: 20 Dec 11)


Parents pull their wards out of Royal School
The academic future of 246 students hangs in balance as their parents have pulled them out of the Royal English Medium School on Tannery Road, the principal of which was recently caught misbehaving with a sixth standard student.

Bitter lesson: Parents and children wait outside the Royal English School on Tannery Road to collect transfer certificates. DH PhotoThere was a mad rush among parents on Monday to take away their children from the school. The institution’s owner-cum-principal Mohammed Imtiyaz Pasha had allegedly allured the student on the pretext of awarding good grade in the examination.

Ever since the school earned notoriety due to the misdeeds of the impious principal, no parent was willing to send their children there. Some of them even preferred their children to grow without education.

With tears in her eyes, a woman, who wished not to be quoted, said the fee structure of Royal School was affordable, which made her send her child there.

Having pulled her child out of the school, she is not in a position to afford donations and fees of other schools in the neighbouring area. “I have decided to send my son to a motor garage to work. This is our fate,” lamented the woman.

Selvaraj, another parent, said though the entry into the school was easy, exit was a near-Herculean task. “Seven days ago, when I sensed things going wrong in the school with my son coming with one or the other story of the staff in the school, I decided to pull him out. When I approached the principal for transfer certificate (TC), he demanded Rs 2,000. I had to drop my plan as I did not have money. Now that I have got the TC, I’ve no idea where to go next.”

Farida too had a similar dilemma. When the Block Education Officer Ashwath Narayana Gowda visited the school, she broke down before him. “I had borrowed money for my child’s education. But all that has gone down the drain due to the dirty deeds of Imtiyaz Pasha,” she said.

Most of the students coming to the school are from very poor economic background and almost all of them belong to minority or SC/ST communities.

A dungeon than a school

The Royal School was more a dungeon than a school. Running in a building spread across a mere 50 ft by 80 ft area, the school does not even have basic facilities. Forget the facilities, there is hardly any space to let fresh air come in. Children said the windows of the schools were never opened.

‘Poor performers’ in the class were often asked to meet the principal for punishments. Parents stated that their wards complained to them that the principal came to the school in inebriated state and would smoke in front of them.

Imtiyaz also never bothered about maintaining the attendance register properly. When this reporter visited the school, he found the attendance register of class VI incomplete.

Touts make hay

To cash in on the situation, marketing agents of neighbouring schools were seen distributing pamphlets to the parents at the entrance of Royal School on Monday. 

The BEO was seen asking the parents to choose any school and he would see that the school managements admit the students without collecting extra fee. However, when the marketing agents were contacted, they said their schools would charge donations.

Advocate Narasimha­murthy, who helped the parents get the transfer certificates from the school, said the Education Department should help the parents get their children admitted in neighbourhood schools without any problem.



The Poignant Story of Appaji Gowda

December 9, 2011

Very few may know about it, Appaji Gowda is one of the pioneers in providing mid-day meals to children in Government schools of Karnataka State. Gowda was having a comfortable life with a well paying job in Mico when his life went through a quantum change. What caused it was an accidental visit to State run school nearby; it so happened that the kids were having lunch at that time. He found that there was a bad odor permeating the class room; he soon found out that this was emanating from the lunch boxes. The food in most of them was stale; their moms were getting day old leftovers and a part of this was passed on to the kids for lunch. Gowda could not stand this; he decided had to do something about it.

He quit his job, sold a part of his ancestral property and set up a kitchen to cook food for the school kids. More problems were in store for him; he had to find funding for groceries and also conveyance for transporting the incoming/ outgoing material. This was Feb 98 when the State was not even supplying rice free of cost. He started an Initiative in the name of Akhila Karnataka Kannada Kasturi Sangha and went about scouting for Donors. With a lot of effort and at great personal sacrifice, he started feeding 5000 kids. The program slowly grew to 300 schools and 35,000 students by the time I came across him in Feb ’02.

I wanted badly meals to be supplied to the three schools I had taken up and I had no funds to back up the request. Gowda was really magnanimous; he said that if he can handle 35k, he could do it to 40k too! He told me that I need not worry about funding him; his only concern was transportation. He had no spare capacity to deliver the food at the school premises; I could collect it at his place at no cost. That was not good enough for me naturally; and I had very little funds to spare either. He took me to a mini-van dealer on Lalbagh Road, did all the haggling for me and got me a good deal on a hire-purchase basis with a nominal down payment. The supplies started soon enough; 500 plus kids got a hot meal thanks to Appaji Gowda.

I wish the story ended there but that was not to be. The State commenced the much delayed mid-day meal scheme in 05 and the scene changed totally. With   millions of kids in the State to be fed, various models of meal supply emerged to meet the needs. The schools in remote and rural areas had to manage with local resources and set up their own kitchens, for which the State provided the needed assistance. The scene was very different in urban areas; while there were honorable exceptions, quite a few Organizations with  commercial interest sprung up to meet the emerging demand. In any case, all the ventures have now to go back to the Government and its agencies for the subsidized supplies and payment against services provided. As every one knows, this is not an easy thing to handle, especially for those with ‘idealistic aspirations’ like Appaji Gowda.

With difficulty, he adjusted himself to the new environment and continued to supply meals to the schools that opted for his service. He still has a loyal cluster of 300 schools that have chosen to stay with him. However with no Organizational or Corporate support, he has no means of sustaining  his capacity, let alone compete with the rest of the pack. Unwilling to deviate from his principles, he would not cut corners and that gave him the barest of margins enough to eke out a living. The investments from his life savings have now gone uncompensated; worse still, the equipments are now approaching the end of their lives needing maintenance/ replacement badly. The State has no provision for covering any of these and that leaves Gowda really high and dry.

Where does he go from here? Is there any role for people like him with idealism in the new dispensation? Will he be even able to maintain himself and his family without compromising on the principles that he holds dear? I have no answers for any of the above. Do you?

A sequel: I have nominated him for the Namma Bengluru award for this year in the category of Outstanding Individuals.

E S Ramamurthy

The Sikshana Story – 7

May 12, 2011

Phase II –  Entry into Kanakapura

I started looking around for possible entry points in rural areas; the focus was on finding an appropriate local resource to build the program around. Three locations were actively considered; these were Kolar, Mysore and Kanakapura. It is here that one more key person entered into my life and Sikshana’s. This was Narayanan who happened to be residing in my Apartment Complex and was an active member in the Rotary movement in Bangalore. He got me into the local chapter as a Honorary Member – without any obligation for attendance etc., – and got me slots to talk to the members in a few chapters. One of this brought me in contact with a very interesting person – Shivakumar of Kanakapura- who was at that time the President of the KP Chapter. It was he who sold me the idea of starting our proposed venture in Kanakapura. In addition to this, Narayanan also played a key role in looking after the City schools during 03-05 during which he was literally my friend, philosopher and guide. He used to visit the schools, give pep talks to the staff and kids- in short did everything I was trying to do in his own way and very effectively too. He relocated himself at the end of this phase and slowly faded away from the scene. I am sure he would have had a great impact on all the subsequent developments, had he continued; I miss him a lot even today.

For Sikshana, this loss was however more than adequately compensated by the rise of Shivakumar, who became our pivot in KP.  The team he brought into the picture through his Club was so amazing that, for quite some time, I really believed that a program like Sikshana can indeed be run exclusively through volunteers; such was their dedication and commitment for the next two years.  Shivakumar continues to be our local resource at  KP even today; more on this later.

Identification of the location is only one part of the Project , and a small one at that. We needed funding to go with it. The occasion brought the right person once again in the form of Aparna from Mphasis; she was really excited about the program to the extent she went far beyond her brief as the Head of CSR in her company. First she tried within her own Organization but not as part of the standard operating procedure. She set up a meet with one of her top bosses, who will go unnamed here. This guy heard us out for the full length of the presentation and came up with an astonishing reason for rejecting the proposal: if we educate all these kids through school where will they go after that , it is far better to leave them as they are. He said he will consider a proposal which will take a few kids out of the mainstream and prepare them for an ‘entry level job in the software industry’. I had heard about the disdain of the elite for the masses but had not come across an actual instance in person; for me, this took the cake for the sheer insensitivity and arrogance – not just the message but the delivery as well. I politely declined the offer and walked out. Aparna felt extremely bad about the whole episode and was profusely  apologetic on behalf of her boss. She promised to make up for it by finding an alternate source within a month ; and she did.

They had a valuable client in Abbey Bank UK whose India Head was in town.

Abbey hands over Cheque

Going beyond her brief, she set up a meet with him. This proved to be successful instantly; we got a commitment which was adequate for 15 schools, spread over three years along with a promise that they will consider increasing it after a year of trial. We were naturally ecstatic about it ; now we were all set to enter into KP on our new venture. Two unfortunate sequels to this. Aparna had to go on a long leave due to major personal issues and faded out of the Sikshana Radar after getting us on track. Abbey Bank got taken over by a Spanish Company who decided to curtail all their operations in India and hence the funding ceased  after the first year.

By June 04′ we had received the cheque from Abbey and signed the deed of adoption for 15 schools in KP Taluk with DDPI Banglore Rural in whose jurisdiction KP fell at that time. I still remember the inaugural Puja Shivakumar had arranged at the Kallahalli temple; the entire team of volunteers were present, so were many HM’s. It was really an auspicious start in a festive atmosphere.

I had always had mind that the start should be with a session on TQM (Total Quality Management) for all teachers, in which not only the essentials of Sikshana will be conveyed but also an introduction  to the principles of Quality Management. I felt strongly that the teachers should be exposed to the concepts of Quality as an integral part of everything they  do in the school, so that they can aspire for better learning levels in the class room. I came to know that the Institute of Quality under CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) was offering a program tailored for Government schools. I went to meet Dr Senthil Kumar who was in charge at that time. A first look at the premises told me I had come to the right place; being an ABB designed complex, it looked like a bit of Sweden that was transplanted into Magadi Road. Quality was apparent in all that was  visible  in the premises and in everything that happened to you when you were there. Dr Senthil was very helpful and keen to do the program for us. The rates appeared pretty steep for our Budget but he gave me a solution: meet Mr Shenoy of First Response at whose instance the program had been designed and he would certainly help me out. It so happened I knew him personally as the India Head of ABB India and that helped too in addition to Mr Shenoy’s own commitment to the cause of public education. I went to him to get the rates reduced and I came away with a sponsorship!

The first of the TQM workshops was held in June 04 and had a tremendous response from the teachers. For the first time, they got an idea of what it is to work with Sikshana; they could interact with each other freely unmindful of rank and their views were respected. More importantly, they were exposed to an environment in the IQ premises which was mind boggling for them; for the first time they personally felt what was quality in real life. It was not just the building and the rest , it was also about the way they were treated from the time they stepped into the premises until they stepped out. The feedback forms said it  all. As for the program itself, Senthil told them at the outset that he knew little about their field – leave alone the problems faced by them. What he could do during the day was to enable them to identify these issues and address them in a structured manner. Hopefully they would acquire these capabilities by the end of the session.

The first half of the day was spent on the essentials of Quality Management and the other was on case studies to be taken up and resolved in parallel working groups. The teachers were really excited about the whole experience and we could see that we have  had the desired impact. It was at this point, that the schools accepted to publish their goals  for the year in the public domain and be prepared to be audited against them at the end of it; it also became the first of the signature programs under Sikshana to be implemented in the field. Incidentally, our co- operation with CII IQ could not be pursued beyond this year since the Institute became very busy with private schools and could not accommodate us in their schedule. However, the transcripts of this Workshop became the basis of the TQM sessions we had in the succeeding years with different resource persons.

Back in KP, we were all set to go ahead with the program in the schools. The number had since risen  to 18 to accommodate various local needs; the schools were chosen by the BEO, the criterion being that they were in a poor condition and needing the type of support that we offered. As a result, they were all located in different corners of the Taluk requiring long commutes. We had a band of 12 volunteers headed by Uma Nagaraj and guided by Shivakumar; we acquired a battered Ambassador car on lease, which was to be used by the volunteers to reach the schools. These people agreed to a schedule under which three or four of them will visit typically two schools a day for five days a week – and visit they did for the next few months.

We convened a meet of the HM’s of the schools at the Rotary Club premises, which became our de- facto office for the next two years and got them to understand and accept our ‘terms and conditions’. Sikshana was operational in KP from the very next day. One feature of the arrangements at this stage that lasted almost two years: Rotary Club was generous enough – thanks to Shivakumar and Narayanan- to allow their Hall as well as the Office to be used by us free of charge. In any case, we did not have enough money to pay them, had they insisted.

At this point in time, Sikshana had 33 schools in two locations – operating without any salaried staff and an office. The new schools were responding to our message well; that was impressive considering that most of them  were at the bottom of the ladder in the Department’s estimate.   Looking back, I really wonder how we did it!

E S Ramamurthy

Mid-day Meal Scheme- An Open Appeal to ISKCON

April 21, 2011

There is no single intervention in the Public School System that has done greater good for the school going kids of India than the Mid-day meal Scheme. This welfare measure did not come easily; the highest court of the land had to issue a diktat to the States and threaten action for contempt for non-compliance before they fell in line. All the impressive statistics that we see in the area of enrollment and retention are due to this single initiative that went to ensure that the children get at least one hot meal a day to minimum nutritional standards. The scheme has still its shortfalls, thanks to the pusillanimity of the Administration in the States which keep raising issues on the admissible rates for reimbursement, scope of coverage and the inclusion of nutritional supplements. Apparently they have always adequate funds to bail out dubious ventures in other Sectors but cannot find money to feed the vulnerable sections of the new generation. Politics here follow the famous Quote: “What has the next generation done for us to merit special attention for us”.
I still recall the days when Sikshana had to feed nearly 1000 kids in three schools; we could obviously not have preached quality of education to children on empty stomach. Once the State stepped in 2004, the situation eased up quite a bit for us; we did not have to bother about this burden. I have since been following up the progress of this scheme with considerable interest.
Initially, a provision of Rs 2.75 per child was made by the State, the good gesture tainted by many graceless caveats. Typical of them was the stipulation that the reimbursement of materials will be computed based on the actual attendance on a daily basis. At the school, the HM has to initiate cooking with release of material well before the actual numbers are available; kids are known to come late often and they cannot be denied lunch.  It was left to the schools to sort this out; everyone knows that it is such unworkable rules that encourage malpractices and dishonesty among people who would prefer to be law abiding citizens given a chance.
After six years, this admissible rate for a meal stands somewhere near Rs 3.25, the figure depending on how it is reckoned. Though a lot can be written about this subject, which will not reflect well on the State, the focus of this blog is not on this but on another aspect of the scheme that calls for a lot more thought and introspection- the sourcing and distribution. Typically, the school is expected to find its own way to feed the kids with the material supplied. In an urban environment, the logistics could pose problems, given the acute shortage of space in most schools, thereby restricting their options.
The picture becomes different as one goes away from this environment to rural areas. Here, the schools have space not only for cooking but also for growing vegetables for the menu; there is ready availability of local labor too for preparation. Though the remunerations admissible for the cook and the helper are not princely sums, they were still adequate for local entrepreneurship to evolve in these communities which enabled the schools to ensure that the kids are fed well. In many areas, women’s self help groups have come forward to take up the job. This is really a very welcome development. If there are any people with a real interest in the welfare of these kids, it should be these women- more so when some of their own children are likely to be in the same schools. This did put some pressure on the HM’s since they had to keep accounts for money and material, a responsibility grudgingly accepted by them over a period of time. The scheme is now however stabilized and is doing well enough within the given limitations.    
The story unfortunately neither starts nor ends here. Historically, a few initiatives existed that were catering to this need prior to the State announcing its welfare measure.  While it was a very commendable effort at that time, their continuance under the new regime where the State has taken up the responsibility is what causes concern with wide ranging implications.
For understandable reasons, such initiatives are popular in urban areas where space is at a premium; and cooking and distribution within the school premises are logistic nightmares. However when they start straying into areas beyond urban clusters, the issue becomes more complex, requiring a closer look. In far flung rural areas, it makes eminent sense to prepare food locally where it is required for consumption.
I have serious issues with one such initiative in Karnataka, which is actively supported by the State; this is Akshaya Patra from ISKCON. It is one of the most popular ones around Bangalore City and attracts lot of Donor attention. Unlike many of the other ventures in the City, the meal provided by this Organization is subsidized by the State; while exact figures are not available, it is highly likely that the subsidy is higher than the cost incurred by it under its own scheme. The coverage extends to a few hundred thousand children out of a possible 8 million in the State, with no prospects of extension across the state. I do not see the logic behind categorizing the kids under the PES into two streams: one fit for this preferential allotment and the other consigned to the routine State designed menu. Having done that, the State and ISKCON could have restricted the area of coverage to urban clusters, however unfair this would have been for the majority of kids in the public school stream. On the other hand, we find that their operation is progressively expanding with more centralized production facilities and distribution nodes into semi-urban and rural areas.  Unfortunately many Sikshana schools fall under the periphery of some of these new facilities; as a result we come under constant pressure from these schools to get them included in this ‘fortunate’ list.
It is unacceptable to me that some kids in public schools are selected for a Rs 6.5 meal, while the rest under the same system are advised to get reconciled to a Rs 3.2 one. Apart from all the distinctions that we have created based on castes, classes etc., we seem to be introducing a new one along the urban/ rural divide. There are more arguments against this irrational approach. It is an environmentally unfriendly scheme since it involves movement of prepared meals from the central kitchen to the schools in remote areas. Further it deprives the local community of employment opportunities that a decentralized solution would have provided. More to the point, the bonding that this brings about between the schools and the communities is also lost.
Notwithstanding the above, I admire Akshaya Patra for all that it does and keep doing for the welfare of the children. I have only one appeal to make to them. Instead of replicating the efforts of the State, can they try and supplement them? If they care to look around, I am sure they will find many interesting possibilities.  
It is not as if the State has wiped out hunger with one meal for school going kids.   From my personal experience I can affirm that many of these children now come to school without breakfast, since their families are assured their wards will get one square meal at noon. The children now go through three hours of schooling on an empty stomach, eagerly waiting for the lunch bell; some schools even advance the timings to accommodate these kids.  
I am sure it is within the capabilities of Akshaya Patra Foundation to find a far better option than the one adopted by them at present.

E S Ramamurthy