Posts Tagged ‘Primary Education’

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

A Tribute to a Person whom I have rarely met

May 13, 2013

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

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

Ramamurthy

A Karmayogi retires from government service

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

Nali Kali

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

Servant leader

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

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

Pedagogical leadership

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

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

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

Subject Teacher Forum (STF)

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

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

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

My interactions with Baigsaab

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

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

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

Public software

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

Retired life – intense action in continued calm

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

Gurumurthy Kasinathan, Director, IT for Change

 

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

 

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

The Other Side of the Picture – 1

September 26, 2011

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

Case of the Missing Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramamurthy

On the same Wavelength as Anna

September 1, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

E S Ramamurthy

 

Private Schools – Myths and Realities

August 20, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3714

1668

45

1162

31

630

17

254

7

1

Aided

2980

1358

46

900

30

458

15

192

9

2

Private

4149

2171

52

1042

25

489

12

447

11

32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E S Ramamurthy

Tapping Student Power

July 10, 2011

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E S Ramamurthy

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