Govt schools struggle with poor facilities, unskilled teachers and high dropout rates

Arresting dropout rate should be our primary aim, rather than worrying about whether the schools have enough classrooms or not.

Janaki Murali June 22, 2016 12:10:00 IST
Govt schools struggle with poor facilities, unskilled teachers and high dropout rates

The Times of India, on Monday, reported that 27,000 of the 75,489 schools in Karnataka had three or fewer classrooms. Quoting provisional figures for 2015-16 released by the District Information System for Education (DISE), the report said that this was because of the government policy of determining the number of classrooms through the number of teachers in each school.

The DISE has revealed in its report that while 10,592 schools in Karnataka had three classrooms, 14,064 had two classrooms, 2,083 had one classroom and 164 schools had no classrooms at all. The DISE data is collated by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NEUPA), Delhi, established by the HRD ministry.

A couple of months ago, Bangalore Mirror reported, quoting DISE figures again that an estimated 48.87 percent school teachers in Karnataka were not even graduates. Of the 4.25 lakh teachers in Karnataka’s urban and rural schools, 2,08 lakh teachers do not have a graduate degree, of which some 3,000 teachers had passed below secondary school, 63,000 secondary and 1,42 lakh higher secondary. According to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, schools should have graduate teachers in upper primary schools and higher secondary teachers in primary schools.

Govt schools struggle with poor facilities unskilled teachers and high dropout rates

Representational image. AFP

Statistics don’t lie and lack of qualified teachers is a problem in most schools, both private and government schools. This is because teaching has always been the last career option for most young people. When every other job, including a call centre job is more lucrative and attractive, why would a young person graduating out of college choose teaching? A teacher’s salary is far better now, yet, it is not a young graduate’s first choice.

And when teachers get posted to rural schools, it’s a known fact they will either go on leave or apply for a transfer immediately. A rural government school that I visited some time ago, I found that the teacher was not only handling a combined age group in a single classroom, but she was also disgruntled and exhausted. “I have applied for a transfer back to the city, I am waiting for it to come through.” She told me that she cooked the family meal, got her own children ready for school in the morning, before taking the bus to commute for two hours to reach the school, where she worked.

However, what also ails our government schools is the dropout rate. Educationists, find it very difficult to retain children in schools, more so in secondary school, especially when these children start earning money outside school through petty jobs. When this money takes care of their needs and also helps in supplementing the incomes of their families, their interest in school withers. No talk about bettering their prospects by working hard at school, so that they can land a job works with them, for these children are already earning for themselves. The dropout rate is also high among girls once they reach puberty, as many rural government schools don’t even have decent toilets.

The International Center for Peace and Development has found that early childhood education in India was subject to two extreme, but contrary deficiencies. "On the one hand, millions of young children in lower income groups, especially rural and girl children, comprising nearly 40% of first grade entrants never complete primary school. Even among those who do, poorly qualified teachers, very high student-teacher ratios, inadequate teaching materials and outmoded teaching methods result in a low quality of education that often imparts little or no real learning. It is not uncommon for students completing six years of primary schooling in village public schools to lack even rudimentary reading and writing skills.”

A neighbourhood government school in Bengaluru, where I volunteer my time has a similar issue. Secondary school children lack rudimentary English reading and writing skills, skills that are needed even if they go out looking for a salesperson’s job in one of grocery chains or a mall. The principal of the school, requested me to run Std 8 and 9 classes to teach the students basic English reading and writing skills so that they would do better in their boards. But she also advised me to conduct these classes midweek.

“Keep your sessions during the mid-week, as the dropout rate is highest on Mondays and Fridays.” I followed her advice, but was hard pressed to find more than 25 to 30 children on a Wednesday afternoon in a combined Std 8 and 9 class.

Arresting dropout rate should be our primary aim, rather than worrying about whether the schools have enough classrooms or not. If the school has a low turnout, it makes better sense to run combined classes for the same age-group of early graders, middle graders, tweens/teens and young adults.

It’s not only classrooms and teachers our government schools in the country lack, they lack basic infrastructure too. The DISE report finds that 30% to 40% of even the available classrooms is in need of serious repair work. Computers donated to government schools by IT companies as part of their CSR programme, often sit unused in the principal’s room, because there are no teachers to teach the students how to use them.

In the neighbourhood government school I volunteer, there are more than enough classrooms and the school located in a prime locality, has a large playground too. But the benches the children sit on, are broken and cracked in several places, some don’t even have back support and many have dangerous nails sticking out of the sides. Last year, the school had not received notebooks even three months after the school had opened. “We have the teachers, but how do we conduct classes, they have no notebooks to write their notes on,” used to be the principal’s plaint.

Meanwhile, while we can spend hours debating about the lack of infrastructure, low turnout, unqualified teachers, and general poor quality of education in urban and rural government schools, it appears as though the private schools have them all. Not really. They’ve the infrastructure and the prestige and a high turnout of students. But many of the classrooms in these schools are overcrowded and also have a skewed student/teacher ratio. Teachers are called upon to handle anywhere between 40 to 50 children in a classroom. Worse still, the children, even in primary school, are pitted against each other in a cut throat competitive environment.

Yes, nation building definitely needs a skilled workforce, which the private schools are excellent in providing, but should it be at the cost of childhood?

But that’s a debate for another day.

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