The Kasturirangan report on government schools has cast Karnataka in a rather poor light. Many of these institutions run without basic infrastructure, teachers or quality teaching methods. This has only worsened with the RTE, which has enabled the government to shift the onus to private institutions, while government schools continue to languish. Education has been reduced to a political weapon, has faced budgetary cuts and continues to struggle under its bureaucratic burden, with the department refusing to accept English as a major requirement. The Karnataka Jnana Ayoga team recommends, in its report, achieving targetted learning outcomes, continuous evaluation, and uniform standards across institutions. Ralph Alex Arakal reports
Talk of government schools and the comments are nearly always derisive as their quality of education has never been anything to write home about. Today several are forced to either run with few students on their rolls or close down while the private schools thrive as parents make a beeline for admissions to them despite their steep fee.
Mr Anil Shetty, lead campaigner, #SaveGovtSchools, believes there's a reason why little is being done to improve the government schools. With prominent politicians of nearly all parties running private schools in the state, successive governments have deliberately neglected their own schools, he claims. Mr V.N. Rajashekar, a member of the Save Education Committee, Karnataka, too alleges that state governments have over the years deliberately tried to encourage parents to seek admission in private schools for their wards at the cost of their own schools.
In his view, governments have misused the provisions of the Right to Education Act to escape their responsibility of funding and ensuring quality education in their own schools.
“ The amount the government is now paying as RTE reimbursement to private schools could have been used to develop and improve teaching and infrastructure in its own schools. Govern ments have always been negligent by not allocating proper funds or recruiting enough teachers for their schools. In short, they have starved them to the point of death,” he regrets, hardly surprised at the resulting closure of several schools and the demolition of their buildings.
Education activists are predictably annoyed that although the present government is aware of the alarming state of its schools, it has not implemented the Karnataka State Education Policy (KSEP) drafted by the Karnataka Knowledge Commi ssion/ Karnataka Jnana Ayoga (KJA) in October 2016 under the chairmanship of Dr K. Kasturirangan to help it improve theirstandards.
The KJA task group co-chaired by T.V. Mohandas Pai and Prof. K.S. Rangappa had recommended that the state government amend the Right to Education Act to ensure free education for children till Class 12, consolidate its schools with those offering II PU courses, ensure a proper pupil-teacher ratio and combine a no-detention policy with a sound remedial process. But although over a year has passed by, the government is no closer to implementing these suggestions, they note. Mr Shetty underlines that only full implementation of the KSEP can come to the schools' rescue. “The recommendations made by the committee, which had the best of experts from the state on-board, could contribute to the comprehensive development of school education in the state,” he insists.
Calling for adequate recruitment of teachers for government schools, especially those teaching English, he demands that an RTE grievance committee should be set up to ensure that only deserving students get admission to private schools under the Act.
“As part of the #SaveGovtSchools campaign, we have written to all parties to include the implementation of the 2016 KSEP in their election manifesto,” he reveals. The campaigners are at present visiting government schools across the state to encourage them to demand “ their basic rights.”
Education needs funding, budgetary cuts will only compromise quality
As can only be expected, government officials are reluctant to accept the neglect of state- run schools. In fact, Commissioner for Public Instruction, P.C. Jaffer, claims the government has been working towards improving its schools based on various studies, reports and recommendations.
“For instance, as many as 176 integrated schools called Karnataka Public Schools will open shortly. As for recruitment of teachers and maintaining the ideal student- teacher ratio, a provisional list of 10,000 teachers will be out in another fortnight,” he assures.
Meanwhile, another senior official from the department argues it's unfair to blame the government alone for the condition of its schools. “ The process of getting a policy implemented involves public consultation, collecting the views of the stakeholders concerned and forwarding it to the officers. Somewhere in between some ideas get lost and slip off the platform, contributing to the failure in implementation,” he says.
Not willing to buy any of this, education experts believe it's not too late to undo the damage done . One expert, Niranjanaradhya V.P suggests the government should look into the recommendations of the Kannada Development Authority (KDA) made on September 4 last year to improve its schools in the state. “The Minister and the department seem in totally different spaces, creating confusion of late. An expert committee should be appointed primarily to conceptualise and put into operation such plans,” he suggests.
Not a fan of the KSEP recommendations of 2016, he claims they encourage privatisation, and the proposal to start low budget schools is questionable and unscientific. Calling for more funding for education, Mr Niranjanaradhya warns that budgetary cuts may compromise the quality of education to the detriment of the students.
‘If English is what the children need, give it to them in govt schools’
The dropout rate in government-run schools is alarming. An official report of November 2017 admits that the number of students in these schools has fallen by around 2.14 lakh to around 46.50 lakh in classes 1 to 10. This is cause for concern although the government intends to continue running these schools and be seen as pro-poor and pro-Kannada.
While it blames the parents’ craze for English education and the mushrooming of English medium schools besides the migration of rural families to urban areas for the falling admissions to its schools, the remedies it proposes are a bit strange as they deal with almost everything except the most crucial policy decisions. One must remember that even without pre-primary schools, freebies and bhagyas, private English medium schools are filled with students, which means people don't look for free as much as quality education.
Top quality private schools don't give anything for free and yet have surplus students. Parents pay a heavy fee, even if it means borrowing money because they believe their children will get a good education. So quality is the key, and not freebies.
I am a government school product. There were about 48 students in four classes at the time and that school now has two teachers and about 10 or 12 students. This only shows there is something structurally and qualitatively wrong with our state-run schools.
The government clearly needs to follow the practices of successful private schools: appoint qualified and sufficient number of teachers and pay them well as they work more than most government servants. And as schooling is the most crucial time in an individual’s life, it deserves the maximum care. So we must save our schools from political and other sorts of interference.
The government also need to ensure that all the teachers actually teach, and regularly. Our school teachers are used for all sorts of things like doing the census, for elections and card-enrolments leaving the children in the lurch. If the children are not cared for in schools why will parents bother to send them there even for free?
And English being the language that is important for a livelihood, the government must ensure that all its schools provide a good grounding in the language while nurturing a love for Kannada. It also needs to provide good infrastructure, adequate space, a library, and other facilities. When parents see their children happy in a school, they breathe easy. Children must be taken care of. If the government can ensure this, its schools will thrive.
DR RICHARD REGO
Director, St Joseph's Research Centre
KJA recommendations for KSEP (Oct. 2016)
- Focus on achieving targeted learning outcomes.
- Base school education on continuous and comprehensive evaluation.
- Have a no- detention policy and a sound remedial process.
- Have uniform standards across schools to ensure equity.
- Tap CSR contributions to enhance quality of goverment schools.
- Have Kannada as medium of instruction from Classes 1 to 4 and give students option to choose between Kannada and English from Class 5 onwards