The 1983 report of the US’s National Commission on Excellence in Education was very appropriately titled ‘A Nation at Risk’. Any nation that is deficient on providing its children and youths adequately on health, nutrition and education is definitely at risk; rather grave risk. The conditions that led to the formation of this commission are well summarised by J W Gardner in Excellence: Can we be equal and excellent too?: “There has been plenty of evidence that the schools are in serious trouble.
A series of influential studies released in 1983 documented that fact, falling achievements, students inadequately prepared in basic subjects, teachers incapable of meeting minimum standards in their own subjects—the indictments are familiar. The studies make many recommendations that are of unquestionable value: better selection and training of teachers, better leadership and management by superintendents and above all principals, measures to ensure the acquiring basic competence in key subjects, and so on.” While going through the inadequacies mentioned and action points suggested to filling in the gaps, one finds it applicable to Indian schools and teachers in equal!
Delhi government has threatened takeover of 449 much sought-after private schools alleged to have overcharged parents against the regulations prescribing the fee structure. In several states, parents have launched agitations against such private schools. Essentially, for private entrepreneurs in school education, autonomy mainly implies no ‘state governance’ on fee structures, teacher salaries, and profits by other means such as selling books and stationary at exorbitant costs.
These managements know that parents have no choice. For decades, it has been recommended that government schools deserve extra care, additional infrastructure inputs and professionally-equipped teachers in adequate proportion. In spite of several major schemes launched with the best of intentions, downfall of the sarkari schools continues unabated. Schemes such as Operation Blackboard, District Primary Education Project, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and even the RTE Act could not prevent the decline in the credibility and acceptability of sarkari schools even in a small measure!
When everyone prefers private schools, the planners just cannot ignore the alternative of privatising school education. What else one could expect from government agencies when the picture is dismal and the system has refused to respond to well-intentioned initiatives? Certain figures are indeed disturbing: around one lakh schools have less than 20 students on roll; expenditure per child comes to `80,000 annually. Further, 3.70 lakh schools have an enrollment of less than 50.
During 2010-2014, the enrolment in government schools dropped by 1.13 crore in spite of 13,500 new schools. In private school, it increased by 1.85 crore. Obviously, serious search for alternatives appears prudent. How was the system ruined? Teachers were persistently made to succumb to external influences and imposing non-academic duties without caring for the consequential loss of the learner.
Ever-increasing vacancies against sanctioned posts, appointments on meager remuneration, neglect of leadership role of the head teachers/principals are gifts of political bosses who rarely accept any responsibility for their deeds/misdeeds. Government school teachers must also incisively scrutinise their own role and responsibility in the predicament before the nation. The proposed change shall confront serious queries from people/parents. Further, Constitutional assurance that every child deserves equality of access and success just cannot be diluted. Why not also examine transferring ownership of schools, with adequate autonomy, to community and teachers? And never forget: “Change is inevitable, but not every change leads to progress!”
J S Rajput
Former director of the NCERT