Posts Tagged ‘Educaton Policies’

A Tribute to a Person whom I have rarely met

May 13, 2013

I have always wanted to write about Nali Kali- a great movement under Primary Education- which I have greatly admired. When I came across this wonderful Blog on the person behind it, I felt there cannot be a better prelude to it than its reproduction  here. It is also a fitting answer to all critics and sceptics who have been writing  ill-informed and often intemperate stuff about  Public Education and those who work for  it selflessly.

Mr Baig is a person whom I met just once in all his career and my journey in this field; it looks the loss is entirely mine. God and Mr Baig willing, I hope to make up for it soon:)

Ramamurthy

A Karmayogi retires from government service

Mr. Mohammed Najibulla Baig (‘Baigsaab’) joined the Karnataka Education Services (KES) as an ‘Additional Educational Officer’ (AEO) in Gundlupet taluka in the then undivided Mysore district in 1978, and retired on April 30 as Director RMSA after a rich and distinguished service of around 35 years. This is a brief and selective exploration of that journey.

Nali Kali

As an Education Officer of Mysore district, in 1995, Baigsaab led a group of teachers to the Rishi Valley school1, Madanapalli to study their teaching-learning processes. From this exposure, the group evolved the ‘Nali Kali’ (joyful learning) methodology of teaching-learning, requiring the child to participate actively in classroom transaction, emphasising peer learning as well as individual learner support by the teacher, recognising the existence of multi-grade classrooms, and the movement of each learner from one level to the next within one class. In the government school system, curriculum design and material development are firmly within the locus of the state level institutions. The definition and contextualisation of these processes in the ‘Nali Kali’ programme in all schools in HD Kote was an extraordinary attempt. The spirit of collaboration and agency that Nali Kali triggered amongst the HD Kote teachers and their whole-hearted participation in making this programme effective made Baigsaab a hero in the national education scene. Baigsaab was no typical ‘hero’, but instead a good exemplar of a ‘servant leader2 ‘.

Servant leader

Having worked in the corporate sector for nearly two decades before moving to the development sector, I have been able to first hand appreciate the far greater challenges in leading public institutions. While leaders in the business sector do face dynamic and complex environments, the challenges faced by public institutions are far more complex3; the need to help create a clear and coherent vision amongst a very large set of actors, the ability to put aside ones egoistic or selfish pursuits and adopting a ‘selfless service’ mentality, as well as negotiating conflicting pulls and pressures from multiple sources all make a public institutional leaders’ job nearly impossible. We often see the wrong models – the autocratic ‘know-all’ leader, the ‘good leader who takes no decisions or avoids initiative’, the leader who instrumentalises/ rents his role/ position. In this challenging environment, Baigsaab was an amazing embodiment of servant leadership – dedicated, humble, self-less, reticent to an extreme, focussed on the primary task of the department; for education to be a true empowering process for children.

He was a true Karma Yogi – focusing all his energies on what mattered most, working very hard, expecting his team to do likewise (not by pushing them or being aggressive but in a gentle matter-of-fact manner), in whatever role he was assigned – whether in DSERT (curriculum design, material development and teacher education), or in the examination board (assessments) or in RMSA (project mode), or even in a NGO (Azim Premji Foundation). Yet he was like a duck, calm above the water and furiously paddling beneath, not getting upset when the efforts did not lead to the desired results. He was therefore rarely ‘down’. Even if he may have had frustrations in engaging with a huge and complex system, it never showed in his countenance, which was always one of a gentle smile on his lips and a naughty twinkle in his eyes. He lived the most famous stanza of the Bhagavad Geeta – ‘Your right is only to action, not to the fruits thereof. Let not the fruit of action be your motive, nor should you be attached to inaction’.

Pedagogical leadership

Baigsaab also was cast in the mould of the ‘pedagogical leader’4. Understanding educational administration to merely provide support for its primary academic priorities, he would attempt in the roles he performed, to spend significant time in delving into the design of teacher training programmes, or in providing inputs into curriculum design and development. Even as director RMSA, where there would be thousands of administrative priorities to attend to, he would give lot of time to the design of the STF (Subject Teacher Forum programme). Several times, he held day long meetings with the RMSA and IT for Change (ITfC) teams; these would begin around 11 am and go late into the evening, even up to 8 pm, with no break at all for coffee/tea or even lunch!

Pedagogical leadership as a director of DSERT is far more complex, and his initiative in encouraging and facilitating DIET faculty to share the tasks of designing curriculum and creating materials in a collaborative manner was much appreciated. Smt. Geetha, DIET Principal Chikballapur says, “He was able to encourage the DIETs to collaborate and share responsibilities in preparation of the Chatuvatike Khajane (Activity Bank) covering all classes and subjects, which was extremely useful to teachers. This helped also in the capacity and confidence building of the DIET faculty”

He was given several additional responsibilities, a recognition of the trust reposed in him by his seniors in the department. As Director RMSA, he presented the SSA plan to MHRD, provided oversight to the RTE cell, double acted as Director Secondary Education etc. He was also highly skilled in administration, “able to easily and quickly identify solutions to the most knotty problems”, as Smt. Manjula, SADPI, who earlier worked with him at DSERT, puts it.

Subject Teacher Forum (STF)

From his initial fame with the Nali Kali programme, his final and fine achievement was perhaps the STF, a RMSA programme to integrate Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), to pioneer a new model of teacher-education, that was peer-learning based, continuous, self-directed along the lines discussed in the National Curricular Framework on Teacher-education, 2010. As he says in a small film (prepared for UNESCO, a partner in the STF programme and available on www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-kgSW_o9z8&feature=youtu.be), “If teachers are able to make use of the educational tools available free of cost with Ubuntu, and adapt them in their own learning and in their classroom transactions, it would be a great move forward. Looking at the way teachers have been able to access digital resources, interact on the website and on the mailing lists, and develop activities (using ICTs) I am totally enthused.”

He can justly be called the father of the STF programme (which combined physical workshops of teachers with on-line methods such as email lists and web portal based interactions for continuous learning) – with his clear and continuous support to its design and implementation. Apart from driving its basic conceptualisation, he actively participated in many of the (over 50) state level workshops to develop master resource persons, speaking first hand with these teachers to share his ideas and to listen to their suggestions as well as issues and problems. As was his trademark, he would never trivialise any complaint, nor would he take easy recourse to clichéd responses (which those who are unable to grapple with the complexities of the huge government system sometimes do – such as asking for ‘motivation’ of teachers as the solution to all problems!). He would attentively listen and provide his thoughts on possible resolutions, all within the ambit of the procedures and norms of the system, but interpreting these in their best spirit.

Apart from such participation in Bangalore, he also visited the cascade workshops at the districts and also participated by video-conferencing from his own laptop using video-conferencing freeware, encouraging resource persons and teachers with his insights of this blended model of teacher-education. He also regularly responded to teachers on the mailing lists, sharing relevant web-links, encouraging teachers who had evolved as academic leaders in the forum, providing his perspectives on administrative issues relating to the programme etc. The STF programme perhaps re-kindled his faith in collaboration as a primary method in education and in the public system. While Nali Kali approach supported the agency and development of primary school teachers, the STF was a similar attempt for high school teachers.

My interactions with Baigsaab

I was fortunate to interact with Baigsaab over an entire decade from 2004 till 2013. When I left the corporate sector to join an NGO – the Azim Premji Foundation (APF) – around the same time, he was deputed from the Karnataka Education department into APF5. He initially worked in the ‘Academics and Pedagogy’ team, providing academic oversight to the CAL (Computer Aided Learning) programme, but soon shifted to Surpur, one of the most socio-economically and educationally backward talukas of Karnataka, to lead the ‘Child Friendly School’ (CFS) programme, for more than three years. Even as he was promoted from the cadre of Senior Assistant Director of Public Instruction (SADPI) to Deputy Director and to Joint Director within the department during this period, he concentrated his efforts in a single block, happy interacting first hand with teachers, when his peers went on to lead district and divisional educational geographies (as deputy and joint directors).

On being promoted to the position of Director, he was chosen to lead DSERT, the apex academic institution in the education department, responsible for teacher-education and curriculum, where guided the up scaling of Nali Kali programme across the entire state for classes 1 and 2, investing huge efforts on training teachers through the cascade mode, ensuring that classroom layout was changed to meet its needs (establishing learning corners etc.), development of suitable materials for supporting as well as monitoring, the learning of each child.

Given the intensity of the Nali Kali methodology, this was no mean effort, as it required a very large number of teachers working with class 1 and 2 children to adopt new transaction methodologies and a new way of understanding children’s learning processes (moving from passive reception and memorisation of facts to active engagement with material and process).

Public software

Baigsaab was comfortable in using office suite applications during his stint with the Azim Premji Foundation. When I moved to IT for Change (from APF) and he became Director DSERT, I went to discuss with him a design for a teacher-education programme using free and open source applications. My passionate and ardent pleas for OpenOffice left him bemused – he saw me as a marketing agent for OpenOffice who needed to be dealt with carefully as any agent of Microsoft Office! After several meetings and rounds of explanations, he accepted the Free and Open Source arguments and philosophy, though as the leader of the very large government school system, it was the ‘free of cost’ feature of FOSS that he liked the most. He replaced his own laptop operating system with Ubuntu, and began exploring educational tools that were bundled in the ‘Kalpavriksha’ custom Ubuntu distribution. In his interactions with teachers in the STF workshops, he would emphasise the benefits of FOSS – free for teachers to use and share for their development and explaining that ‘user comfort and convenience’ came from simply using these FOSS applications.

Retired life – intense action in continued calm

Though the article is in the past tense, speaking of Baigsaab as an ex-government servant, I am hopeful (and expect) that Baigsaab will spend his ‘calm retired life’ in a manner similar to his work life – by engaging seriously and actively with efforts for quality education in Karnataka. With the constraints and limitations (as well as positional power) of government service removed, his personal abilities and skills would undoubtedly flow much more in the years and decades to come. In his retirement speech, in his tongue-in-cheek manner, Baigsaab said that he looked forward to a retired life and had no concerns about finances etc, since he had been incapable of spending his entire salary, while in service, and was hopeful of being able to spend fully his pension post retirement! Baigsaab – it is not only about spending your income post retirement, but also your inexhaustible energies and ideas on universalising education of an equitable quality in our country”

Gurumurthy Kasinathan, Director, IT for Change

 

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Tooley and his Caricatures

September 24, 2012

James Tooley is well known for his book ” A Beautiful Tree” . In fact the publication is one of the most widely quoted by all those who stand for privatization of the public schools. One of the underlying themes of his thesis is the overwhelming apathy of the teachers in the system vis-a-vis those in the private stream. A close reading of the book will show to anyone how many schools and teachers he had worked with and for how long before he reached his conclusions. I have no comment to make on his acquired expertise; I could only offer my credentials in this context: I cover routinely more than 1200 schools and interact with 6000 plus teachers individually and in groups. Based on this, I find that the scenario in the  field is nothing like what it is made out to be- in books of this type and/or the media.

The dedication most teachers in the public schools show to their work is really amazing, especially when seen in the light of the extremely frustrating and negative environment in which they operate. Showing individual attention to the weak kids and making home visits in the evenings or the weekends are a routine part of their professional lives and schedules. They get very little credit for all that they do even from the society, let alone the media. I thought I should break this tradition of denigrating them with very little data and no justification.

I would like to narrate two specific anecdotes, which came my way during the course of just one week. The High School program of Sikshana focusses on the so-called weak students in 10th Std and getting them to pass the final examinations. Kiran (Name changed) is one such kid whom I came across in the corridors of a  Government High School near Ramanagaram; he was  waiting to get into a classroom. On queried he said he had failed in the examinations of last year and he is going through schooling in 10th a second time. That surprised me since there is no such provision for readmission of a failed student in the school; in the normal course he is supposed to prepare himself on his own and reappear as a private candidate at the next available opportunity. We talked to the teacher in charge of 10th and he had an interesting story for us.

Kiran is the younger of the two sons in the family; his father trades in vegetables in the local market making a decent income. He wanted his two sons to study well and aspire for a better career than his own. Unfortunately his first son showed no interest in studies dropping out after completing 9th; he has since joined his father in the market. Kiran showed similar inclinations until last year; though bright enough to complete schooling with minimal effort he was irregular in attendance missing classes in spite of personal attention and home visits by his Teacher and ended up with an F Grade in the final examinations. In the following weeks, he started visiting the market with his father and brother. Soon he started realizing how tough real life is and how limited the scope for his advancement would be in the absence of good education. He promptly came back to the school and pleaded with the school to take him back and coach him to pass 10th. The Teacher, who was in charge of his class earlier, responded to his plea. Breaking the rules of the Department, he re-admitted the boy unofficially taking him back in his class. Since he was not on the rolls of the school, none of the facilities offered by the state could be made available to him. The Teacher is presently bearing out of his own pocket all expenses that Kiran could not afford so that he does not have to drop out for economic reasons. Both the boy and the Teacher are convinced that they would make it successfully in Mar 13!  The grit and determination Kiran showed while talking to us was truly amazing! All the credit goes to his Teacher who had shown exemplary dedication to his work- at some risk to his own career. (The reason for blocking the name of the student, school and the teacher would by this time be obvious).

Incidentally, the students have to pay a fee for the final examinations – which some of them do not afford. It is routine practice in every Government school for the class teachers to bear this expense from their own resources- even in cases where the student’s performance is so low as not to merit the attempt. This is in stark comparison with private schools where ‘weak’ students are invariably shown the door with a Transfer Certificate!

This difference in approach was even more evident from the second anecdote in a High School near Hubli. We were discussing the possibility of ensuring a 100% pass in the final examinations of ’13. The talk turned to the performance of last year; they had four students failing at the end. In all these cases, the HM had a valid reason for withholding the admission ticket; the students were irregular in attendance and did not meet the minimum stipulated requirements. This would have got the school a 100% pass rate and fetched him laurels. This is in fact what every private school invariably does to ensure good results. The HM said that turning them away may end up in their dropping away for good; on the other hand, if they are allowed to take a chance, they may pass in a few subjects making it easy to get through the remaining ones in a second attempt. It is an amazingly humane approach to the problem; here the HM is placing the welfare of the student over his own! A comparison with schools in other streams here too becomes inevitable.

One could justifiably say that two anecdotes do not make a point; but then I do not see more evidence in Tooley’s book either. Both assertions deserve a dispassionate and independent study; in the meanwhile damning all the teachers in Government schools should come to a stop. That is the least we could do to restore a balance in this highly unequal debate.

E S Ramamurthy

 

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.

Ramamurthy

 

 
(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 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

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 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

A Crazy Idea

April 24, 2011

Every good idea which is ahead of its time from one appears crazy to others; History is replete with instances. I was just reading a book “Why Not” by   Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres. You should do it too; that will make it easy for you to understand what follows.

The State spends on a conservative estimate Rs 10,000 plus per annum on every child in school at the primary level. We have now a plethora of problems facing us notwithstanding this munificent gesture. The State feels the kids to be thankful to it; but what do they do? They drop out of schools and / or fail their examinations, adding to the woes of he teachers. Those who are a bit better do even worse; they ‘run away’ to a private school! As for parents, all freebies apart, it does cost them money to educate a kid well even if it is in a Government school; starting from a few hundred rupees at the primary level, it goes up to a couple of thousands at the High School.  This is behind many of the ills today.

With RTE around the corner, private schools are shuddering at the thought of having to admit the ‘unwashed’ among their midst; worse still with pretty little in terms of compensation. I have an idea which will rid the System of all these.

The State could learn to live with Rs 8800 instead of 10,000 (if it is only that) and place Rs 100 in the hands of the kid every month – or Rs 4 per day of attendance-  as long as he is in a State run school. That is not a tough thing to do. The amount may be deemed to be a scholarship – so there is no stigma attached to it.  Let us look at all the positive things this will achieve:

Dropouts and absenteeism will drastically come down; the teachers will not have to visit the homes of the absentee kids any longer.

The enrollment figures in public schools will stop declining; the State may no longer have to worry about closing schools and relocating teachers- both very unpopular measures to deal with.

The private schools could continue to do they are good at- whatever that is- without fear of the unknown arising from RTE.

Who knows, if the amount is linked to MLL’s (minimum learning levels) and a pass in an examination, we may even have spectacular increases in these areas too

The reason why I quoted the above book is simply this: it is often about the Why Not rather than the Why. Why should we always plan on the basis of children having to pay for education? Why cannot the State pay them for getting educated in their schools?  After all, are they not spending a fortune already with pretty little to show?

This will naturally be resisted by those who are going to be affected when the budgeted 10k becomes 8.8 k. I am confident about one thing; these guys are smart enough to find 11.2 k when it comes to the crux. That will leave everyone happy.

Incidentally, the idea did not come just from the book alone. Earlier Pathak of Sulabh fame suggested that the sanitation problem in the country cannot be solved as long as one has to pay for the needed facility. Instead if you start paying some one for using a toilet the situation changes dramatically, you no longer have to sell the idea of using them and not the open space all around or the streets This depends on the technology  for converting the waste into gas and manure which we have and  the entrepreneurship which we are lacking .You solve two problems using this idea. It is sad this concept is still to take off.

A Post Script: There is no sanctity about the figure 100. The results are bound to be even more dramatic if you double it.

E S Ramamurthy