Our aim is to enrol more students and provide quality education: Preeti Gehlot, Special Commissioner

Interview: Functioning of BBMP schools

Preeti Gehlot, Special Commissioner, Education
Preeti Gehlot says education should be prioritiaed. Pic: Harshitha Padmavinod

“Patience is required to work in the education field,” says Preeti Gehlot, who was appointed as Special Commissioner for Education on January 25th. “It’s not like building a road, but more like bringing behavioural change in students,” she says.

Though Preeti is also in-charge of estate, horticulture, lakes and forest, she prefers to devote more attention to education.

In an interview with Citizen Matters, Preeti talks about the education department’s plans and proposals as well as priorities and implementation of policies. 

Excerpts from the interview:

How are BBMP schools different from schools under the jurisdiction of the Karnataka Government? 

BBMP began its first school in 1938 and started its first college (a pre-university one) in 1978. So, education is one of the areas in which urban local bodies (ULBs) should focus on. But not all ULBs in Karnataka take care of schools and education. BBMP has been looking after so many schools, which are separate from those run by the education department. But both are basically running under the same guidelines, regarding curriculum and teacher’s eligibility criteria. There are also government schools that are run by BBMP. That’s one difference. Another difference is that the school education department looks after all schools across Karnataka, and they have thousands of schools under them, with some in Bengaluru as well.

BBMP currently has 166 schools in total. This includes nursery, primary and high school, pre-university degree and, a few post graduate colleges as well. 

With regard to the structure, we have around 170 permanent teachers, who were hired way earlier and still continue in service. Earlier, the requirement of teachers and number of schools were limited. Over time, the number of schools increased, but parallelly the recruitment of teachers did not happen, so there was a shortage of teachers. So, in the school education department there are guest teachers who are hired on a contractual yearly basis, and these contracts are done at the School Management and Development Committee (SMDC), which includes local public representatives, parents, and a few local members who look after the management of the school functioning, apart from teachers and the management. 

These SMDCs are established at eight schools, and BBMP has the same system. This year, we are planning to strengthen these SMDCs so that the local representatives can discuss the development of these schools. These SMDCs are given a small amount of financial assistance. In rural areas, we have SMDCs for each school, and when they have a shortage of teachers, they are hired through SMDCs. They have SMDCs per the category, whether it’s primary or high school, or PU college. 

When I spoke to a few schools, many teachers pointed out that they seem to face some issues with Crystal Agency, who hire teachers for BBMP schools. How is BBMP linked to them? 

Across India, teachers are hired through SMDCs. They are hired through the education department. But with BBMP, we are currently short of more than 700 teachers. We need more than 800 teachers, but immediate recruitment cannot happen since we need the government’s approval. So until then, there was this temporary arrangement where we decided to hire people.

This has never happened anywhere in India, but in BBMP, somehow, they called a tender about 15 years back for hiring teachers. Every year, the same agency comes, and, in some cases, the same teachers are continuing for more than 10 years. When we call a tender as per the KTPP Act, the tender always mentions that it is for a period of one year and after that we have to recall the tender. Sometimes there is an extension, and we put a condition that the agency applying should have some experience in providing teachers. But since, across the country, such agencies are rare, the same agency gets qualified. This agency is only a route through which teachers are recruited. Every year, we should be calling tenders, but because of various reasons, for example the same agency applying when we call for a tender, the agency gets an extension.

This year, the Chief Commissioner decided to also call the tender at the Zonal level, to make it easier to manage. So now, we have three zones in which BBMP schools are set up: Bengaluru East, West and South, which are the core zones. The Chief Commissioner called three tenders for three zones, and that is yet to be finalised. The first time we called them in March, before elections, we did not get any bids. In one case, we got a single bid, so we had to cancel, but as per the guidelines we had to recall it and that is getting processed.

With Crystal agency we don’t have any issues, but tender has to be called. There are certain guidelines from the Karnataka State education Department, as well as BBMP circulars, with clearly mentioned eligibility and qualifications of teachers to be hired. The guidelines were given to the agency as well, which unfortunately, in some cases, they had not adhered to.

We are not directly connected with the teachers, but with the agency. If we ask for 100 teachers, the agency should provide that. It has not been able to provide us with these resources as per BBMP’s requirement and if the results are not good, we will be questioned about it.

Our resources have to be up to the mark, since it concerns more than 22,000 students. If we have to replace some resources, who are not qualified to be teachers, that should be done, and quality must be ensured. We have done very little shuffling in less than 5% of cases. We have analysed the last three years performance. Those who have been outsourced and have shown 0% outcomes, they have been taken out, as such a result is not acceptable. In cases where they have shown less than 50% results, we have given them time till mid-terms. If they show no improvement, then we have to replace them. We have a contract with the agency, not the person. So, I have the right to seek the service which I have asked for.

We just want to focus on those 22,000 children who cannot access private schools. The infrastructure BBMP is providing is good in comparison to the school education department. We have good schools and people want to enroll in them. Despite inadequate resources and bad outcomes, we don’t want to compromise with the education of our children. 

Another issue is that, if I call a tender this year, I would one thing, but next year I could want something different. But if I keep extending, I won’t be able to change my criteria, since that person will work on the previous conditions. All these concerns were raised, but it did not become a major issue as I think they understand we do not do this without consulting with officials. 


Read more: Opinion: Why we still need English in our schools and colleges


When teachers have issues with the agency swapping teachers between schools, depending on their performance, and issues about salary, whom should they reach out to? 

For anything related to education like the quality, timeline, how to teach, etc., they have to come to us. The agency only hires. They have no expertise with education and don’t get involved with education related activities. With regards to salary, we pay the agency and they in turn pay the teachers as we don’t have an agreement with the teachers directly. 

In terms of infrastructure and development, how do you stand out from state government run schools? 

We don’t stand out as we are a ULB, which gets its funds from a lot of sources, including from the state government. We also generate our own funds where the Corporation collects revenue in terms of property tax and other means. So, in terms of infrastructure they are relatively good. I have visited a few schools in the last two-three weeks, and we have seen that the infrastructure is decent. Of course, there is a lot to be done so it’s not standing out, it is only a little better from the government schools. With the government, the problem is that they have a lot of schools to maintain, and they have shortage of funds. We somehow balance our funds.

This year, we have proposed some basic repairs, so that when kids come to schools, they should feel good about it. We are providing free notebooks, textbooks, uniforms, sweaters, socks, shoes and bags. Some of these are also provided by the school education department, but since BBMP is better placed funds-wise, we are giving additional facilities like sweaters and notebooks.

Another challenge is that the school education department has a structure at the district level to monitor the schools. The Block Resource Centres (BRCs) and Cluster Resource Centres (CRCs) are block level resources, which will stay in touch with the school throughout the year, evaluate performances of teachers, and report it to the block education officials at the district level. There are further structures at taluka levels, and they have Deputy Director of Public Instruction (DDPI) and Deputy Director Office of Pre-University (DDPU) as well, who look into academic and administrative inspections in the district.

But we do not have that structure, so the lack of this monitoring structure makes it challenging for us to be in touch with all 166 schools. This time, we have tried to strengthen that by taking retired education department officials, who will work with us as consultants and guide us. We have strengthened our internal head office as well. We have taken DC education, new subject inspectors so that they could do rounds of all schools. We have given them a target of covering two schools per day.

This year, we have done serious analysis and begun work at the beginning of the year itself. We are also working with Pratham Foundation, WIPRO, Azim Premji Foundation, Agastya Foundation, and reaching out to the school education department for teachers’ training. It will take at least a year to see results. Even during the election period, we tried to do our analyses a few months before schools began. We have also done a tender for house-keeping staff to maintain cleanliness. I just signed it, which should be finalised in a week. Once a work order is given, every school will have a house-keeping staff. The smart city project had also said that they would provide every class with projectors and ITC devices. They have already done that in a few schools. 

Could you elaborate a little more on how you generate your own funds? 

We are still short of funding. We are yet to get money from the government in the form of grants. Education takes up a small proportion of the funds, in comparison to roads and buildings. We pool our funds from both BBMP and the government. Whereas with grants, we get them under a few schemes, like Amruth Nagar Uthana, state finance and the like. Under these schemes, specific work will be undertaken. For education, it’s mostly from the BBMP funds, it does not come under any schemes, but for school buildings or new schools to be built, funds are taken under some schemes. There will be a pool fund in which we pay for salary and other expenditures. 

A classroom with smart boards
Smart boards installed in majority of the BBMP schools under Smart City Project. Pic: Harshitha Padmavinod

What is the current status of the mobile school initiative? 

We have not started it this year. The High Court pointed out that so many kids are outside school, and we haven’t been able to enroll them. To implement that initiative, we bought some 10 school buses from BMTC, along with drivers. These buses would go to slum areas and places where children were not ready to come to schools, and there the teachers would teach. We have not started it this year because instead of teaching them in a bus, we would rather enroll them in schools.

Secondly, there are issues with route map and effectiveness of this initiative. It may look good on paper, but the implementation of it (considering that it is in a bus with change in routes everyday) is difficult as there is no continuity in learning and the number of children being reached out to. We decided to do an analysis. The point is that if we have identified the out of school children why have we not put them in schools, instead of buses? It could be more of an activity-based bus, but not for formal learning.  We’ll see if we want to go ahead with it or not. 

Is it a new initiative to work with subject inspectors? 

It’s not an initiative. As part of our routine functioning, we had a few subject inspectors for maths, science who go around and check if the teachers are teaching these subjects well. So far, we had only two subject inspectors for science and social science, who also do other work. We have five subject inspectors now, for English, Kannada, Maths, Science and Social Science. They go around and check how the teachers are working. 

Some teachers said that Rs 1 lakh was distributed to a few schools last year, what exactly was it for? 

This was a part of A P J Abdul Kalam’s Kanasina Shaale Program, which translates to Dream School Program. Schools were called and they gave their presentations, and whoever got selected was awarded with Rs 1 lakh each to use it for their school development. It was the first time we had an event like that. We have started a follow-up process to check how this fund was used to develop the schools. 

To make sure education reaches all, how are you planning to take this department forward?

The major thing is there are so many poor children, who cannot go to private schools and government schools do not have a great reputation. Again, that is not a consistent reputation, since there are some really good functioning schools. Our parents’ futures have been shaped at government schools. But over the years, management has become challenging, as it is all a game of numbers when you look at the lakhs of students across the state. It is a difficult question to answer with so many hurdles, but this year what we have tried is to enroll more students and focus entirely on quality. It does not matter much if one child has done better in comparison to 20,000 as we need to set the minimum standard for every student and we can look at excellence later on. I believe that quality should be a priority. 

Could you elaborate a little more on how you generate your own funds? 

We are still short of funding. We are yet to get money from the government and in forms of grants. Education takes up a small proportion of the funds, in comparison to roads and buildings. We pool our funds from both BBMP and the government. Whereas with grants, we get them under a few schemes, like Amruth Nagar Uthana, state finance and the like. Under these schemes, specific work will be undertaken. For education, it’s mostly from the BBMP funds, it does not come under any schemes, but for school buildings or new schools to be built, funds are taken under some schemes. There will be a pool fund in which we pay for salary and other expenditures. 

What is the current status of the mobile school initiative? 

So we have not started it this year. The High Court pointed out that so many kids are outside school and we haven’t been able to enrol them. To implement that initiative, we bought some 10 school buses from BMTC, along with drivers. These buses would go to slum areas and places where children were not ready to come to schools, and there the teachers would teach. We have not started it this year because instead of teaching them in a bus, we would rather enrol them in schools.

Secondly, there are issues with route map and effectiveness of this initiative. It may look good on paper, but the effectiveness of it, considering that it is in a bus, and with change of route everyday, there is no continuity to learning and how many children we are reaching out to. We decided to do an analysis. The point is that if we have identified the out of school children why have we not put them in schools, instead of buses? It could be more of an activity-based bus, but not for formal learning.  We’ll see if we want to go ahead with it or not. 

Is it a new initiative to work with subject inspectors 

It’s not an initiative. As part of our routine functioning, we had a few subject inspectors for maths, science who go around and check if the teachers are teaching these subjects well. So far, we had only two subject inspectors for science and social science, who also had to do other work. We have five subject inspectors now, for English, Kannada, Maths, Science and Social Science. They go around and check how the teachers are working. 

Some teachers were mentioning that Rs 1 lakh was distributed to a few schools last year, what exactly was it for? 

This was a part of A P J Abdul Kalam’s Kanasina Shaale Program, which translates to Dream School Program. Schools were called and they gave their presentations, and whoever got selected was awarded with Rs 1 lakh each to use it for their school development. It was the first time we had an event like that. We have started a follow-up process to check how this fund was used to develop the schools. 

To make sure education reaches all, how are you planning to take this department forward?

The major thing is there are so many poor children, who cannot go to private schools and government schools do not have a great reputation. Again, that is not a consistent reputation, since there are some really good functioning schools. Our parents’ futures have been shaped at government schools. But over the years, management has become challenging, as it is all a game of numbers when you look at the lakhs of students across the state. It is a difficult question to answer with so many hurdles, but this year what we have tried is to enrol more students and focus entirely on quality. It does not matter much if one child has done better in comparison to 20,000 as we need to set the minimum standard for every student and we can look at excellence later on.I believe that quality should be a priority.

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About Harshitha Padmavinod 13 Articles
Harshitha is a reporter with Citizen Matters, Bengaluru. She is interested in covering issues on women's rights, environment, crime, and civic concerns. Her work has been previously published in The Hindu, The Logical Indian and Deccan Herald.