Posts Tagged ‘Public Education System 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

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:)


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, “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


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.

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 %

































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

A Crazy Idea

April 24, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E S Ramamurthy