Learnings about Improving Education

(Notes and References from documentation for NGOs and Teachers)
John D’Souza, Tanvi Patel and CED DocumentationTeam

Unequal Quality

Quality Education is Unequal

While it is clear than poor quality is restricted to the poor, middle class schools, or even government schools in elite areas and the central schools, actually do pretty well. While the media would focus on the abysmal quality of government schools like municipal schools, the establishment would pose it as a generalized problem. Thus a lot of money and effort is spent on the generalized problem, resulting in a waste of resources on schools where parents can afford to find out solutions.

The challenge of Universalisation of Education is actually a problem of targeting education among vulnerable sections, and making it relevant to their context. This includes, the Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), the rural and urban poor children.

First Generation and Vulnerable Learners
Vimala Ramchandran
i highlights that while elementary education, its availability and distribution have shown an improvement in recent years, vast sections such as the poor, girls in rural areas, tribals and some among the scheduled castes remain out of its reach. She highlights the need for government to review existing centrally-assisted programmes to ensure that region and context-specific issues are highlighted.

SCs and STs

According to her, “The Select Educational Statistics (GOI 2002) reveal that 59 million children in the 6-14 age group are still out of school, out of which 35 million are girls – i.e., approximately 59 per cent are girls. Equally disturbing is the distribution of out-of- school children by social group and by location. According to NFHS-II, rural girls belonging to disadvantaged groups like SC and ST are perhaps the worst off with a staggering 50 per cent and 56 per cent respectively having dropped out. The proportion of SC girls to all SC children in school is 36.5 per cent and that of ST girls it is 36 per cent, while the corresponding figure for forward castes is almost 48 per cent.

Rural Schools

She adds “...Schools located in different localities in the same village are endowed differently in infrastructure, teacher-pupil ratio, training and capacity building of teachers. There is also a significant difference in the quality of schools that come directly under the education department and those that come under social or tribal welfare. There is also a big difference in the resource allocation (financial, human) between formal primary schools and a range of alternative schools like the Education Guarantee Scheme – even though the latter reportedly function more regularly because the teachers are appointed on contract basis. Most state governments have appointed para teachers paying them less than one-third the wages of a regular teacher. Smaller habitations are worst hit with one teacher managing classes 1 to 5 in a school with minimal facilities.”

“Teachers are not held accountable for learning levels their ‘performance appraisal’ is limited to enrolment data and retention rate. No one really cares to find out whether children have learnt anything at all. As a result they can get away without teaching – as discovered in a number of research studies conducted under the aegis of the DPEP programme.”

Urban Municipal Schools

Rukmini Banerjee
ii calls for a new and flexible approach to the schooling of children of the urban poor. Based on field studies in slum communities in Mumbai and Delhi, she suggests that reasons why children are not in school or why they are not learning have more to do with the nature of schools than with the economic circumstances of their families.

She says “In cities like Mumbai and Delhi, where the municipal school system serves large numbers of children from poor families, the schools and their teachers are not equipped to cope with children who are first generation learners in their families or the children of families which are first generation urban residents. An urban school system is supposed to provide schooling opportunities for all the children in the city. However, planning and implementation of this mandate seems to assume that each school can cope with this task on its own. The large inequalities among schools in terms of teaching-learning conditions are largely ignored.”

“The coverage of poorer localities in cities by schools has expanded, but not fast enough to keep pace with the growing populations of these areas. The school systems of Mumbai and Delhi do not have the flexibility to quickly reallocate teachers, materials and resources from one part of the city to another. For example, municipal school enrolment in south Mumbai has declined over time even while in suburban areas, schools are bursting at the seams and teachers have very large numbers of children in their classes. Overcrowded schools are difficult places for teaching or learning.”

The same economic pressures which used to keep the children away from schools, affect them as learners. Being first generation learners, they just don’t seem to have the kind social capital required to make use of the opportunity either in terms of conventional learning or using the education economically or socially. Most vulnerable are socially stigmatized groups like SCs, and culturally alienated tribals, and girls especially in traditional communities. Thus the reason for the high drop out rate despite the efforts of several campaigns is a combination of economic factors and the fact that the quality of education is such that it does not address the proximate needs of the children from these vulnerable sections of society.

Unless the quality of the schools and the learning system, both methodology and content, and direction address these proximate needs adequately, any talk of Universal Education is meaningless. At the first instance the quality of education, in terms of its essential character, should be such that it is relevant to the immediate context of the child, this includes local culture local economy, and language. It should therefore equip the child to name, objectify, and build knowledge and practice of the local situation. Thus the social capital of the particular group is invested and useable to make education a positive, useful and integrative experience.

Several innovations, especially by NGOs have tried to address these issues. But such effort are isolated, and not broad based. Apparently, these islands of success required a rare breed of committed activists and teachers. The truth however is that a sustainable and broad based effective education requires two coinciding and parallel developments. The seemingly moribund and unremunerative local economy and culture needs to be revitalised, and basic education should be based on the needs and perspectives of such an economy. It is only when such a base is firmly rooted in a vibrant local economy and culture, that all children can be reached. An alien education system ( methodology as well as content) somehow finds ways of excluding large sections of the poorer children. Once this base is secure, the special efforts that are required to get vulnerable children to modern competition may yield some fruits. Otherwise most of these efforts get into a leaky bucket of development.

Aruna R.
iii in her article quotes a 10th grade student "Preparation for post-secondary education requires a certain kind of training but for my classmates and me, even information about options at the higher secondary level is scarce. Do we have the skills and the knowledge base to cope with the various specialisations offered in a higher secondary course? If we don't, how do we acquire them? Where do we go for information on the possibilities for scholarships or educational loans? We need to pester our parents or their friends for such information. Many of us have parents who are menial labourers who barely read.”

She quotes an agricultural labourer of Sivakasi, “We are unskilled in the sense we are not trained in a specialised trade, and end up doing any kind of physical labour. But a school graduate is unskilled for practically all available work: his education is not enough for white-collar jobs, he has no training for blue-collar jobs, and psychologically he is handicapped for taking up physical labour. You tell me, why should I send him to school for ten years?"

She says, “To parents like him, the opportunity cost of education is not just the wages lost during the years the child is in school. It also includes the money, time, information network and emotional energy needed to find a suitable career or higher educational opportunity for the school graduate.”

In India, 72 per cent of the population subsists on farming and handicrafts and less than five per cent depends on industrial jobs.

The schooling system creates a sense of alienation amongst the youth from trade and artisan families. Many are disillusioned as despite the education they are unable to find 'respectable' jobs. They feel that their family occupations are inferior as they have been socialized to believe this by an elitist western looking school system.

Problems of the vulnerable sections are manifold. Education itself is uninteresting and of poor quality and then it bears no relevance to their immediate life. Thus if the goal of Universalisation of Education is to be even a faint chance of succeeding, the needs of these vulnerable sections must be taken into account. The foremost thing in our minds must be that these are first generation learners, and that they are facing tremendous socio-economic handicaps.

Far from taking special care of these sections, we find that the government schools which these first generation learners go to, don’t even qualify to be called as schools. They face shortage of resources, classrooms, even basic facilities like drinking water, toilets, and regular teachers.

The next layer of problems relates to relevant and appropriate curriculum, teaching methodology, and appropriate assessment methods of learning achievements.

At the next higher level of need is teacher training, teacher/management autonomy, community and/or parent based accountability, and vocational appropriateness.

Is it Private-Government Divide or Rich-Poor Divide?

All children do not get similar or equal education. The children of the rich go to expensive, private schools while the children from poor families go to government schools. There is a large difference between the education given by these two sets of schools. It is now a commonly known fact that children from government schools are not able to read and write even after many years of schooling.

Why Government Schools?

There are those who have advocated the privatization of education. Of late, it has become fashionable to say that government should get out of education and that it should be privatized. The recent classic case was that of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM). What is forgotten in the debate is that the entire grooming up, seed capital, land has been built of public money and reputation.

The entrances tests are generally class biased, and therefore in order to fight for the few scholarships that are thrown their way, they have to compete with a “creamier” or “classier” or “modernized” section, who do better in the interviews, viva voce, group discussions, and debates.

The decision making must be further decentralized for the school principals to decide on matters related to the running of the school. If a sense of ownership and accountability is built into the system, the government schools can also impart good quality education. It is the lack of any incentive and indifference that drives most government schools to run in an unprofessional manner.

While the government has been very efficient with respect to education which is the consequence of the “instrumentalist approach” (the IITs), it has neglected the education which is necessitated by the “liberating force” approach (the primary schools). As a result, if children from certain families are not able to even read or write after a few years of education, then where is the question of their going to the IITs?

And while government is being asked to get out of the creamier layer of education, it is being expected that Education for All, Universalisation of Elementary Education and Literacy Mission will be implemented by it, with a little help from NGOs, and some crumbs of the development cake in the form of trust of leading business houses.

Mr.M.V.Kamath, CEO of ICICI Bank, which like other banks sees good business in providing loans for education, calls for providing private schools the ability to expand their infrastructure and take in more students (who is to give, government? in the form of land?.. subsidies a la IIMs?), as well as give them inputs and training. He also calls for experiments to allow poor families access to poor schools. These include education vouchers that allow low-income families to access the education of their choice, and other mechanisms to tie funding of schools to their performance.

According to him, private schools have emerged as a provider of education. What he does not specify is where, in what kind of socio-economic context, etc.

While there are illegal leakages in the government schooling system, this leakage of funds to private bodies who by and large serve sections which are not really targets of the Universalisation of Education programmes, could run into crores. As it is, a large number of aided schools account for a major portion of the exchequer’s outlay on education. It must also be remembered that a large part of the grant in aid, namely teachers’ salaries are now paid directly by the State governments, after many of the so called private schools, routinely underpaid and never paid the salaries of the teachers. Thus the generalized statement, that private schools are better, needs to be verified.

State-run schools in India are perceived to have failed in providing quality education. Who is to blame for this? If the government school system is reformed, a majority of public schools will go out of business. Even now for the last several years the best CBSE results are coming from Navodaya schools. The next best results are from Central schools. There is ample evidence that the government has almost adopted a policy to let their school system deteriorate. In Indore, the government decided to shut down 30 schools on the rationale that very few children were left. Instead of reforming the system, they closed it down and prime school properties were given to private players.

Private Schools for Poor?

State-run government schools countrywide are known for their lackadaisical attitude and bad quality of education. The private schools in comparison seem to be doing well in terms of both the reputation they enjoy as centres of learning as well as satisfaction of parents of the children who attend these schools.

Surprisingly, in the Unnikrishnan judgement, the Supreme Court has declared commercialisation of education unconstitutional. Norms are set for setting up of private schools, licenses are required which are not easily available, and a plethora of bureaucratic hurdles need to be crossed before starting a school, which only the rich and the well connected can manage. Hence, we do not see private schools for the poor, but rather only for those who are well off.

These governmental policies make it impossible for sincere but cash strapped NGOs or individuals to start schools. It is surprising that in our neighbouring State of Kerala more than 60% of primary schools are privately managed, while the average for India is about 5%.

The system in place in Kerala, which encourages private initiative and aims at delivery of education and not setting up more schools; has earned the state 100 per cent literacy and we definitely can learn from the methods adopted here. The Kerala model of education of choice and competition is unique in the country and so is Kerala’s educational performance.

Government financing of education in Kerala observes the principle that funds follow students in the form of scholarships or vouchers, and are not directly spent on education departments. The State also subsidises the highest proportion of students in private schools.

This fact gives the citizens of Kerala wider effective choice in selecting primary schools for their children. The parents can send their children to any school of their choice. The private schools must provide the best services to attract students and retain them for the government grants and hence, this competition in turn is a boon to the students.

The notion that only the government can provide for the education of the poor children is erroneous. Even State governments seem to be realising this.

In Delhi itself, the State Education Minister Rajkumar Chauhan privatised non-performing government schools (about 30 of the Municipal Corporation Delhi’s worst run schools) (Delhi handbook, pg.39). The motive behind is to improve the quality of education through private-public partnership. Education vouchers can be given away to students, who may use them to choose which school to join.

This Education Voucher system is one of the means, which could bring in quality in the education process and help the government schools compete with the private schools for quality education.

The government may concentrate on the output rather than the inputs, which go into the education system. Schools may be privatised or teachers may be hired on a contract basis to work in government schools instead of employing full-time teachers, who are not present even half the time. With strong incentive based structure in place and good accountability, any State can replicate what Kerala has been done. It is a matter of weeding out archaic policies and putting in place regulations which are in tune with the needs of our times.

Source: Private schools for poor, Sabith Khan, Deccan Herald, 04/03/2004, [C.ELDOC.N21.04mar04dch2.html]

Today, the private schools are said to be good, whereas the government schools degenerated. Therefore the children of the rich go to expensive, private schools. Given the trend of capitation fees, forcible donations, it is the middle class which struggles to send its children to expensive public schools. They would be the first to send their children to government schools if they got the right quality of education there. In fact, it is the middle class which is now demanding it. Finally it is the poorer children who rely on government schools, for what it is worth.

In a study to explore the factors that facilitate or impede successful primary school completion among the poorest households in three States of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Vimala Ramchandran
vi points out, “across the three states, between 70-80 per cent of children from poor households are enrolled in government schools. This is why the overall functioning of the government school, (in particular, the quality of teaching) becomes critical. Pushing children into dysfunctional or poorly functioning schools is making a mockery of the Right to Education. First generation school goers require an extraordinary amount of care and attention, and if we are serious about guaranteeing every child the right to education, then we have to transform our work culture and attitudes.”

What do we mean by Quality of Education?

There seems to be a consensus that good quality of education means going higher, better than the other. Thus quality education has meant raising the bar higher. Students are expected to study more, score more, and better the other, in the race for fewer jobs.

More critical is the differentiation in the reward system, Certain jobs attract such huge remunerations, not necessarily based on intrinsic worth of the work, but on what seems to make more money. Aspirations get skewed in favour of these money spinning jobs. Thus engineering graduates in for MBAs, and perfectly competent MBBS, need a MD degree to rake in consultancies. In this economic situation, there is a rush for elite management institutions, medical colleges, new elite services jobs like media, finance, advertising, etc.

The agitation of students, the sheer intensity of it, against the reservation policy is at best a testament of the level of anxiety among students from the more elite section.

On the other hand, the entire education system is producing every year a large army of non-matriculates, matriculates, graduates, post graduates, diploma holders, and even PhDs, most of whom are aiming for jobs whose competence level is far lower than the theoretical competence of each level of education.

Thus we are witnessing an entire generation studying an extra level or two, in the most unpleasant of circumstances at huge costs, to self and the exchequer.

Thus the entire system is geared towards weeding out at every stage a large number of students, primarily based on their examination results. As a result, primary education too, is seen as the first lap of the race. There is a rush for entrance to the so-called better schools, and increase in pre-school years, and syllabus.

Debunking the oft-heard justification for the absurdly overloaded school curriculum, which generates a fatal sense of helplessness and frustration in teachers, students and parents alike, Krishna Kumarvii states clearly that "the problem of volume of content at any grade level does not originate in the so-called 'explosion of knowledge'...It originates in the archaic notion of curriculum as a bag of facts and in the equally archaic view of teaching as a successful delivery of known facts. Unless we shed these notions and accept more modern, humanist concepts of curriculum and teaching, he warns, we are going to remain stuck as teachers with impossibly large syllabus and fat textbooks to cover...”

"This process of mistaken action and legitimating of action can stop only if we recognise that curriculum planning involves a selection of knowledge, and teaching involves the process of creating a classroom ethos, in which children want to pursue inquiry. We hardly need to add that a curriculum based on this view of teaching can be prepared, and implemented, only after the teacher's right to participate in the organisation of knowledge and the child's right to autonomy in learning are accepted."viii

It is quite clear that official government policies pay only lip service to such ideals as child’s right to autonomy, and the local teachers’ right to determine the course of learning, at a decentralized level. The National Curriculum Framework 2005 does spout such niceties. But this is diametrically in opposition to the priorities outlined in the Approach Paper to the 11th Five-Year Plan, which says that the practicalities of today’s globalised finance driven world, requires a certain type of Human Resources, where the physical product does not generate as much money value as the Services to put it out in the market-place.

The government has taken a fascination to technology in education and has been allocating funds to computers and television sets at the cost of basic infrastructure. Even in doing this, the government has been inefficient and shortsighted.

Educational technology is an effective means of communication which uses a wide range of instructional media like Radio, TV, Closed Circuit TV, Films, Computer, etc. Educational technology is not only an audio-visual aid but is also a systematic way of teaching and learning in terms of specific objectives. The new mantra of Information Technology (IT) will not in itself solve the problem since the minimum technological infrastructure required is, as of now, absent in many places.

Linguists, educationists and local language computing experts are all up in arms here over a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the state recently entered into with Microsoft for IT education at the primary and secondary school level. Dubbing it the "Microsoftisation of education", they have demanded that the agreement be terminated and a more "multilateral" IT education be ensured instead of allowing one Multinational Corporation (MNC) to "monopolise" the minds of children.

Teacher Training

On the occasion of Teachers’ day, in September 2006, the Department of School Education and Literacy published huge full page advertisements in the newspapers, calling on teachers to join hands in nation building by bringing quality education to every child. They claim that under the SSA 9,97 lakh teachers posts have been approved, training programmes for 40 lakh teachers every year, 7201 Block and 66140 cluster resource centers for academic support, NS 553 District Level DIETs and Resource centres.

However, according to Krishna Kumar
xi, "The training of elementary level teachers in particular, and all school teachers in general, remains largely untouched by an academic grounding in modern, child-centred pedagogy. Such grounding could possibly dilute the patterns of teacher-pupil interaction associated with the textbook culture... "(The) situation is exacerbated by the bleak pre-service training available for primary teachers. What academic content it has is largely obsolete, and its skill-related component lacks practical value for actual classroom settings... What puts the icing on this sad situation is the old belief that teachers need only skills, not theory...(But) the teacher who is ignorant of the theory behind ideas, such as building a classroom ethos conducive to individual interpretation and intelligent guessing, is unlikely to be able to build such an ethos.

The teacher is tied to the prescribed textbook. Here, a textbook is not just one of the many educational aids available for a teacher to choose from. Instead, in the ordinary Indian school, the textbook dominates the curriculum and the teacher's primary role is to simplify or interpret the textbook, and familiarise students with its content to the point where it can be easily memorised. According to Kumar, "The textbook symbolises the authority under which the teacher must accept to work. It also symbolises the teacher's subservient status in the educational culture." The textbook culture is intimately linked to the tyranny of the examination system, which sets the agenda for education in India today.”

i - Is Schooling for the Poor on the Government Agenda?, Vimala Ramachandran, Economic and Political Weekly, 24/07/04,[J.ELDOC.N21.240704EPW3349.html]

ii - Poverty and Primary Schooling Field Studies from Mumbai and Delhi, Rukmini Banerji, Economic & Political Weekly, 04/03/2000,

iii 'Learn Thoroughly': Primary Schooling in Tamil Nadu, Aruna R, Economic & Political Weekly, 01/05/1999, [J.ELDOC.N00.01may99EPW.pdf]

iv Education, for itself, Dhanmanjiri Sathe, Indian Express, 02/11/2004, [C.ELDOC.N00.02nov04ie1.html ]

v Systems Failure, Archana Jahagirdar interviews Anil Sadgopal, Times of India, 04/05/2004, [C.ELDOC.N20.04may04toi1.pdf ]

vi Snakes and ladders, Vimala Ramachandran, Hindu, 10/08/2003, [C.ELDOC.N21.10aug03h4.html ]

vii Krishna Kumar in…

viii Ammu Joseph, a Bangalore-based Journalist and Media-watcher quotes Krishna Kumar’s lecture in Curriculum for the Classroom, Deccan Herald, 5/09/93,

ix Link between Democracy, Education & the Acquiring of Knowledge, Romila Thapar, Vikalp, 01/04/2001, [J.ELDOC.N00.01apr01UKP.pdf ]

x Is There A Virus In The Program?, Sugata Srinivasaraju, Outlook, 28/02/2005, [C.ELDOC.N20a.280205out1.html]
xi Krishna Kumar, Ibid
xii Ibid.

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