Sunday, June 21, 2009

Weak Foundations! Great Expectations!

About a month ago, the results of high school (10th standard) examinations were declared in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The results were nothing but shocking! Having lived in states like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra where the high schools have nearly 70 to 80% students passing, the Madhya Pradesh state results came a big shock. The number of students who had cleared their high school exams was an abysmal 36%. Of the 7.5 lakh students who appeared for the high school exams, a mere one third have passed and another 1 lakh students have been permitted to appear for supplementary exams. The government of Madhya Pradesh convened a meeting of the district education officers on a fact finding mission to unearth the reasons for poor performance. Two of the prominent reasons were:
  • The government changed the syllabus but failed to train the teachers adequately on the new syllabus.
  • Books for new syllabus were not available in the market and hence students could not prepare adequately
The reason seemed to squarely blame the debacle on the syllabus. I too believed that the excuse was reasonable until I met a school administrator in Sagar, a town in central Madhya Pradesh last week. My discussion with this administrator was a revelation of sorts and I wish the Madhya Pradesh Education Department does some more fact finding before they come to blame the syllabus.

This school has been in existence for more than a decade in Sagar. The school has a Principal, who happens to the administrator's wife. The administrator is a high school pass and the Principal is a graduate. The school employs about 8 to 10 teachers who are mostly higher secondary pass and a few are graduates. My discussion with the administrator made me realise that such schools are one of the fundamental reasons for the poor results in high school exams since they lack quality in every aspect, be it operations, academics or accountability.

According to the administrator, the procedure to start a school is very easy. If you are willing to grease a few palms in the education department, you will have the licence to start a school. When asked if the education department prescribes any minimum standards or regulations in terms of the infrastructure or faculty, the administrator mentioned that there was no such thing as regulations or standards. Once you got the permission, every school was free to operate the school as per their wishes and charge fees as per their discretion. This school, for the record, has been functioning in a 1000 sqft. house of the administrator. Most importantly, the education department never inspects the functioning of the school. In the last decade, since its inception, nobody from the education department has ever come to inspect the functioning of this administrator's school.

If running the school has no rules and regulations, the academic component also takes a huge beating. None of the school teachers or the Principal have a Bachelor's in Education degree, which I have always thought was essential to be a school teacher. The administrator mentioned that there was no such requirement to run a school in Madhya Pradesh. The school management is free to decide on who teaches in the school. In fact, the administrator feels that a high school pass teacher is qualified enough to teach students upto 8th standard! A shocking revelation, to say the least!

The school administrator also mentioned that the school, in its decade old existence, has never failed any student. I was impressed, assuming that the teachers must be doing a very good job. However, the administrator clarified that the school never fails anybody since there is huge parental pressure to pass all the students. Since the exams are conducted by the school itself, nobody verifies the credentials of the exams or the students. Moreover, if the school fails any of its students, they may face problems with the education department during renewal of licence and hence to maintain a clean slate, they never fail any student.

Such schools, however, conduct classes only till the 8th standard since running classes for 10th standard poses a huge risk. Because they have compromised on the quality of education, they are definitely not sure if their students would pass high school exams and hence stay shy of commencing high school classes.

Having had this conversation with the school administrator, some stark realisation dawned upon me. If the quality of education has been so poor at the primary and secondary education level, there is no doubt that majority of these students would fail at the high school level. Since the foundations are weak, these students are bound to fail in a state-wide competitive exam such as the high school examination. Change in syllabus or inadequately trained faculty only complicate things much further.

Unless the state government actively takes interest in enhancing quality at the primary and secondary level and brings in strong accountability in primary and secondary schools, I do not see any improvement happening in the education scenario of the state.