How to make public education sector more attractive?
Though certain steps are being taken to make government schools more desirable, lot more need to be done to improve teaching-learning standards.
An overall impression attributed to the government education sector is that it has miserably failed to uphold the teaching, learning quality and therefore, has paved way for the massive growth of private sector schooling thus forcing parents to rely on these private institutions for the better education of their children, over the years.
However, the authorities claim that public education sector has improved immensely in the recent years, however, ground realities suggest that the government sector of education is yet to come at par with private sector schools in terms of their quality of education. For instance, only 43 percent of government schools here are in accordance with the 30:1 student–teacher ratio recommended in the New Education Policy 2020. According to an official study, rest 57 percent of schools disproportionately have 14:1 and 11:1 pupil–teacher ratio at secondary and middle level, respectively. There are many other examples indicating that besides bringing an improvement in the existing curriculum and focus on the professional development of teaching staff and providing them with modern teaching tools, a lot more has to be done to ensure quality education in the government run schools.
In spite of this scenario, many parents seem to be willing to shift their wards from the private educational institutions to the government sector schools as they feel financially overburdened by the educational expenses of their kids. As Covid-19, like rest of the world, has impacted overall economy of Kashmir, a significant number of parents have already shifted their children to the public sector schools. However, experts suggest that the government needs to take some radical initiatives to raise the standard and to ensure quality education in these schools.
To have a profound look and better understanding of the state of affairs in education sector, Kashmir Images spoke to several experts and got their viewpoints on the subject.
Parents are pressurized with the education-related expenses of their children, these days. Many of them are willing to shift their kids to government schools but at the same time, they want their children to get quality education as well.
By shifting from private to public sector schools they surely will get some relief vis-à-vis cost burden of education. However, they still believe that the private education institutions have comparatively good teaching, better planning, and good marketing. I recently met many people who have already moved their children to the government schools thinking that after enrolling them in these schools they will send these students to the tuition centers to ensure they study well.
In this scenario, I will say that the government should be prepared for incoming enrollment in its schools. It needs to look at the education plan, particularly in terms of the teaching standards, afresh. We have to be prepared for the information and communication technology-enabled system of education, as the technology has now emerged as a new component in the teaching-learning process. We have to incorporate online teaching techniques such as video conferencing, audio conferencing, online libraries, and many such things in our education system.
We had not even thought of all these things, earlier. Our idea was that technology will be a tool only in the hands of teachers to make learning easier for the students. However, now we see that it has become the most important component of education even for children. Since the pandemic has converted every household into a small classroom and children are bound to study through the technology. They not only get their assignments but they also prepare and submit their work through these tools. We were not prepared for this change. That is why I say that the government education sector has to get ready for new challenges. As of now, I say this with despair, that we are not prepared yet. To fulfill the requirements we have to strengthen four essential components of teaching-learning system.
They are; curriculum, empowerment of students and teachers, and last but not least, evaluation.
As far as the curriculum is concerned, we have to assess that whatever we teach is somehow relevant and significant. We have to see that whatever we teach whether it is relative to the contemporary issues of our society or not.
Secondly, the empowerment of the student is the main objective of education. However, to empower the student we need to empower the teacher. Teaching is not only about the qualification of the teacher. For a teacher’s empowerment, we have to empower him or her will the relevant tools. After coming out of the training program, a teacher should feel well-skilled and empowered.
Empowering the teachers will fetch exemplary results. In the US, parents prefer to send their kids to public sector schools because their government makes more investment in teachers. Likewise, China in its education policy has the highest capital investment in human resource development.
Finally, we have to watch evaluation. In this, we have to improve our examination system. We need to assess whether kids retain the education they have been taught or not.
All said, I must tell you that our government institutions have been working in this direction. I myself have been part of at least 15 committees from 2001 to 2013. All these committees, for the improvement of educations sector, came up with some solid recommendations. In 2013, when Omar Abdullah was the chief minister, one of the committees prepared a vision document for higher education. However, even after seven years, it is eating dust somewhere in the civil secretariat.
Unfortunately, the lack of capital has always been a huge hindrance in the implementation of these recommendations. Since 1964, our dream has been to spend at least six percent of our GDP on education. However, even now we are not able to spend more than three percent on this.
To conclude, most important requirement of the contemporary education is to promote ‘public-private’ cooperation instead of hostile and useless competition and also to develop maximum possible infrastructure to initiate a workable instructional system.
Education is not something static, it is a dynamic process. Whatsoever the situation might have been here ten years back does not mean it will be the same even now. Today is a different story. Because of the IT intervention and new innovations, we are bound to meet the requirements. We are on it. The public education sector cannot afford to lag behind in any aspect.
There are two aspects; infrastructure and academics. We are progressing on both. We have a watershed moment in government schools these days, in terms of our enrollment drive. We started this campaign just a month ago and we got surprising results. We have crossed the new enrollment of one lakh students so far. It clearly indicates that perception has changed in society regarding government schools.
Unfortunately, a wrong perception has been perceived in society about the government schools, over the years. Many people who call themselves experts, while staying far and out of the system, spread baseless stories. I was myself in the dark before coming into the system. Then, I saw that many good things have been happening in this department.
Presently, we are focused on infrastructure and human renouncement building. Since the pandemic started, we have been sending study material and assignments to the doorstep of the children. Teachers go door to door to ensure every student gets his/her assignment. Government school students also attend online classes. Unfortunately, many people have created the haves and have-nots because of the lower strata of government schools. But we have progressed over the years. We have improved infrastructure, built schools and classrooms, over the years. We make sure every school has drinking water and other facilities.
Until now, there was no concept of pre-schooling or kindergarten in the public education sector, but I am pleased to inform you that we have recently got approval for establishing about two thousand kindergartens in our schools in the Kashmir division.
We are working on infrastructure building day in and day out. We are building interactive classrooms at the higher secondary level. We will soon have smart boards, computers and all other facilities in our schools. Computer labs will be in every school now. Labs, laboratories, libraries are being established. We are speeding up the teachers’ capacity building. Training programs for teachers will be a regular feature now. Pre-schooling, inclusive education, gender equality, administrative mechanism, and all other aspects of education are being pursued. More than a hundred girls’ hostels are coming up. From the next academic session, four-five thousand girls will get boarding and lodging facilities in these hostels.
People have expectations. We are seeing the tremendous community support during the ongoing enrollment drive. We have seven lakh students and seventy thousand teachers in the Kashmir division. We see a lot of potential and scope for improvement. We are preparing for the New Education Policy 2020. We will go with zeal.
The government schools have improved a great deal in the teaching-learning processes and thereby in the learning outcomes over the years. This is borne out even by hard statistics. For example, the National Achievement Survey (NAS), a credible survey, conducted by the NCERT every year, while seeking to flag various issues and problems for added focus, also reflects a progressive march on quality parameters.
Not that, there has-been a triumph in the improvement. However, a steady, regular, and encouraging movement towards promoting quality education is writ large.
Secondly, if all was so good in private schools, how’s is that 99 (if not 100) percent of students studying in private schools are taking tuition? Look at the Senior Secondary segment where the Private Schools would perhaps not account for more than 30% of participation. The bulk of student population in Higher Secondary segment is from government schools. And the distinction and diversity of their achievement is for all to see. These boys and girls are proving their mettle in every sphere, even breaking new ground in non-conventional areas.
Most importantly, one must not forget that education in the government sector (also known as Public Education) has been drawing huge, in fact unprecedented levels of investment in terms of policy, capital, technology and resource support.
Even so, post-90s we have seen a continuous decline in the enrollment of government schools. No wonder private schools today account for more than fifty percent of total enrollment. Imagine the fate of ‘public education’ in 10 years from now, should the trend continue. It is, anyways, a question that must trigger a review by the government, the sooner the better.
That said, the role and relevance of private schools cannot be overlooked. Private schools are our allies, not adversaries. If some of them do not come up to your scheme of regulation and control consistent with public interest, the law must take its course. Default by some should not be a ruse to put them all in bad light regardless of their proven record, rectitude and reputation.
The story of education in Jammu and Kashmir would tell you of a certain distinction, kind of a glorious past. The seniors and stalwarts have fond memories of certain ‘golden periods’…. like of 1975 to 1982 when Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, as Chief Minister, himself handled Education or earlier when the then Chief Minister G M Sadiq used to engage with issues of courses and curriculum as head of the State Text Book Advisory Board.
Politics apart, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s contribution in Education and Heath sectors is universally acknowledged. He had picked up a wonderful team that included Mohammad Shafi Uri as his Deputy and noted educationist Aga Ashraf Ali as the Education Commissioner.
The growth story of education got adversely impacted afterwards. Monitoring, control, and supervision got weakened over the years, with politicians prying on teachers and their potential in shaping public opinion. Politicians didn’t stop short of using them and their influence for electoral advantage.
The worst happened in the post-1989 era. We lost discipline, control, regulation, enforcement, and accountability in the education system in that period. Due to the turbulent situation, thousands of schools got closed down for months and years. Many schools were burnt down. At one point in time in the 90s, the situation had got grim to the extent that the three thousand schools were officially declared defunct. All the components regarding the education system came to the halt. Teacher Training Programs were stopped for years together. The District Institute of Education & Trainings (DIET) had turned into a parking lot for the ‘VIP postings’, to accommodate those who wanted to get salaries for doing nothing. It was only in the year 2000 when the government came up with a well-planned revival scheme for the education department.
We should hail the role of these private schools that turn up to shoulder the education sector of Kashmir in troubling times.
Now to cut a long story short, we must regain the strength to build up the public education sector as per the contemporary requirements. I would suggest that we should start the process by empowering the teachers. Supervision, monitoring, and control system have to be strengthening. It has been traditionally weak, in spite of many additional resource allocations and technical support from the government of India and regional government from time to time. Bureaucratization in the school system needs to be reduced. The school autonomy concept has to be encouraged. We have the best teachers in the government-schooling system. They need to be encouraged and polished. We have robbed them of their confidence. Even the clerical staff takes them for a ride when it comes to their genuine issues like getting transfers or withdrawing their GP fund. They feel helpless. Teachers should get rid of election duties. They should not be forced to be part of the construction work of schools in the villages or mid-day meal providers.
Academic leadership must be part of the decision-making process. For example, we recently have got State Council of Education Research and Training (SCERT). But our bureaucrats have fragmented its facility. They have no idea that coordination will become the first causality in this institution. Only a teacher can understand this. Empower the teacher to empower the students and the whole education system.
Normally teacher absenteeism, lack of motivation, and poor skill-sets are often cited as reasons for poor quality educational outcomes. While this is partly true, the causes go deep beyond it. One key factor is management capacity in the education department or the lack thereof – both in terms of people and systems.
Let’s consider if a ZEO has sixty schools in his or her zone spread over a large area, what would be the connect with schools-e.g., if the ZEO visited one school a day – he or she could only visit every school in his/her jurisdiction a maximum of thrice a year. Typically, it would take a Chief Education Officer nearly two years to visit every school in his or her jurisdiction at the rate of one school per day. This results in Principals or Headmasters visiting offices of these officials rather than they visiting schools and meeting students and teachers. Thus, student management connect is missing.
Curriculum and learning materials are essential factors in quality education. More needs to be done about the actual interactions that occur in our education system as teachers, students and administrators engage with curriculum and learning materials. In other words, what is a glaring omission is government’s inability to address issues related to the process of education. What we normally have is a listing of inputs and desirable outputs.
In other words – how many students appeared in an exam and what percentage of them qualified and how many physical assets were provided? Improving education system means moving beyond simply providing inputs. There is no denying that providing adequate levels of schooling inputs – whether these are school buildings (Laboratories, libraries or basic amenities), trained teachers, or textbooks – is crucial to our educational progress. But improving system also requires ensuring that inputs are used more effectively to accelerate learning. Fact of the matter is that in our system emphasis is on passing exams not learning. Our whole education system is exam centric not student or learning centric. This needs to change, may