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School panel to monitor tuitions

Other, School Management Committee

THIRUVANATHAPURAM: Government schoolteachers, who try to earn some extra cash through private tuitions, may not be able do so hereafter. School Management Committees (SMC), set up in accordance with the provisions of the Right to Education Act, have been given the task of ensuring that teachers stick to their main job. The government had issued the order to set up the committees last month.

The SMCs, which include parents, local body representatives, teachers and education experts in the area, will also be expected to see that teachers are punctual and interact with parents regularly regarding the progress of their wards.
“The tasks of the committees listed in the circular are at present limited to government schools. But the general view of the teachers’ organisations is that it is to be extended to the aided-schools as well,” director of public instructions A Shajahan said.

The SMCs are also tasked with ensuring that no teacher is deployed for any non-educational purpose other than the decennial population census, disaster relief duties and duties relating to elections.
Committee to keep a check on student drop-out rates

Another responsibility of these committees would be to keep student drop-out rates in check. “If any student drops out of a school, the student should be included in the list of drop-outs and remedial steps taken to bring him or her back,” the circular says. Teachers’ organizations are open to the move. “The idea has to be welcomed as many teachers, especially in higher secondary section, are engaging in private coaching centres. In fact, the school management committees have to be made applicable to all the aided schools here,” P Harigovindan, president of Kerala Primary and Secondary Teachers’ Union said. He said the only bone of contention is that the committees should not be involved in academic matters like inspection of classes. “It is the duty of the committees to evolve a school development plan for the next three years,” Shajahan said. In schools with more than 750 students, SMCs will be a 20-member body while in other schools they will have 16 members.

The Times of India, 16 July 2012

Comment

500 schools under PPP mode set to come up

Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), School Choice, School Management Committee

In a move to provide “high quality” education to children at the block level, the Centre has initiated efforts to set up 500 model schools in public-private-partnership framework across the country.

The schools, proposed to be opened under the Human Resource Development Ministry, will operate Classes VI to XII with minimum infrastructure and facilities of standards available in existing Kendriya Vidyalayas.

The ministry has invited applications from private entities including corporate houses to participate in the implementation of the programme. Selection of private partner will be done through bidding at each block to be identified for the opening of the schools.

As per the scheme, the schools will be affiliated to Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).  In exceptional circumstances, affiliation by other national boards may also be considered.

However, irrespective of whatever board the school is affiliated to, it will have to adhere to all the norms of the CBSE with reference to infrastructure, teaching resources and pedagogy, an HRD Ministry official told Deccan Herald adding. The model schools were so far being opened through the state governments in the blocks, identified as educationally backward under the central scheme, launched in 2008. While the opening up of schools in 1,942 blocks covering 22 states have been approved since 2008, only 438 model schools have become functional, according to the ministry.

A total of 6,000 model schools are to be opened at block level with 3,500 in educationally backward district through state governments. The remaining 2,500 schools are to be set up under PPP mode in blocks which are not educationally backward.

As per the scheme, the private entity could either be a trust or a society or a not-for-profit company.

An entity running at least one CBSE school from where at least two consecutive batches have passed out from Class X will qualify for up to three schools. Those who have not come up to the board examination level will qualify for one school.

A private entity, a track record of running educational institutions for five years, will also qualify for opening three schools if it has capacity to make an interest-bearing deposit of Rs 25 lakh for each school, which will be released in three annual installments after commissioning.

“A corporate entity would be eligible for one school for every 25 crore net worth, subject to interest-bearing deposit of Rs 50 lakh each of up to three schools and Rs 25 lakh per school thereafter,” the ministry official said.

The land required for setting up the school and its infrastructure has to be provided by the private entity.

The government will contribute to recurring cost on per capita basis for the students sponsored by it. Besides, additional 25 per cent support will also be provided in respect of sponsored students towards capital cost.

“The initial period of the contract for such provision of quality education would be 10 years for each school, which is extendable as per mutual agreement,” a ministry official said.

Deccan Herald, 10 March 2012

Comment

‘Parent members irregular in school committee meetings’

School Management Committee

hile the School Management Committees in city government schools have been in place since the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 in Chandigarh last year, some school heads are now complaining of a lack of cooperation by parent members.
As per the provisions of the Right to Education Act, 75 per cent of the representatives of SMCs shall be from amongst parents or guardians of children.

The primary function of SMCs is monitoring the overall working of the school which includes preparation and recommendation of school development plans, monitoring utilisation of grants.

However, some of school heads state that the parent members, who have a major representation the committee, have not even attended the monthly meetings even once till date.

Vinod Sharma, President of Goverment Teachers Union (GTU), said, “A number of our principals, headmasters and headmistresses have been complaining for the past few months that parent members do not even attend the meetings. The parents say that they are unable to find time for the meetings but they refuse to withdraw their memberships.”

“We had even apprised the matter to the Education Secretary in September, during a meeting of school heads. However, the problem is consistent in almost all the schools located in the periphery,” added Sharma.

On the contrary, UT Education Secretary V K Singh stated, “SMCs are participatory bodies and they need to be independent of regulations. The whole purpose of roping in the parents in SMCs is to elevate their participation in the schools. Till date, I have not received any major complaints in this regard.”

“If we would interfere in the functioning of the SMCs, the whole purpose of the RTE would be defeated,” added Singh.

Indian Express, 14 November 2011

Comment

Govt to launch ‘education fortnight’ programme today

Right to Education, School Management Committee

HYDERABAD: The state government would launch the ‘education fortnight’ programme across the state on Monday during which a door-to-door campaign for enrolment of 5+ aged children, identification of out-of-school children and enrolment in special training centres would be carried out extensively.

Chief minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy would formally launch the programme at the government high school on Dharam Karan Road in Ameerpet. Officials said the thrust areas would be on quality, universalisation and facilities for education.

Major activities planned for the programme, include admission of girls in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas, promoting children to a next higher class, organising co-curricular activities, distribution of prizes, opening of book depots in identified schools in convergence with department of public libraries and enforcement of child labour laws.

The programme would also focus on progress of work for drinking water units and toilets under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Out of the 10,194 toilets sanctioned during 2010-11, 8,215 have been completed and 1,700 are in progress. Similarly, only 508 schools have been provided with drinking water facility during 2010-11 against a target of 745 schools. During 2011-12, 15,465 toilets for girls have been sanctioned and these were proposed to be completed before the start of the next academic year. At least 6,813 drinking water facilities for schools will be taken up during this financial year, said officials.

During the programme, gram sabhas under the chairmanship of village sarpanches to discuss enrolment of children and quality of education in their respective habitations; special focus on enrolment of children in tribal areas, painting the provisions of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE Act) on the walls of public places, including schools and gram panchayat offices and organising samuhika aksharabhyasam in all habitations in the state would be taken up.

Other activities, include orientation of mandal education officers (MEOs), mandal resource persons (MRPs), school management committee (SMC) members on Right To Education provisions, inauguration of newly constructed school buildings, additional classrooms and other infrastructure facilities and distribution of uniforms.

Times of India, June 13, 2011

Comment

UT to empower school management panels

Right to Education, School Management Committee

After constituting school management committees under the Right to Education Act, the UT education department is all set to empower them with financial and administrative powers. The aim is to check pilferage of facilities like uniforms, school bags, stationery, shoes and other items and to monitor school activities.

The committees with 75 per cent representation of parents and 25 per cent of teachers, local educationists and elected members of the education department will come into effect with the new session starting next month.

“The department is in the process of empowering these committees already constituted in all government schools. For instance, instead of providing school uniforms, money will be allotted to these committees, to be further disbursed among the students. This will check the usual problems of delay in the distribution of these materials and issues pertaining to quality and size as students would be reimbursed the amount spent on these items on furnishing the bills,” said Director, Higher Education, Ajoy Sharma.

Similar will be the procedure for other items, such as stationery, bags and shoes. Sharma said the move also aimed to check the nexus between schools and shopkeepers selling school uniforms — a major contention among the parents. As the parents have a majority in these committees, it is expected that all these “profitable” practices would be minimised.

Apart from the responsibilities entrusted under the RTE Act, including preparation of school development plan, estimates of class-wise enrollment for each year, additional teachers required for each class and subject, additional infrastructure requirement, financial requirement by each school for the implementation of RTE, these committees will be empowered with administrative control of the school, too.

To manage its affairs, the committees will elect a chairperson and a vice-chairperson from among the members. The committee has to be meet at least once a month and the minutes, along with the decisions, has to be recorded and made available to the public.

Indian Express, March 7, 2011

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The Right to Education Act: A critique

Access to education, Autonomy, Budget Private Schools, Edupreneurship, Government run schools, Learning Achievements, Licenses and Regulations, Right to Education, School Fee, School Management Committee, Teacher performance, Teacher salary, Unrecognized Schools

The `Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009′ (RTE Act) came into effect today, with much fanfare and an address by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In understanding the debates about this Act, a little background knowledge is required. Hence, in this self-contained 1500-word blog post, I start with a historical narrative, outline key features of the Act, describe its serious flaws, and suggest ways to address them.

Historical narrative

After independence, Article 45 under the newly framed Constitution stated that the state shall endeavor to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.

As is evident, even after 60 years, universal elementary education remains a distant dream. Despite high enrolment rates of approximately 95% as per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2009), 52.8% of children studying in 5th grade lack the reading skills expected at 2nd grade. Free and compulsory elementary education was made a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution in December 2002, by the 86th Amendment. In translating this into action, the `Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill’ was drafted in 2005. This was revised and became an Act in August 2009, but was not notified for roughly 7 months.

The reasons for delay in notification can be mostly attributed to unresolved financial negotiations between the National University of Education Planning and Administration, NUEPA, which has been responsible for estimating RTE funds and the Planning Commission and Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD). From an estimate of an additional Rs.3.2 trillion to Rs.4.4 trillion for the implementation of RTE Draft Bill 2005 over 6 years (Central Advisory Board of Education, CABE) the figure finally set by NUEPA now stands at a much reduced Rs.1.7 trillion over the coming 5 years. For a frame of reference, Rs.1 trillion is 1.8% of one year’s GDP.

Most education experts agree that this amount will be insufficient. Since education falls under the concurrent list of the Constitution, financial negotiations were also undertaken between Central and State authorities to agree on sharing of expenses. This has been agreed at 35:65 between States and Centre, though state governments continue to argue that their share should be lower.

Overview of the Act

The RTE Act is a detailed and comprehensive piece of legislation which includes provisions related to schools, teachers, curriculum, evaluation, access and specific division of duties and responsibilities of different stakeholders. Key features of the Act include:

  1. Every child from 6 to 14 years of age has a right to free and compulsory education in a neighborhood school till completion of elementary education.
  2. Private schools must take in a quarter of their class strength from `weaker sections and disadvantaged groups’, sponsored by the government.
  3. All schools except private unaided schools are to be managed by School Management Committees with 75 per cent parents and guardians as members.
  4. All schools except government schools are required to be recognized by meeting specified norms and standards within 3 years to avoid closure.

On the basis of this Act, the government has framed subordinate legislation called model rules as guidelines to states for the implementation of the Act.

A critique

The RTE Act has been criticised by a diverse array of voices, including some of the best economists. MHRD was perhaps keen to achieve this legislation in the first 100 days of the second term of the UPA, and chose to ignore many important difficulties of the Act. The most important difficulties are:

Inputs and Outcomes

The Act is excessively input-focused rather than outcomes-oriented. Even though better school facilities, books, uniforms and better qualified teachers are important, their significance in the Act has been overestimated in the light of inefficient, corrupt and unaccountable institutions of education provision.

School Recognition

The Act unfairly penalises private unrecognised schools for their payment of market wages for teachers rather than elevated civil service wages. It also penalises private schools for lacking the infrastructural facilities defined under a Schedule under the Act. These schools, which are extremely cost efficient, operate mostly in rural areas or urban slums, and provide essential educational services to the poor. Independent studies by Geeta Kingdon, James Tooley and ASER 2009 suggest that these schools provide similar if not better teaching services when compared to government schools, while spending a much smaller amount. However, the Act requires government action to shut down these schools over the coming three years. A better alternative would have been to find mechanisms through which public resources could have been infused into these schools. The exemption from these same recognition requirements for government schools is the case of double standards — with the public sector being exempted from the same `requirements’.

School Management Committees (SMCs)

By the Act, SMCs are to comprise of mostly parents, and are to be responsible for planning and managing the operations of government and aided schools. SMCs will help increase the accountability of government schools, but SMCs for government schools need to be given greater powers over evaluation of teacher competencies and students learning assessment. Members of SMCs are required to volunteer their time and effort. This is an onerous burden for hte poor. Payment of some compensation to members of SMCs could help increase the time and focus upon these. Turning to private but `aided’ schools, the new role of SMCs for private `aided’ schools will lead to a breakdown of the existing management structures.

Teachers

Teachers are the cornerstone of good quality education and need to be paid market-driven compensation. But the government has gone too far by requiring high teacher salaries averaging close to Rs.20,000 per month. These wages are clearly out of line, when compared with the market wage of a teacher, for most schools in most locations in the country. A better mechanism would have involved schools being allowed to design their own teacher salary packages and having autonomy to manage teachers. A major problem in India is the lack of incentive faced by teachers either in terms of carrot or stick. In the RTE Act, proper disciplinary channels for teachers have not been defined. Such disciplinary action is a must given that an average of 25 percent teachers are absent from schools at any given point and almost half of those who are present are not engaged in teaching activity. School Management Committees need to be given this power to allow speedy disciplinary action at the local level. Performance based pay scales need to be considered as a way to improve teaching.

25% reservation in private schools

The Act and the Rules require all private schools (whether aided or not) to reserve at least 25% of their seats for economically weaker and socially disadvantaged sections in the entry level class. These students will not pay tuition fees. Private schools will receive reimbursements from the government calculated on the basis of per-child expenditure in government schools. Greater clarity for successful implementation is needed on:

  • How will `weaker and disadvantaged sections’ be defined and verified?
  • How will the government select these students for entry level class?
  • Would the admission lottery be conducted by neighbourhood or by entire village/town/city? How would the supply-demand gaps in each neighbourhood be addressed?
  • What will be the mechanism for reimbursement to private schools?
  • How will the government monitor the whole process? What type of external vigilance/social audit would be allowed/encouraged on the process?
  • What would happen if some of these students need to change school in higher classes?

Moreover, the method for calculation of per-child reimbursement expenditure (which is to exclude capital cost estimates) will yield an inadequate resource flow to private schools. It will be tantamount to a tax on private schools. Private schools will endup charging more to the 75% of students – who are paying tuitions – to make space for the 25% of students they are forced to take. This will drive up tuition fees for private schools (while government schools continue to be taxpayer funded and essentially free).

Reimbursement calculations should include capital as well recurring costs incurred by the government.

By dictating the terms of payment, the government has reserved the right to fix its own price, which makes private unaided schools resent this imposition of a flat price. A graded system for reimbursement would work better, where schools are grouped — based on infrastructure, academic outcomes and other quality indicators — into different categories, which would then determine their reimbursement.

What is to be done?

The RTE Act has been passed; the Model Rules have been released; financial closure appears in hand. Does this mean the policy process is now impervious to change? Even today, much can be achieved through a sustained engagement with this problem.

Drafting of State Rules

Even though state rules are likely to be on the same lines as the model rules, these rules are still to be drafted by state level authorities keeping in mind contextual requirements. Advocacy on the flaws of the Central arrangements, and partnerships with state education departments, could yield improvements in atleast some States. Examples of critical changes which state governments should consider are: giving SMCs greater disciplinary power over teachers and responsibility of students’ learning assessment, greater autonomy for schools to decide teacher salaries and increased clarity in the implementation strategy for 25% reservations. If even a few States are able to break away from the flaws of the Central arrangements, this would yield demonstration effects of the benefits from better policies.

Assisting private unrecognized schools

Since unrecognized schools could face closure in view of prescribed recognition standards within three years, we could find ways to support such schools to improve their facilities by resource support and providing linkages with financial institutions. Moreover, by instituting proper rating mechanisms wherein schools can be rated on the basis of infrastructure, learning achievements and other quality indicators, constructive competition can ensue.

Ensure proper implementation

Despite the flaws in the RTE Act, it is equally important for us to simultaneously ensure its proper implementation. Besides bringing about design changes, we as responsible civil society members need to make the government accountable through social audits, filing right to information applications and demanding our children’s right to quality elementary education. Moreover, it is likely that once the Act is notified, a number of different groups affected by this Act will challenge it in court. It is, therefore, critically important for us to follow such cases and where feasible provide support which addresses their concerns without jeopardizing the implementation of the Act.

Awareness

Most well-meaning legislations fail to make significant changes without proper awareness and grassroot pressure. Schools need to be made aware of provisions of the 25% reservations, the role of SMCs and the requirements under the Schedule. This can be undertaken through mass awareness programs as well as ensuring proper understanding by stakeholders responsible for its implementation.

Ecosystem creation for greater private involvement

Finally, along with ensuring implementation of the RTE Act which stipulates focused reforms in government schools and regulation for private schools, we need to broaden our vision so as to create an ecosystem conducive to spontaneous private involvement. The current licensing and regulatory restrictions in the education sector discourage well-intentioned `edupreneurs’ from opening more schools. Starting a school in Delhi, for instance, is a mind-numbing, expensive and time-consuming task which requires clearances from four different departments totaling more than 30 licenses. The need for deregulation is obvious.

Please support our efforts towards ensuring Right to Education of Choice through some of the activities suggested above. Join our RTE Coalition.

Parth Shah, Ajay Shah’s Blog, 1 April 2010

3 Comments

The wrong way to school

Licenses and Regulations, Right to Education, School Management Committee, Teacher performance, Teacher salary, Unrecognized Schools

Heard of model rules? No? When an Act is passed in Parliament, there may still be vague areas that need closer attention. Model rules are written to help implement the Act. But the rules can never be better cooked than the original law was when poured into the parliamentary pressure cooker. No creative legislative masala can help cover up half-baked khana and half-thought laws. So it is with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, and its model rules. The Act, commonly referred to as the Right to Education (RTE) Act, becomes law on 1 April.

One apparent sign of a half-baked law is the number of lawsuits it generates. Even before the Act has been notified, the cases have started flowing into the Supreme Court—the first challenging the power of the state to force unaided schools to follow a reservation policy. What dish would emerge and, importantly, when, from the Supreme Court grinder is anyone’s guess: In that case, the Act that is addressing one of the most pressing issues confronting the country may not be even on the menu any time soon.

So what’s in the Act and the rules? The hope was that they would at least do no harm to private schools, while helping to improve government schools. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Everyone is tired of hearing about the high rate of teacher absenteeism (25%) in government schools—and the fact that half of the teachers who are physically present are not engaged in teaching activity—except the makers of the Act and the rules. The “input” educationists hold the belief that teachers are absent because they work too hard with little reward in poorly furnished schools, so with a lighter work load, better pay and pucca schools, they will get better results. Get the best ingredients and we will get the best dish—that’s the recipe of the “input” educationists, who believe input equals output, regardless of the process in between. So they don’t ask about the chef.

The truth is the ingredients, even the best ones, don’t jump into the frying pan at the right time and in the right proportion on their own. A chef is needed: She is not just the principal or the administrator with the right skills and adequate powers, but also the larger system and mechanisms of accountability and assessment, as well as the clarity of goals. In all these critical areas, the Act is silent. And the drafters of the model rules have left the details for state education departments.

Consider that the proposed governing body of all schools—except for unaided private schools—is a school management committee that has no teeth to take disciplinary action against teachers or even assess the learning achievements of students. On the contrary, teachers are to be kept on a separate legal track when any action is taken against them. State governments, according to the model rules, must constitute special school tribunals at all levels for the grievance redressal of this persecuted species of public servants. Other sarkari officers have to follow the laws of the land and take the jammed, potholed road to the Supreme Court in case of disputes. Teachers take a short cut, set their own precedents with their own tribunals, as the rules ensure—leaving them entirely unaccountable.

There is neither mention of evaluating teachers’ actual competencies (which doesn’t end at getting a bachelor of education certificate, by the way), nor of students’ learning outcomes. But enrolment and attendance are to be checked. All students must be in the classroom? Yes sir! Teachers? Teaching? Learning? No. No. And hopefully.

As silent as the RTE Act and rules are on real teacher accountability, they are equally adamant on making all non-government schools immediately unrecognized on 1 April. No matter how long a school has existed or who is the proprietor, if it is not a government school, it must register again and meet all government requirements.

But what about government schools themselves? Well, they are already considered recognized, no questions asked. Under this Kafkaesque logic, the municipal school running from a tent for several years in New Delhi is legally superior to the swanky Vasant Valley School.

Still, the sadder part of the RTE Act is the looming closure of tens of thousands of low-cost private schools across India. Most of these schools serving the poor will not be able to meet the requirements of the land plot, building specifications, playground and such in the prescribed three years. When they finally close down in 2013, millions of poor students will be forced to sign up at government schools they had once opted out of. Bribes might keep some of the budget schools going for some time, but with the law stacked against them, anyone hunting for supposed ramshackle fly-by-night “teaching shops”—and there are many (read: leftist NGOs)—can persecute them.

The minimum that citizens should expect from the RTE Act and model rules is the improvement in learning achievements in government-owned and -operated schools. The role of teachers is central to quality education. But teacher accountability is left to teacher unions and school tribunals. After waiting for 60 years in the Indian Republic, citizens are going to be further disappointed—in fact, their pockets would be emptier in paying for this newly christened Right to Education. Or maybe the Act’s name itself ought to be rechristened: It is really the right to employment—for the ones fortunate enough to be hired as government schoolteachers.

Parth J. Shah, The Mint, 31 March 2010

Comment

RTE Act: Private schools as catalysts?

Curriculum Development, Learning Achievements, Right to Education, School Management Committee

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE Act) will be notified on April 1. The Act attempts to address the historical problem of continuing illiteracy as well as the lack of educational opportunities that persist for sections of our population even sixty years after adoption of the Indian constitution. The socio-political, legal and financial aspects of the Act have been much debated and its final form much critiqued. As we draw nearer its implementation stage, it is clear that this Act will change the educational landscape of the country. However, the specific educational steps needed to meet its wide-ranging provisions remain far from clear.

Taking the perspective of a non-profit institution with a commitment to quality education for urban and rural children, we indicate some likely pitfalls in the implementation of the RTE Act. We then make some suggestions on the possible roles that private schools may play in order to support the quality-related and egalitarian provisions of the RTE Act.

Some pitfalls of the RTE Act

In its barest outline, the RTE Act has three goals: 1) bringing children of marginalized sections of our society into the ambit of school education, 2) ensuring that all schools and their teachers meet certain specified norms, and 3) ensuring that all children receive schooling of reasonable quality, free from any form of discrimination.

While these goals may seem laudable in themselves, we believe that simply using the Act as a legal instrument to initiate action against institutions and/or individuals that are perceived as responsible for failure to implement provisions of the Act, will not really address the issues of illiteracy and lack of educational opportunity. A coercive approach might at most bring in children who are out of school into the school system. However, it cannot actually address the core issue of the lack of meaningful learning in current forms of schooling across the country.

Our experience as an NGO that has actively participated in bridge-school programmes, intended to support and bring ‘drop-out’ children back into government schools, showed us that the issue is more of ‘push out’ rather than ‘drop out’. The children liked being part of this learning programme, since they were well looked after and the pedagogy was appropriately designed. However, most of the children who returned to mainstream government schools disappeared again after a few weeks or months. This was clearly due to the type of experience these children actually faced in regular schools, whose well-known features are: a) a lack of relevance of the curriculum to children’s experiences and needs b) rote-driven textbook-centred teaching c) lack of support as well as motivation among teachers to address the specific situation of diverse kinds of children. While these issues are well known and it is often acknowledged that a multi-dimensional approach is required to address them, the lines of solutions implied in the RTE Act are limited to: a) Requiring greater parent and local body representation in school managing committees b) Providing local authorities with the power and responsibility to ensure compliance of schools with specified norms c) Having many more trained teachers.

In our view, these measures would at best succeed in strengthening schooling that is ‘more of the same kind’. While parents and local bodies can ensure that teachers and students do attend school and are doing something in the classrooms, they cannot address the core problems of lack of motivation on the part of both teachers and children, or the perceptions that teaching is a chore and learning in school is a painful, ritualistic exercise. Children, from a very young age, are forced to sit for hours and made to listen to uninspiring textbook lessons from teachers, who in turn are often bored by carrying on with the same chore day after day. This situation prevails not only in a large numbers of government schools, but also in a wide spectrum of private schools that have sprung up in cities, towns and semi-urban areas all over the country.

Whereas the RTE Act emphasizes the need for child-friendly approaches, very little mention has been made of the need for having teacher-friendly and teacher-initiated processes in the school system. One cannot see how the former is possible without the latter. Our current system of academic administration remains heavily top-down and vertically organized, with very little scope for teacher participation or initiative.

The mechanism of monitoring relies heavily on inspections, assessments and punishments, with very little guidance, support and nurturing of teachers. We believe these are some of the major reasons for teachers becoming de-motivated and lacking interest in teaching. Therefore, even as more children are brought into the schooling system through the RTE Act, unless we bring in significant changes in our current approach to both children’s and teachers’ educational needs, its impact will remain limited. We will have more children going to school without the commensurate increase in either literacy or any other form of educational attainment.

It is here that NGOs and private schools with a good track record in education could be invited to play a role in catalysing shifts in government as well as private schools. We outline below some thoughts on the possible roles of private schools.

Role of Private Schools

At the outset, it needs to be recognized that the term ‘private schools’ is a ‘catch-all’ label that covers a wide variety of institutions. The range includes: a) International schools (with IB or Cambridge curriculum) b) Older established ‘public schools’ (many of them residential) c) Small and large urban schools with several branches d) Schools run by religious charitable trusts e) Private ‘ English-medium’ schools that have mushroomed in every part of the country f) Alternative schools that are based on holistic educational philosophies g) Innovative schools run by NGOs.

It would be counter-productive to make rules that deal with all these types of schools with a single brush-stroke. It would be more constructive to require their participation in a manner that is somewhat differentiated. We especially focus on the role that the last two categories of schools can play.

Private schools with a proven track record in providing sound education have the potential for playing a significant role in enabling shifts in the government education system towards a more child-friendly and teacher-friendly model. The essential components of such a model, to our minds, would include:

An age-appropriate curriculum with a significant amount of local content and exemplars that children, teachers and parents can relate to;

Organising the curriculum as a learning continuum that is mapped out in accordance with progressively organised learning goals in various curricular areas. This would enable a blurring of sharp dividing lines between successive grades, into which groups of students must be fitted; and who must all be taught the same content in tandem;

Preparation of teaching-learning materials for smaller, sequential curricular units, and participation of teachers in selecting and/or constructing appropriate teaching-learning materials. Teaching and learning could then be more flexible and the textbook be seen as a resource, rather than being treated as a ‘ one-size-fits all’ storehouse of knowledge; centrally constructed by ‘ experts’ for a whole state.

Assessment strategies that are built into the learning continuum as ‘assessment points’ and ‘milestones’, and which are both diagnostic and suggestive of remedial steps, doing away with the need for the stressful ritual of exams;

A shift in the teacher’s role as a facilitator of each students’ learning as the student navigates through the curricular route map at a pace commensurate with her abilities. This implies a shift in the relationship between teachers and students to one of cooperation and support, rather than coercion.

Whereas the forward-looking National Curriculum Framework 2005 had advocated many such shifts, their widespread acceptance has yet to take root. Some private schools and NGOs have had long years of experience in working on the development of viable and successful models of elementary education that build on the idea of a learning continuum. Well-designed teaching-learning materials, with built-in strategies for assessment, are available. These may be suitably adapted for use on a larger scale. State governments could fruitfully draw upon the knowledge base of this educational work, and devise effective strategies for scaling up such programmes, building capacity and shifting attitudes in the government sector in different regions of the country. This would enhance the quality of the learning in government schools and make the overall education system more receptive to the implementation of the RTE Act.

Supporting practical components in teacher training

A second possible role for educationally well-placed private schools lies in the area of support for teacher training. The task of preparing a large number of trained teachers in the next five years, as well as re-orienting and motivating existing teachers, as envisaged by the RTE Act, is indeed a huge one. Some of the solutions being considered are a) asking universities to start teacher-training programmes and conducting refresher programmes for existing teachers b) using distance learning models to conduct in-service as well as pre-service teacher training programmes.

Status quo of teachers

While these are important initiatives, they have some in-built limitations: they may be able to produce a larger number of trained teachers with some theoretical knowledge; but are not so amenable to providing a practical orientation to teachers. Effective teacher training needs sufficient exposure to school-based experiences. In fact, with some exceptions, most existing teacher training programmes in the country have very little experiential learning components. Graduates from these institutions are often not equipped to meet the requirements of a child-friendly learning environment.

It would thus be a desirable step to identify and support selected private schools, which have sound curricular and pedagogic practices, to set up facilities for conducting teacher enrichment programmes. Some private schools and NGOs are already moving in the direction of setting up in-house teacher training facilities. After a suitable ‘resource mapping’ of schools with such capabilities, the government could support them to develop basic training infrastructure and encourage them to upgrade their senior teachers as teacher educators. They may then be in a position to offer on-going refresher courses for teachers deputed by the government as well as other private institutions. Based on contact with actual students and classes, visiting teachers could be helped to gain a working understanding of educational principles along with contemporary methods of teaching. Linking schools to University-based teacher training programmes and government teacher training institutes such as the Regional Institutes of Education could also be mutually enriching. Such schemes have the potential of benefiting a significant number of schools and teachers in widening circles across each state.

Towards inclusion of the children of the poor

The RTE Act envisages making all kinds of private schools share the responsibility of educating poor children from the surrounding community. It currently requires participation of private schools by mandating free and compulsory admission of children of the poor from the ‘neighbourhood’ at Std. I level up to 25 percent of the class strength. In a society that has historically been stratified along caste and class lines, and in which gaps in every sphere have only widened, this is seen as a much-needed social corrective.

Some limitations and downsides of this thrust, however, need to be recognised. The fact remains that, in terms of numbers, the contribution of private schools to educating the poor will remain quite insignificant. At the same time, in its effort to regulate private schools and ensure their compliance, the government, acting through local authorities, might create conditions that lead to:

An increase in corruption with respect to enforcement of rules related to compliance with admissions of non-fee paying students;

A homogenising bureaucratic control that cuts at the root of innovative possibilities that a few schools have been able to sustain;

Difficulties for the survival of small schools that impart holistic, innovative education.

In itself, it seems highly desirable that children of different socio-economic classes are able to study and grow together. However, what cannot be denied is that several psycho-social and pedagogic issues would need to be addressed in order to integrate students from low-income families (who are often first or second-generation learners) with students from families that have a stronger educational as well as income background. Given the current exam-driven, competitive ethos of most private schools in India, children who lack academic support from their families are likely to remain low performing, and may suffer by comparison. Apart from this they would be faced with difficulties that stem from the contrast in social markers such as dress, possessions, parental profiles etc. All this could seriously affect the self-esteem of underprivileged students, and in the short run many schools may not be equipped or even inclined to respond to their specific needs.

To make this an educationally and sociologically worthwhile direction, school managements will need to work towards some basic shifts in their orientation and structuring of support for culturally diverse sets of children. Alongside this, a shift in sensibilities of teachers, other students and their parents will be needed, if underprivileged students are to have a worthwhile educational experience in private schools. Keeping these realities in mind, We propose the following intermediate step, which may be implemented at least for a few years: The government could expect well-endowed schools to either set up or adopt an additional ‘free school’ for the children of lower income families in the ‘neighbourhood’. The school should be required to share infrastructure and resources with the school it supports. A certain percentage of better performing children from this school may then be required to be absorbed into the original school. This will ensure that there is indeed an incentive to make the ‘free school’ sufficiently strong in its quality of education. After some specified number of years, such schools should be in a better position to directly absorb children from underprivileged families. This would be a more graded manner of ensuring that such private schools meet their social responsibility.

We conclude by maintaining that educationally well-placed private schools could play a variety of constructive roles in bringing into effect the provisions of the RTE Act. While educating children from low-income families in these schools may be one among these roles, this would benefit only a small number of them. On the other hand, participating in the training of teachers by a selected set of private schools will have a multiplier effect on other schools and teachers. Even more effective would be the scaling up of innovative models of schooling, accompanied by specialised capacity building, such that an increasing number of government schools develop a more sound platform for implementing the RTE Act in letter and spirit.

A.Kumaraswamy and Alok Mathur, The Hindu, 27 March 2010

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