Underperforming schools and fixing responsibility
Irshad Ahmad Wani
Few of the recent developments in Education Department of J&K UT give ample proof that some policy decisions are being taken with regards to the reformation and rejuvenation of the department.
The steps being taken are said to be attempts towards streamlining the system to bring it back on the track from which it has derailed. The department is said to be having failed to come up to the expectations as desired and yielding lower outcomes in terms of gross enrolment, lowering drop outs, and attracting public appreciation.
On the other hand the department is said to have a good number of employees who do not perform up to the expectations and the government intends to act tough against these employees.
The set quality indicators, no doubt, portray a dismal picture with regards to the overall performance of government schools. Failing to attract more and more enrolment rather than pleading for it by promising what public hardly believes to materialize, continuing drop outs, lower results, consistent learning crises in terms of lower performance of pass outs from government schools and underutilization of man power available are enough to prove that all is not well with this department.
All these indicators demand immediate consideration at the appropriate level so as to make this department yield as is expected. Before that consideration the responsibility of the stakeholders who have brought the department to this stage need to be recognized and fixed thereof, for preventing it from further loss.
The three main stakeholders of the department are teachers, administrative authorities and society/community. Let us consider their individual roles in bringing the department to this position and their responsibility in bringing the department back on track.
Teachers are the most important stakeholders in the department. Quality of teachers determine the quality of output from the schools and the quality of teachers is determined by the criteria rather policy of their recruitment.
If the authorities at the helm of affairs compromise with the criteria and set it as minimum as possible, they are actually doing harm to the department in particular, and to the society, in general.
In case of UT of J& K (erstwhile state of J&K) most of the teachers in the department are there by chance not by choice as the criteria set in the ReT scheme was mostly to address the universal access rather than taking into consideration the quality provisions and appointing the most qualified and skilled lot through proper policy.
Education system is the origin of good quality doctors, engineers, lawyers, businessmen, entrepreneurs, and other service professionals and as such the system needs to have the most professional and qualified persons who are there by choice rather than by chance.
The recruitment policy and criteria for the profession of teachers should have been very rigorous involving due level of competition among the aspirants so that only the cream of the society get the job of teaching.
In establishment of indiscriminate number of schools and upgrading existing ones, by mostly flouting the set norms, besides framing the crooked recruitment policy the teachers appointed seldom had any say. Teachers were at the receiving end in both the cases but for the flaws that crept in from time-to-time teachers are made to bear the brunt.
They are being blamed for everything that is not good within the department. Taking it rationally, in few of the cases teachers appointed under ReT scheme and through Recruitment Board, taking the advantage of job security, less accountability and nepotism took their job for granted and rarely bothered to deliver as was expected from them.
But on the other hand, it is only the teachers who managed to increase the literacy rate from 55.52 percent in 2001 to 77.3 percent in 2020 in J&K, besides making schooling possible in far flung and inaccessible areas. The teachers, in general, giving their sweat and blood for the cause were left handicapped in transforming the system when taking into consideration the other parameters that should have been there in place. Had teachers been the only stakeholders in the system, holding them wholly responsible for all the bad things in the department would have been justified.
Second to teachers, authorities/administrative officers at the helm of affairs are responsible for all the good and bad in the department. Establishing new schools, upgrading existing ones and deciding feasibility thereof, furnishing adequate number of teachers to the schools, providing accommodation and other facilities, deciding curriculum, setting academic calendar, ensuring provision for recreational, co-curricular and sports facilities, deciding examination and promotion policy, are what government looks after besides giving registration and affiliation to government aided and un-aided (private) schools.
For past two decades, in erstwhile state of J&K (now UT) we have witnessed extensive establishment of new schools, upgradation of already existing ones, mushroom growth of private schools. The newly opened primary schools were either housed in rented rooms or given three room buildings, wherever land for the purpose was available.
In most of the cases there was least rather no provision for one classroom for each grade and accommodating 5 to 6 classes in one or two rooms was nothing less than torment for the teachers working there.
In comparison to private schools, government schools lacked subjects like Computer, General Knowledge, fine arts, Religious studies (Islamiyat etc) what to talk of recreational and sports facilities.
Government schools have been experimenting with KG classes for past few years when private schools have always been considering the same classes as their first priority. In all these matters teachers have never been at the deciding end and the faults, if any, in these areas have been detrimental in lowering the enrolment in government schools and forcing people to prefer private schools for their wards.
As per reports government is going to merge 2000 schools to increase pupil teacher ratio (PTR) and owing to less than 10, 30, and 70 number of students in these Primary, Middle and High schools respectively. This is going to be the second exercise in this direction as 4000 schools were clubbed in 2015 and 2016 in the state of J&K and out of these 4000 schools 1834 were housed in rented buildings.
Enrolment in the individual clubbed schools declined over the passage of time as the teachers spared in these schools were made to work in nearby/other schools. Fixing responsibility of low enrolment in these schools on these teachers lacks rationality.
Instead of resorting to this merging and clubbing time and again the government should focus on rejuvenating and reforming the entire department by taking into consideration all the contributing factors as has been done by Delhi government.
Besides free education government has been providing Mid Day Meals (MDM), free textbooks, free uniforms, scholarships etc. All these facilities can attract students from middle or poor class families to the government schools but can hardly ensure the quality education that should have been given the top most priority.
Owning the share of responsibility in this case on part of the government and coming up with the reformative policy is the need of hour and in the same process teachers should be blamed only to the extent that is justified on account of their irresponsibility, if any.
After teachers and government, role of society viz-a-viz downfall of the government schools cannot be underestimated or neglected. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) had envisaged the concept of community ownership of the government schools wherein the community along with the teachers was supposed to strive for the upliftment of the schools and consider the same as their assets.
Since affluent class of the society prefer better quality private schools for their wards, most of the middle-class families follow the fray and the government schools are left with a lot that mostly could not afford to the private schools and are first generation learners.
Community ownership of the government schools cannot be achieved unless and until these schools do not give due competition to the private schools that otherwise take a major chunk of the admissions.
In this context asking government teachers to admit their wards in the government schools for depicting the trust that is desired to be on these schools, makes no sense because he/she, although longing to see government schools to be ahead of the private schools, can hardly make any difference unless and until government and society do not play their part in providing the other facilities and giving the ownership respectively.
On conclusion it can be said that government including teachers and society should put their heads together and make a commitment to regain the lost glamour of the government schools and ensure their quality of such a standard that need to merger or club them does not arise time and again.
(The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed are his own)