Posts Tagged ‘Government Schools’

Missing Skills- A Test for Sikshana

December 30, 2013

 
Recently I walked into a First Year Pre-University class in Dodda Alahalli to get an idea of what happens to a typical student in the Higher Secondary Stage, something that Sikshana may have to deal with in the near future. The exposure was indeed a rude shock even to  a hardened person like me.

 There was absolutely no sign that these kids have really evolved into the upper teens; for all purposes they were still a bunch from High School who have accidentally strayed into the Higher Secondary stream. The class room dynamics was the same in the “You teach- I listen” mode. On the part of the lecturers too, it was business as usual: cover the syllabus, conduct tests, evaluate and grade the students. Anything beyond what is explicitly stated in the curriculum is strictly a ‘no- go’. As a part of the course there seems to be no stipulation on any extra- curricular activities for the students. No one stays an hour beyond the college hours for activities such as debates, special lectures or meets of any type that will add value to the ‘education’ that is being imparted.

 I asked the staff about the performance of the last batch of the students; as expected they had a mediocre 60% pass rate where even a pass which does not mean much in terms of academic achievement. When queried about the reason for such a poor result, pat came the standard response: the students who come in from High Schools are found to lack the “basics”.

 That struck a chord in me; I have heard this term- and the excuse- often enough at every stage. When students were found to lack even the basic reading skill in 6th Std the response invariably was that these kids were not their own; they came from LP schools which do a shoddy job. Two years pass thereafter in the Higher Primary schools during which a lot could be done to undo this damage but never gets done. When these kids move into High Schools, the refrain from the teachers there is the same; the incoming students lack the basics and they could do pretty little to make them pass the Tenth exams with the three years on hand. It seems to be the same story at every stage. Any surprise here really ? No, not as I see it.

 There are two fundamental flaws in this scheme of things.

 First, the entire system is built around fulfilling the needs of an externally administered syllabus thrust on students and teachers. Acquisition of a skill is never an issue in this scheme. An example: in the Kannada class and the subsequent tests, a student is checked for knowledge of content in the given text rather than the underlying lingual skill. A well written answer which does not reflect correctly on the content is viewed more adversely than another that gives the right one in a poor lingual format. This is what encourages rote learning; it results in kids who are unable to deal with any content other than what they have come across in their text books.

 Worse still, the kids tend to miss out on essential skills such as comprehension and enunciation. For them a sentence is just a string of words and a para is one of sentences. There is no planned/ sustained effort within the framework of the existing system towards understanding, analysis and reaction to the content in the text. In effect, nothing is done to acquire the above skills;  neither is there any effective tool to monitor their acquisition or absence. The  net result is one or more of the following:

 The kids are able to read a given text fluently but  are unable to recall the gist of what they read. The few successful ones just repeat verbatim what they read, showing that it is coming from memory. Once the text becomes long enough, this ability gets stretched beyond limits to a point at which he/ she fails in this futile effort. The interface under check here is between reading, comprehension and expression.

 One can narrate a simple story slowly and ask them to narrate back the gist of it at the end. Comprehension at this stage should in fact stretch far beyond this when they should be able to come up with answers for complex queries like the moral of the story. I have done this often enough and most kids fail this test even in the High School, and that too at the first level. Interfaces here is listening / comprehension/ expression.

 There is always a possibility that the kids are unable to express themselves even though they might have understood the content. The kids were then given a story to read and at the end asked to write down the gist of it. The results were no different; the interface here is reading/ comprehension/ writing.

 The common factor in all the three is obviously comprehension, a skill essential for all forms of learning which is difficult to define and even more difficult to measure. Sikshana came across this barrier first during its drive towards ‘total’ acquisition of reading skill. After all, what does reading fluency amount to if what is read is not understood? Ironically it took some time for us to realize that one does not automatically entail the other.

 The subject of comprehension does not suffer from lack of learned treatises and analytical studies. But when it comes down to something that can be done in the context of a public school in an environment like ours, we found there was little to go by in terms of the following:

Tools for intervention

Tools for assessment

Acceptable and valid Benchmarks

 Sikshana is presently coming with a few inputs under each of the above; a pilot program is being planned based on them.

 The goal simply stated is this: A student who listens to a few minutes of spoken content is able to comprehend it and come up with a gist of what he heard. Without this skill, is there any hope of such a student grasping anything that is transacted in the classroom and use it for his academic advancement?

 

E S Ramamurthy

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Learning through Development of Non-cognitive Skills -A Sikshana Initiative

October 31, 2012

There are some very disturbing facts about primary education in the Public School System that needs a close look. These are adequately highlighted in the ASER reports from time to time. For instance, 27.6% % of the students in 7th Std lack the ability to read in own language; 51.7% of them cannot divide a three digit number by a single digit. These are skills that they should have acquired at least three years earlier. The thing that causes greater concern is that this problem may, in the absence of further interventions, go unaddressed through High School and may eventually become lifetime issues.

The above shortfalls are notwithstanding the fact that the teachers are well equipped to handle them, both in terms of qualifications and experience. Neither can they be traced to the students’ inherent abilities and intelligence as, barring very few, most of them appear to be bright enough not to fall in this bracket. It is obviously a case of teaching taking place and not learning.

The two factors, which are widely regarded as the causes for this discrepancy, are motivation and volition on the part of the students *(1).  The major component of Sikshana, as a program, was designed to motivate the students and get them to become interested in the process of learning. It was observed that even where these efforts have had an effect, the learning levels were not registering an increase beyond a point.

The typical intervention for those who did not possess the skill was to ask them to ‘study’ – in the conventional sense- Kannada text at home and keep doing it under the supervision of the teacher till they acquire the skill of reading fluently. It was soon realized that, while someone like the teacher in the class can impart knowledge, a skill needs practice- something that the student needs to put in an effort for. Reading fluency is a skill that falls in this category, especially for those who know their alphabets. Since such a practice needs to take place at home, the ability and willingness of the student to do this for the right duration and at the right time every day assumes significance. Assuming that the motivational efforts put in are adequate to get the desired response, a pilot program was run during 11-12 in 413 schools with 9730 students along these lines; in spite of a highly focused effort and close follow-up, the year long program could only result in 84.7% of the students acquiring the skill. While this was higher then the 72.4% norm at the National level and 65.8% at the State level, it fell woefully short of the program goal of 95% plus.

In parallel, the Kannada teachers in 10 randomly selected schools were quizzed about the feasibility and the time needed for coaching a typical class of 20 students lacking this skill to an extent they can read Kannada as prescribed. The responses were near unanimous: every one of them said they could do it provided the kids were under their total control and that this would be their only assignment. The time indicted varied from two to six weeks at the maximum. A pilot program was run in 40 plus schools with an assigned teacher – brought from outside the system in some of them – to take responsibility for this task. This met with limited success though no correlation could be established between the success rate and the causative factors. The only indication was that wherever the person in charge was able to elicit a positive response from the kids in his charge, the results were up to the expectations. Since the distinguishing characteristic of such a successful resource person could not be established it made the entire process difficult to define and replicate.

Two questions popped up at this stage: how does one make a student want to put in the desired effort and how does one ensure he/ she does it till the skill is acquired? It was decided to address these two issues through an appropriately designed pilot program in one of our schools.

The concept behind such a program is that reading fluency is a skill, needing practice for mastering. It was felt that roughly 30 hours of reading spread over a month under controlled circumstances could be tried out in the first phase. The contours of the program evolved along the following lines.

Prior to the commencement, the kids identified for the purpose are given a briefing. The message at this time is to include the following:

Not being able to read own language at this stage is unacceptable

This is perhaps the last chance for them to acquire this skill before they move on to High School, since there will be no more interventions of this type.

If and when they commit themselves for a period of 30 days, there is a high probability that they could acquire this vital life skill- something that they have been unable to get so far in spite of spending years. (Data from successful camps are shown here to prove this point.)

 The practice sessions are to take place in the school premises- during the working hours wherever feasible. They should be of one-hour duration, six days a week for five weeks- no break permitted on any grounds, neither are changes in timings. The theoretical basis for the ‘no break’ rule is that the repetitive prodding for the right word- described below- should take place at such a rate that does not allow the memory of the last episode to lapse. Further the entire regimen that ensures strict observance of discipline plays a key role in pre-disposing the child to success. We will revert back to this factor again later.

Learning is enabled from a peer rather than from a ‘teacher’. In fact, no teaching takes place in this interaction. Kids are known to prefer practicing a skill in the company of their peers; enough has been written about the advantage of learning with a non-threatening support system in an alternate environment, where the one at home/school has failed.

The learner student is paired with another who has the required skill during the session. Both are given identical reading material of appropriate level. The learner is asked to try reading the text. Whenever he comes to a stop, the mentor student is required to read out the word loudly. This intervention should happen after the learner has made an effort to read and not later than 2/3 seconds after the attempt, in case he/she fails. The time delay is designed is to ensure the learner is not frustrated due to persistent failures and keep a steady pace of reading going. The entire process involves three steps: effort to read, hear the correct word in case of failure and read it correctly this time while observing it ‘visually’. An association between these is thus brought about in the mind of the learner, which is bound to last for some time. If the practice sessions are frequent enough, difficult words will recur to an extent that they get registered permanently.

A Facilitator will oversee the process and ensure compliance to the above. He/ she will not intervene in the process in the role of a teacher.

The anticipated success of the venture is no doubt built on the above process and its finer details to some extent. However the factor that plays a much larger and more effective role is the macro -message built into it. This is the incidental acquisition of the vital non-cognitive skills that go to differentiate a successful learner from the rest. These are perseverance, determination and grit required to acquire a skill or knowledge *(2). Once a kid agrees to submit himself/ herself to a strict regimen as described above, he/ she is already pre-disposed towards success.

To put the above to test, a Pilot was run in a school at Hosadurga with 13 students. These were what one would call as ‘down and out’ kids who besides having huge skill gaps also tend to skip classes frequently and are not known to evince great interest in learning. After a briefing for a day as prescribed, a camp was run from 31st Aug to 5th Oct; this period incidentally included three major festival holidays. It ran with total attendance on all weekdays without a break; the kids were showing unprecedented enthusiasm and a sense of pride in their progressively increasing level of competence. At the end of the period, 10 of them passed the standard test for Level 2 reading; two acquired it after an extension of the program by two more weeks. The success rate was indeed a significant improvement on our past experiences.

A second phase of the program was initiated during Oct in two clusters: 28 schools with 283 kids in Kanakapura and 15 schools with 223 kids in Hoskote. Again the schedule coincided with the mid-term holidays and three major festivals of the season. Notwithstanding this, the attendance in both centers has been near total.

Results from this phase show that the improvement gained in a month far outpaces that obtained in our earlier efforts. During 2011-12, a total of 3789 students studying in 7th Std in 136 schools of KP and Hoskote Blocks were taken up for remedial action using conventional techniques. At start, the number of students who did not possess the prescribed reading skill was 1091. During the course of ten months, this came down by 737, the rate of attrition working out to about 8 % per month. Under the current pilot program in the same two blocks, 506 students lacking the skill from 5th to 7th Stds were taken up; the reduction obtained during the stipulated 30 days is 327 amounting to 65%, a significant increase over the earlier figure of 8% in the same period. The program is now being extended to cover all 7th Std students in Sikshana schools by Jan ’13.

To complete the process, an analysis of the students who failed to acquire the skill has already been taken up; once the causes are identified, a remedial program to cover these kids will be placed in position at the end of which they will qualify for a second attempt under the present program. The aim continues to be that every kid passing out of 7th Std- barring those with severe disabilities- possesses the prescribed reading skill by the end of the current academic year.

The issue here is however not the efficacy per-se of the adopted learning process. It is about the role of non-cognitive skills and their relevance to enhancement of learning levels through controlled processes. Once this is established as expected, Sikshana will have a powerful tool to address other skill gaps too in a similar manner and will be in a position to aim at their ‘near total’ acquisition.

E S Ramamurthy

Note:  *(1) / (2)  “ How Children Succeed”– Paul Tough, HMH Publications

 

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 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

A Humbling Experience

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

The Other Side of the Picture – 1

September 26, 2011

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

Case of the Missing Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramamurthy

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

Amazing success story of Sikshana High schools

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

Performance of the schools in different streams:

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

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

Milestone for Sikshana – A Sequel

May 12, 2011

 A Sequel at GGM School, Kanakapura

In one of the blogs earlier, I went through the process of obtaining ‘unbelievable’ levels of improvement from the students in terms of the basic skills. This was from a large number of schools across different clusters giving it acceptable statistical validity. Notwithstanding this, we were having problems in getting comparable results from a few schools with a specific profile; these were the ones located in relatively larger towns and having student strengths in excess of 60 in a single class room. We were almost about to conclude that we may have to adopt here a strategy different from the one that  worked in smaller schools in villages.

In order to understand the factors that made such a big difference, we focused on one such school – GGMS, Kanakapura in which there were 73 students in 7thStd. When we carried out the ASER based assessment in this school during July 10, 51 of them were unable to read Kannada fluently and 63 to carry out division of simple numbers in Arithmetic.

GGMS Kanakapura

These were unacceptably high numbers compared to our other schools in the cluster and way below the State averages. The program as implemented in other schools was tried out here too but the numbers failed to register any significant improvement. The numbers in this school by the end of Jan 11 after six months of the program stayed at 38 and 39 respectively, showing no significant improvement.

I thought it is time I visited this school and had a chat with the teachers and the students- which I did in the first week of Feb 11. I found the class to be very lively and responsive; on a first look the kids appeared to be quite bright, capable of doing anything given to them well in real life as long as it does not call for these specific ‘academic’ skills. Interaction with the teachers showed that the school had surplus staff; so shortage of manpower cannot be the reason either for the poor outcome seen. It struck me that this availability of teachers beyond the optimal level could even be the cause of the problem, instead of being an advantage. It did emerge slowly that I was not far off the mark; no single teacher felt that he/ she is accountable for the performance or the lack of it in the case of individual students. The two typical syndromes- “Let Jack do it” and “Why Me” – seemed to be working here.

To break the gridlock, I had a frank chat with the students; I told them bluntly the facts as they are: that they would soon be entering a High School without the basic skills needed to handle the class room work, that no one will bother to fill up their shortfalls once they leave the primary school, that most others in their age group are far ahead of them in terms of learning levels and that includes kids in ‘hallis’ ( villages) – something about which they ought to be ashamed. I told them that they are all intelligent enough to perform far better but have just not bothered to put in the minimum effort needed; and that if they dont pull themselves up soon enough they will regret it for their lives. Lastly, I pointed out to them that they have just eight weeks to make good their shortfalls and that we are willing to give all the help that is required by them to meet the deadline. The response was electric; unanimously the kids said – give us a dedicated teacher, we will put in extra hours and show that we too can do it – in four weeks! They also promised that they will also help out each other in the process of learning.

Back in the HM’s room, we worked out the logistics and went on to organize the classes, not just for the lagging students but the entire group, having in mind the above promise of mutual co-operation. The classes started by the second week of Feb 11 with near 100% attendance and unmatched enthusiasm.

By the time the term came to an end in March, the number of students who could not reach the ASER benchmark for Reading and Arithmetic dropped down to 4; this was amazing by any standard. This compliance level at 95% is on par with other schools if not a shade better.

We could learn a few lessons from this experiment:

The specified ASER skill standards are attainable in two months under normal circumstances in any cluster of schools.

We have not been doing enough to tap the ‘student power’; given a challenge they can be expected to rise up to the occasion.

A dedicated teacher and a bunch of kids who are motivated to face a challenge is all that is required.

How does one bring about the conditions shown as pre- requisites under the last Para is a question I would like to leave unanswered for the present. We need more data before definite conclusions can be drawn on this count. Analysis apart, we know for sure now that it works!  That the pilot in GGMS was not just a flash in the pan was further proved by a similar feedback from a second school where the same approach was initiated a month later; results from this school are just coming in.

We now have in our radar the above five schools and we plan to sort out their problems based on this experience during the first quarter of the ensuing academic year.

E S Ramamurthy