SHAME: Karnataka’s kids worse off than Bihar’s

BHAMY V. SHENOY and ASHVINI RANJAN write: Can our villages throw up another A.P.J. Abdul Kalam or K.R. Narayanan? Young boys who make it big on the world stage in spite of their rural backgrounds and their poverty? Young boys who rise and shine through the sheer weight of their schooling and learning?

We would like the answer to be “yes”.

The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding “no”.

Pratham Mysore with the help of seven other NGOs and three volunteer groups covered 11 districts in Southern Karnataka for the Annual Survey on Education Report (ASER) between November 14 and December 20 last year testing about 4,500 children in 220 villages (the other 16 districts were covered by our sister organization Akshara based in Bangalore)

Some of our shocking findings are:

# In Karnataka 53% of children between the ages of 7 and 10 years attending schools in villages (private and government) cannot read even a simple small paragraph (level 1) and 72.5% cannot read a story (level 2).

# Of the same age group, 60% cannot solve numerical sums of subtraction and a whopping 91% cannot do a division (3 digits divided by 1 digit).

# In villages in Mysore district, 58% of children attending Standard V cannot read beyond level 2 (in the case of best performing district Udupi, it is only 9%) and 84% cannot solve division and subtraction problems (even for Udupi it is a dismal 39%).

Karnataka which takes pride in having the maximum number of high-tech firms in India is at the bottom of the performance tables based on tests conducted to measure reading and arithmetic abilities of children. While the all-India statistics is appalling, Karnataka’s statistics is shocking.  We rank well below Bihar!

This should have made head line news in any civilized country. Surprisingly, there is neither a mention nor a statement by our state leadership.

While we want to usher in our own industrial revolution based on the knowledge industry, why is there such an indifference? We all know that the destiny of a nation is shaped in the classrooms.

Mysore may soon become the next Silicon Valley City creating high paying jobs. What does this new prosperity mean to these village children?

Umpteen high level committees have taken a look at the sorry state of affairs in our education sector over the years. Intellectually challenging reports with high sounding recommendations have been submitted by them. Still we have not made any significant improvement in universalizing education.

However, there were some bright facts revealed by ASER. Of the children between the ages of 6 and 14, only 2.9% have dropped out and 3.7% have never enrolled at all India level. Thus we have made a quantum leap in enrolling children.  On this measure, Karnataka has the third highest rank with only 1.9% being out of school when the all India average being 6.6% and Bihar at 13.5%. But what about the quality of education they are receiving in the school?

India already spends Rs 60,000 crore annually towards elementary education. The Planning Commission has promised to spend more money on the latest scheme known as Sarva Sikshana Abhiyan. We wonder if spending more money by itself will solve the problem.

Today, in Karnataka teachers in government schools are paid four to six times the salary of private schools. Government school teachers are given regular training and have access to teaching resource materials. In some respects, many government school teachers hired in recent years are better qualified than teachers in private schools.

Still it is difficult to find a single government teacher who would like to send his or her child to a government school.

School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) was one of the best strategies developed in recent years to improve education in our school. During our survey work, we have found out how that strategy has failed in most places because of politicization and indifference on the educated people to stay away. All of us know how our examination system is totally obsolete and corrupting the system. But we as a society have failed to come up with an alternative way.

What we need is a total revolution in our education system. To usher in such a revolution we are suggesting the four policy decisions to be adapted by our government. All of them look simple and straightforward. But we have no illusion that any of them can be implemented soon or without a lot of hard work. However if there is general awakening in the society as a result of one more survey like the one by ASER, we should be able to implement these reforms.

# There should be an independent body constituted (like NAAC for colleges) to evaluate the teacher performance at every district level. Teacher promotion and increment should be based on the evaluation by these independent bodies. Every effort should be made to keep politics as far as possible from these institutions. Karnataka government has taken a small step in starting Karnataka School Quality Assessment Organization in 2005.

# Teachers should not be transferred from place to place.  Preference for appointments should be to teachers who live within a radius of 10kms from the school. The new government order of transferring teachers through a computerized system may reduce corruption, but will not solve the basic problem.

# It should be made mandatory that every government teacher send his or her child to government schools.

# Education management should be decentralized as envisaged by 73 and 74 amendment to the constitution. Each city, taluk or group of villages  should have an autonomous education body with full financial and operating responsibilities and as well as authority to manage educational institutions under them. In other words, we need to completely dismantle the current dysfunctional top heavy and bureaucratic education system. Again the proposed new government initiative of making SDMCs subcommittees of Gram Panchayats is only a small step in the right direction.

The above four strategic policy decisions will start a chain reaction to bring about hundreds of micro-level improvements suggested by various reports automatically. However there will be fierce opposition from a small group of people including some of the teachers who are benefiting from the current status quo. However if we the citizens come forward in large numbers and demand such a change, we can bring about dramatic improvement in our education system.

(Ashvini Ranjan is managing trustee of Pratham Mysore and Bhamy V. Shenoy is a trustee. Pratham Mysore today has 143 balawadis, 131 balasakhis and 6 bridge courses to help more than 6,000 poor children in the slums of Mysore. The ASER findings covering 485 districts, 9,521 villages and 3,32,971 children were presented to Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, on Jan 17th, 2006.)