I spoke at length with Mr. E. S. Ramamurthy, founder of Sikshana about his thoughts on Right to Education Act. We looked at the first part of this interview in an article published last month. For those of you who didn’t catch it earlier, it’s available at
Let’s continue on this note to catch the second part of this interview.
What do you think about the quality of education in private schools versus government schools?
Out of ten private schools, one or two may be genuinely good. Except for a few honorable exceptions, these could be charging hefty fees. The remaining schools are only teaching shops. There are so many private schools running in small houses, even in a plot of land as small as 30 ft by 40 ft, with two or three rooms. All of them will now start collecting money from the government under the provisions of the act. How many know that private high schools send paid ‘scouts’ during the summer holidays in urban areas to bring in students from government primary schools, with money changing hands between the ‘managements’?
There are government schools performing far better than private schools. Last year a majority of the 20 rank holders in the SSLC exams were from government schools in Karnataka. This is notwithstanding the fact that the private schools invariably throw out ‘risky’ students at the end of the 9th to ensure better results for themselves; and these kids always land up in government schools. I did an interesting study in our cluster at Kanakapura where every single kid who was shown the door by a premium school last year passed the final examinations through a Govt High School, scoring above 60%. Who do you think is doing a better job?
All private schools are not uniformly good and all government schools are not uniformly bad. A blind comparison between the performances of the two is grossly unfair to the latter, since they operate in totally different environments. Any effort to improve the state run schools should start with an understanding of the ground realities and the problems faced by them. In fact, these are so diverse that there can be no single template that can be touted as a solution to all their ills.
Let us come to the Act itself. There are more than 2000 teachers in the areas in which we operate, most of whom are very dedicated. None of them know what’s coming in 2011. The teachers and teacher unions do not seem to have been consulted. What is important is calling ordinary teachers to ask what they think about the act while formulating it. After all, they form the backbone of the system.
Do you see the government implementing RTE?
Implementation of the act rests with the state governments. Govt of India, for its part, has placed in position institutions like Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and provided the necessary funds for release. It is now for the State Govt to come up with schemes in line with those specified by the Center, get them approved and go on to implement them. The position of the State Govt, as far as I could see, is that it will try and implement the provisions of the Act in stages.
Then there is the issue of funding. The central government tells the state government, for example, “I will give you funds for education in the ratio of 60:40” but due to paucity of funds, states cannot put up enough money to match the allotment from the Center and hence are unable to utilize the available funding from the Center.
Public education system is government’s responsibility. The common man is not concerned about the financial arrangements between the States and the Center.
How do we address this problem then?
It’s a simple solution. We have to effectively decentralize the entire system. The funds should be given to the community that owns the school. The local community knows how best to run the school, because their children study there. Even if they don’t to start with, they will get to know soon. Is this not what democracy is all about? Karnataka government has done a great thing by bringing about the Panchayat Raj Act that states, “Every school belongs to the local community. It does not belong to the government. The government only funds the salary of the teachers and pays for some yearly operational expenses. The Panchayat or the municipality owns the school and runs the school.” Based on this act, Karnataka government has already given some degree of control of running government schools to the local community.
Let the government give the money to local bodies who are running the school and then overnight the whole education system will change. Corruption at the panchayat level is typically far lower than at the higher levels.
The act mentions having a school management committee consisting of parents and guardians. Is this something that will come into play?
School management committees are already formed and functioning reasonably well in most schools that I have seen. Currently in Karnataka, there are 48,000 committees across all the schools. With some additional orientation, the committee members can develop the right skill set and do far better.
Would disabled children and girls benefit from 25% of the private school seats being reserved from disadvantaged groups?
Disabled children may benefit from the act; the extent will depend to a large extent on the awareness of the parents. In the case of girls, there are serious socio-economic issues that need to be addressed. One of the factors is that the parents do not want to send their girl child to 11th and 12th Standard due to lack of transportation, since high schools are mostly not close enough. There are sufficient neighborhood schools in Karnataka for primary education, but government run high schools and upper high schools are lacking in most places.
Let’s talk a little bit about Sikshana. Can you tell us how many schools you have reached?
So far, Sikshana is working with 400 schools across India. Sikshana has an outreach program so we can reach out to more schools. We are trying to get more NGOs involved to make this possible. Sikshana held a three day workshop in July to get more people interested in the program. We expect some of them to opt for Sikshana in their schools; such a loose model of franchising could be the best route for achieving our target of 1000 plus schools in multiple states. .
How many members are now part of Sikshana?
There are totally 20 people with Sikshana, who work with us full time. One of them is the CEO, the rest are mentors who monitor schools covered by Sikshana on a regular basis.
How has the government responded to Sikshana’s efforts with government schools?
When it comes to Sikshana’s efforts at public schools, the government has been supportive of our efforts; they have not come in the way of what we have been doing so far.
What was your inspiration in starting Sikshana?
Inspirations are there all around us in plenty, we don’t get to see or hear about them. These are ordinary people, who with much less than what we have and no expectations whatsoever do amazingly great things; whether it’s ‘Salamarada’ Thimmakka in Karnataka or the ‘water man’ Kamaleshwar Singh of Bihar. In my own way, I thought that instead of talking about the ills and the problems in the education system, let me start doing something about it, make the best of what is available and never ever give up.