The recent movie Sarkari Hiriya Prathamika Shale Kasaragod gives an excellent insight into what’s wrong with the government education system. The infrastructure is under stress, teachers are underpaid, and the quality of learning is dismal. With the Right to Education process in place, admission to private schools is being preferred, resulting in limited demand for state-sponsored education. India may be spending 3% of its gross domestic product on education, but the impact of this expenditure is rarely seen.
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Karnataka government, over the past decade, has implemented many schemes to improve its schools. Through these schemes, spending on school infrastructure and teachers has gradually increased, resulting in improvements to the overall quality of education. The state government has also encouraged private sector participation in education, facilitating a sharp rise in the number of privately-run schools, allowing more options for parents and children.
These measures should ideally ensure a good primary and secondary education system in Karnataka, but over the past decade, there has been negligible improvement. This is because of the government’s myopic vision on education, which has over the years prioritised piecemeal reforms over larger systemic reforms.
In Bengaluru rural and urban, there are 17,220 government schools, and 10,150 aided-cum-unaided schools. Bengaluru has often enjoyed the status of a knowledge hub, thanks to the performance of its students in 10th, 12th standards and entrance exams. While the success may be noticed among select students and schools, the average performance remains worrisome.
In the 2018 SSLC exams, BBMP schools had a pass percentage of 51%. Though this was an improvement from the 2017 results, it is well below the state average of around 72%. Further, apart from a select few, there is no data on the performance of aided schools and private unaided schools. To ensure equity in quality education, the education governance frameworks in government and private schools need comprehensive reforms.
Who should be managing ‘government’ schools?
There two types of government schools in Bengaluru – those managed by the state government and those under the BBMP. The state government, under the Karnataka Education Act, 1983, is required to establish and manage primary and secondary schools. BBMP, being the local government, also manages its own network of schools with its own revenue. Currently there are 49,500 public schools in Karnataka. This includes 17,220 schools in Bengaluru that are managed either by the state government or by the BBMP.
State government, through the Department of Primary and Secondary Education, manages its vast network of schools. This system of education governance is highly centralized, and contrary to the theory of devolution envisaged in the Constitution through the 73rd and 74th Amendment. Such a centralized system results in inadequate monitoring and difficulty in ensuring quality control.
Whereas, in the case of BBMP schools, the fund-starved BBMP is unable to meet demands and provide quality education. Though the BBMP may express reservations about running schools in Bengaluru, it is best suited for this. BBMP is often the first level of government that citizens interact with. It is designed to handle community affairs; and all communities are impacted and concerned about education.
Ideally, local governments such as BBMP must manage the day-to-day affairs of all schools. However, the role of the state government must not be underplayed – it must create a policy framework for effective governance of schools and put in place accountability measures. Handing over complete responsibility of managing Bengaluru’s government schools to BBMP might stress its financial resources, but this can be addressed if the State Finance Commission recommends a special grant for the purpose.
Kerala, known best for its education practices, has completely decentralized the management of government schools. Under the Kerala Education Act, 1958, government schools in urban areas are required to be managed by the municipal corporations.
How to teach the teachers?
The other major concern about Bengaluru’s government schools is the quality of teaching. In Karnataka, the Department of State Education Research and Training (DSERT), District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs), Colleges for Teacher Education (CTEs) are the nodal authorities for training teachers in government schools, and for framing the curriculum for student learning.
In a comprehensive review of teacher training institutes, the Knowledge Commission – established in 2008 under the Chairmanship of Dr Kasturirangan – had suggested many changes. These include on-ground training for teachers, restructuring B.Ed/D.Ed courses, and deputing teachers to reputed schools for training.
Further, a key way to ensure quality of teaching is by establishing a comprehensive monitoring framework. The Karnataka Education Act, 1983, establishes District Education Regulating Authorities (DERA) with representation from local authorities and state government officers.
The authority’s composition should be revised to include School Management Committee (SMC) members too, which would allow authorities to notice ground realities and take corrective measures. Block education officers (BEOs) who are responsible for administration of a set of schools in each district, currently report to state government’s Department of Primary and Secondary Education. In furtherance of effective decentralization, this system must be revised to make the BEO accountable to local authorities such as the BBMP. This will ensure better accountability and faster decision-making.
How are private schools in Bengaluru faring?
In response to the falling standards of government schools, students have been flocking to private schools in Bengaluru. However, education in many private schools comes at a premium. State government has, at several instances, tried to regulate the fees charged by private unaided schools. Despite this, fees at many prominent private schools in Bengaluru are still higher than that for university education.
The fees charged by private schools are regulated under the Karnataka Education Institutions (Classification, Regulation and Prescription of Curricula) Rules, 1995 (“State Rules”). Under these Rules, education institutions can charge three kinds of fees – term fees on which there’s an upper ceiling, special development fees which can’t be more than Rs 2500 per student, and tuition fees on which there is no limitation.
The issue is with the tuition fees charged, since it’s largely left to the discretion of private schools. Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan have comprehensively dealt with this issue by enacting specific laws regulating fee collection. As per laws in these two states, tution fees is guided by parameters like location, infrastructure and teachers’ qualifications. Further, a committee is set up under a retired High Court judge to put a limit on the overall fees chargeable by schools.
In Karnataka however the State Rules have been frequently amended, largely in response to specific situations, while not addressing the issue comprehensively. For Bengaluru schools to become accessible and equitable, the regulatory framework must be revised to set up an overarching law on collection of fees.
There are schools in Bengaluru that charge high fees and also provide proportionate educational services. The concern is about schools that do not provide standardised education, yet charge exorbitant fees. The pre-primary school sector in Bengaluru is an example. In the absence of regulations, many pre-schools have emerged in residential complexes, managed by under-qualified staff.
For primary and secondary schooling, the State Rules only mandate the minimum size of land required for establishing the school; it doesn’t regulate classroom-to-student ratio, number of buildings, or the extent of free space for sports.
The education system in Bengaluru is impacted by overlapping functions of authorities, an ineffective monitoring system and expensive private schools. To address this, there is an urgent need to re-look at the governance mechanism of private and government schools, and put in place a more participatory and accountable model.