Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Our Educational System: a Report Card

I am posting an email sent to one of the NGOs by a colleague of mine. We had visited some schools the other day and just as I was about to write on them I saw this email, and it speaks much more than I could have said. So here’s an account through the voice and eyes of Sridhar.
Thanks for taking the time to read about our Education For Free (EFF) project, and I really appreciate your comments.
Lack of adequate teaching staff in government schools is one of our biggest concerns. In every high school we have visited so far, 40% of the teachers were either on long leave or casual leave, the few teachers left were either sent on some training program or assorted government duties. The classrooms are filled with students but there is no one, to teach them.
Primary schools are in an even bigger mess than the high schools. Out of the 3 allotted teachers and 2 Vidya volunteers, usually only one teacher, comes to the school, usually bringing in the other two teachers’ leave applications (I’m guessing they take turns doing this!).
Most high school teachers lament that students graduating from primary schools are not ready for high school. But due to the “no detention policy” of the government, they have no choice but to accept them into the 6th grade.
Most teachers I have met so far complain that infrastructure is one of their biggest problems. I think is only partly true. I visited Kondakal High School last Friday in Ranga Reddy dist. This school told a different story all together. It had a well-maintained computer lab (courtesy Microsoft’s 1000 village program) with audio-visual aids (Wipro) and Internet, science labs with all the equipments. They even had a TV and a bunch of video’s, 24 hour power supply, children wearing very clean school uniform (donated by some NGO), well maintained garden and play grounds, the works.
This was by far the best maintained government high school I have seen. Ironically, their 10th pass percentage is still less than 25% same as Janwada High School just 15 km away but a world apart. JHS is like any other government school in AP, not enough classrooms, roof leaking with rain water, no toilets (school ground used as a defecation center), no power, not enough teachers, too many students… the list could go on but this tells us that lack of adequate infrastructure is only, one of the problems. Proper infrastructure would help but it doesn’t solve the problems of our education system.
Here are some of our observations after talking to different stakeholders:
  1. Too many students and not enough teachers (In 2001 there were around 1.3 million teachers in AP, right now there are only 750 thousand teachers, rest of the posts need to be filled)
  • Teachers are used for all the government programs from election duty to pulse polio campaigns. And all this happens at the expense of the children who come to the schools to learn.
  • Teachers are sent on way too many training programs which are almost always based on theories that do not take the real situation into account, and are therefore impractical to implement with the number of students they have deal to with, the limited time available, the examination oriented focus of education, and the lack of facilities.
  • Very high percentage of teachers are absent from schools (infrastructure, corruption and motivational issues)
  • Government Policy says that there need to be a teacher for every 40 students. Most administrators seem to be following this to book, if a school only has 120 students than they only get 3 teachers even though there are 5 classes or grades to cover.
  1. Serious infrastructure issues like power, lack of classrooms, lack of study material (Even textbooks--the minimal study material available to children--are usually delayed by 2-3 months after the school year starts)
  • Lack of toilets is given as a major reason for female students’ absence from the school.
  1. Students don’t put in any effort at home (Most rural children have to work after school)
  1. Students are very irregular to school due to lack of parental encouragement and lack of understanding on what education can offer (It is really hard to follow high school math if certain classes are missed and math is major reason for students failing 10th)
  1. Primary education is non-existent: Very small percentage of the students coming out of our primary schools have basic reading and writing skills.
  • Assuming all the 3 teachers are present and teaching, that still leaves 2 grades without teachers and the government policy mandates that 1st, 2nd and 3rd should be taken by regular teachers, that leaves our 4th and 5th to be taught by under qualified Vidya volunteers.
  • Due to 'no detention policy' student performance can’t be measured.
Private school education is no better; the actual number of students writing a board exam is never disclosed. Most rural private schools make 50-60% of their below standard students write exams outside the institute name just to increase their official pass percentage.
As you can see it all comes down to a serious lack of trained teachers and no motivation for the students from the parents. And that is where we can make a difference. There is a lot which needs to be done but we are taking this one step at a time. Our current focus is to get the service ready by November and deploy it in 4-5 schools with 8th grade English. In the 2008-09 academic year we would launch a pilot program with 50 schools and more subjects.
You could help us by putting us in touch with NGOs.We need as many of them as possible for field work (logistics). We are also in need of good teachers (retired or still working) to help us with content development and contribute to our curriculum strategy discussions. It would be great if you could help us in identifying the teachers as well.
Thanks again for your time and interest in our project.
*The Schools are in Andhra Pradesh, India

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