Posts Tagged ‘NGO India’

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

SSLC results 2013 – An Analysis

May 14, 2013

Sikshana has just completed its third year of intervention in High Schools. During the first in 10-11, the program was run as a pilot in 34 schools in Kanakapura. In 11-12, it was extended to cover all 105 schools in Ramanagaram District besides Kalghatgi Taluk in Dharwad. With a pass rate of 84.5%, we were able to take RN from the 26th position in the State to 9th among 34 Districts. The year just concluded marks our second effort in bringing about an increased success rate in High Schools.


Our goal this year in RN was two fold: to get the pass rate to above 87% and take RN to within the top five among the 34 Districts in the State. The latter is to be viewed against the 26th rank obtained in 2011 and 9th in 2012. As for Kalghatgi the aim was to take the % pass up by at least 1% .


This year, 5755 students wrote the examination from the four Blocks of RN District and 1056 from Kalghatgi in Dharwad. Of these 4853 ( 84.5%) passed in the former and 985 (94%)  from the latter. While these numbers does not look very different from the figures for the previous year, an analysis shows some significant achievements of the current year that need to be highlighted.

To start, the scores of the five Blocks referred to above differed widely.  Kalghatgi and Channapatna got 94% and Kanakapura 89% ; these are to be viewed against the State Top Score of 88.8 % for a District. Magadi scored 84.5% ; but for the unexpectedly high failure rate in just one school out of the 21 in the Block, the rate would have equalled the above figure here too bringing the success to an amazing four Blocks out of five exceeding the State top score. Ramanagaram Block alone, in comparison, fared badly at 79% bringing down the overall figure to 84.5% from a possible/ planned 87% which would have placed the District well within the top five in the State.

A further analysis of RN block shows that in just five schools out of 26, there was an unanticipated failure of 155 students; had these schools fared as expected, the District score would still have reached 87% placing us at slot 5, as anticipated and planned. Incidentally four of the five schools are in RN town and they were known to have certain socio-economic issues, which gives us interesting clues on what needs to be done during the ensuing year for rectifying this anomaly. Incidentally, had the sixth school in Magadi had also performed as planned, the rank would have gone even above the Fifth slot.

One can sum it up by saying that the processes deployed were good enough to achieve and even exceed the ambitious targets set for the year; and that the overall picture was severely dented by the unexpected non-performance of 3% of the schools located in a single Block.


The reference to terms like planned /anticipated pass/ failure rates above are to be viewed in the context of the processes deployed under the program.

At the start of the year, the Mentors surveyed the schools with the help of the teachers and came up with a list of 1750 students in RN who were ‘gravely’ under the risk of failing in the final exams, going by their past performances. It was decided to focus on these students in the 1st Phase till Nov/Dec by which time the syllabus would be completed and the revision tests would commence. The intervention was in two directions: individual and group counseling for those who show overall weakness with a view to increasing their effort levels and provide supplemental coaching to those who had problems with specific  subjects. With these initiatives, the number at risk was brought down to 950 in Dec. These are students who looked like falling under the category of ‘no-hopers’.

During Jan-Mar the Mentors came up with a few innovative measures addressing these students. These included home visits, organized group studies and daily telephonic monitoring at home. The last survey was done during the week ahead of exams and it showed 652 were still at risk. It should be stressed once again here that all figures beyond Dec were not just numbers – they were backed by names in our data base and the followups were on this basis.

A post-result analysis shows that even from these no-hopers, 239 passed which has drawn admiration and unqualified praise from the schools. On the whole 488 students were enabled to pass from a pool which was exclusively one of ‘down and outs’; roughly 850 students were saved from the original weak student list , thanks to our intervention.


Of the 950 identified weak students in Dec, only 488 failed; 512 were from the category considered relatively safe making up a total of 900. The latter, though a regular annual phenomenon, was somewhat on the higher side this year. A school based analysis shows that 60 schools equalled or exceeded our estimates while 46 fell short. It looks that our ability to predict the impact of the intervention is still very much intact. This will go a long way towards our planning for better results next year.

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.



(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 – 2

December 11, 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)

Apples and Oranges

No one who has a few rupees to spare will send his son or daughter will ever send him/her to a Government High School, or would they?  It is one thing to take a risk with Primary schools; the damage can always be undone in the subsequent stage. It is quite different with High Schools and the SSLC examinations, which are pretty serious stuff and one does not afford to take chances any longer. Given the poor image of the Government schools, the data should show that people flock to the Private schools and that the latter fulfill their expectations with commensurate results.

Let us take a look at the picture emerging from the SSLC examinations of last year. Of the 10,800 schools in the State, 1,468 schools scored 100 per cent results. Of these, surprise of surprises, 401 are Government Schools and 108 Govt Aided! It is seen that 959 private unaided schools had also achieved this distinction. The ratio may look a bit skewed towards private schools until you start looking at all the factors in their favor.  Unlike the State run schools, they have the right to be selective in admissions and also have the power to detain non-performing students, both of which they exercise; more crucial is the last year in which many premium schools routinely ‘expel’ those who are most likely to fail and these kids invariably land in Government schools. No wonder the number of private schools scoring a perfect 100 is relatively high. The real surprise comes up at the other end of the spectrum. Forty-four schools recorded zero pass percentage. Of these, four are aided, while another 40 are private schools. There were no Government schools at all in this category!

A detailed analysis of the performance in various brackets shows the following: 

Type Schools >80% 60- 80% 40-60%  <40%
No. % No. % No. % No. %
Govt 3714 1668 45 1162 31 630 17 254 7
Aided 2980 1358 46 900 30 458 15 194 9
Private 4149 2171 52 1042 25 489 12 479 11

One can see that ,except in the 80 plus category where there is a marginal shortfall, the Government schools score over private schools in all others.

That people would prefer to admit their kids in a Private school, which has a zero pass record in preference to a performing Government school in the same vicinity appears strange. It only highlights the fact that perceptions often rule over reality. There is yet another interesting fact that comes up if you take this study further to areas where there are no private schools to contend with and the kids in the area need to enroll only in State run institution. I came across a cluster of this type near Madanapalle in Chithoor District, AP. While the overall performance levels were uniformly high here, I found two schools close to each other, which were producing astounding results. The first had 84 students of which 83 passed; the failed kid had an assignable cause. The average mark scored in this school was 84! The second had 29 and all of them passed; the average score here was an unbelievable 92, the highest being 96! The rub off effect of the talented kids on the rest in the classroom is clearly visible in an environment where segregation of the good from the poor has already not happened through selective induction in parallel streams. An in-depth study, I am sure, will go on to prove the desirability of a Common School System in the quest towards social equity.

Notwithstanding the above, It is true that the best of the Government schools presently do not come anywhere near the best of the Private schools. A comparison between a 95% kid in the former with another with the same score in the latter will show large differences in terms of depth/width of knowledge extending beyond the syllabus content. This proves nothing since the kids in the two segments come from widely differing social strata and have definite advantages and handicaps that go on to define these results. Given the talent, one has to admit that the private stream aspires for and achieves levels of excellence that are beyond the reach of the former. This admission should however not be at the cost of recognizing that the Government schools do an equally good job in providing affordable education of acceptable quality for the masses.

The shrill voices for dismantling the Public Education System are to be viewed in this context. It is a case of apples and oranges; any comparison is odious and we need them both.

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.

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.


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