Karnataka needs to improve its schools

The Karnataka government, elected on a platform of five guarantees, has seen success with cash handouts, free travel for women, and free power. However, the education sector remains neglected.
Students arrive to give their SSLC examination at a Government School, one of the centers at Kengeri Satellite Town
Students arrive to give their SSLC examination at a Government School, one of the centers at Kengeri Satellite Town File Photo - Express

This year, Karnataka's SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) students have posted a dismal performance with a pass percentage of 73.4 percent. This is lower than the performance in the past few years, not discounting the Covid factor: 83.89 percent in 2022-23, 85.13 percent in 2021-22 and 99.99 percent in 2020-21. What makes the picture more dreary is that the actual pass percentage was 54 percent, prompting the education department to reduce the qualifying mark to 25 percent from 35 percent. Grace marks were given to over 2 lakh failing students to push up the pass percentage; last year too, marks were added to push through 59,000 students. None of the students from 78 schools passed; the number was 34 last year. Yet, there are some inspiring stories, like a Bagalkote farmer's daughter topping with 100 percent.

A comparison with other education boards brings out the starkness. ICSE students posted an impressive 99.8 percent pass percentage and CBSE students clocked 93.6 percent without grace marks. State board schools in Kerala posted a pass share of 99.69 percent, Tamil Nadu 91.55 percent, Telangana 91.31 percent, Andhra Pradesh 86.69 percent and Delhi schools posted 96.99 percent, though these numbers are to be taken with a pinch of salt, as state boards are more prone to indulge in grade inflation.

What ails Karnataka, which is ahead of many other states on other social development indices? Lowering the bar to dress up statistics may help the students now, but not when they face tough professional exams. The education department is only deluding itself and the students. A committee that assessed the decline in academic performance zeroed in on the lack of effective guidelines and a casual attitude towards quality. While strict rules are imposed on private schools, there are few for public ones. The panel has recommended a strong learning foundation for pre-primary students.

The government must set up a robust system of good, affordable schools. This Karnataka government came to power on the formula of five guarantees. While its cash handouts and free travel for women, and free power have proved to be a hit, the government has failed to do anything substantial for the education sector. It should now add free and good education to its guarantees, which is bound to deliver dividends in the future.

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