Isn't it an irony that parents spend Rs 1000 per month for education of a child in a private school, while government spends Rs 2000 per month on a child in a government school. The disintegration of education system in the Islands is directly proportional to the increase in investment in pay and perks, infrastructure, facilities, equipments and accessories. Is it systemic failure or lack of a system itself?

By Zubair Ahmed

An analysis of the three press meets by the heads of Electricity, Education and APWD would suffice to get a feel about our idea of development or achievements. When we talk about achievements, its more about quantity than quality in every sector.

Like any other department of the Admn, in education too, the number of school buildings, toilets, doors, windows, new recruitments, teaching and non-teaching staff, ayahs, peons and watchmen seems to be the focus. But, the dismal performance of govt schools in the board exams has now compelled the Administration to reflect on reasons behind the debacle.

The Administrator recently expressed concern over low pass percentage both in Class X and XII. Had we achieved 100% pass in Class X, we would have celebrated our success and started comparing it with states in Mainland conveniently overlooking the fact that even 100% is just quantity and not about quality. Will the Directorate tell us the overall average CGPA this year, even in the schools which achieved 100% results? It would be a shocking revelation!

In fact, if the Admn contemplates tweaking the system to make a turnaround, the change should begin from top to bottom. The Directorate needs an academic to run the show instead of a bureaucrat. A bureaucrat can be good in providing resources, but monitoring of academic performance is not their cup of tea. Mismanagement of resources including manpower is quite apparent everywhere. Schools with disproportionate pupil-teacher ratio is abundant in number.

The example of two schools in South Andaman District are glaring. One Govt secondary school at Jirkatang,  affiliated to CBSE, has 16 students on roll with five GTTs, two PSTs one Craft Instructor and one Librarian. Three students appeared for Class X Board examinations out of which two passed and one was placed under EIOP or compartment. The teacher-student ratio is 16:9! One teacher for every 1.5 student!

The CBSE-affiliated secondary school at Mile Tilak has 30 students and 8 teachers including a PET and a Librarian. Five students appeared for Class X examinations and secured 100% pass with an average result of 6.5 CGPA. The teacher-student ratio is 30:8! A teacher for every 3.5 student!

Why not buy a fully-air-conditioned 40-seater coach with home pickup for the children with lunch from a star-hotel and admit them in a premier school at Port Blair? The per capita cost would be less than what is spent on such schools, and a fortune can be saved too.

Isn't it sheer mismanagement or eternal indecisiveness to find a solution? These are not exceptional cases. There are many such examples throughout the territory. There was a school with 16 teachers and 9 students!

There are many schools in South Andaman District where enrolment is very low due to numerous private schools that have come up. But, the sanctioned strength of staff remains same with disproportionate teacher-student ratio. Many teachers can be seen loitering around or sitting around the headmaster gossiping.

In fact, there are approximately 300 surplus teaching staff including GTT and PST in the department, without taking into account those engaged under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). The recent recruitment might have earned a brownie point, but was it need-based? The haphazard placement of teachers throughout the territory exposes the sorry state of affairs in the department. Even the official Pupil Teacher Ratio claimed to be around 15:1 is highly debatable. The no. of students studying in govt schools as projected by the Directorate is 86460, and teachers under the Directorate is 5574 which is also susceptible. In fact, no developed country, even USA can beat the record of Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) in our Islands. It runs in single digit.

A large number of media of instruction also add to the miseries of the department. The same infrastructure and faculty are needed for a small number of students. Schools were provided for small number of students again on demand, without considering the logistics and practical difficulties. Rationalization of medium, as pinpointed by the Administrator, however politically incorrect it might be, needs to be implemented.

To bring quality in education, a robust monitoring system needs to be in place. However, the department is not devoid of saner voices. They do admit that there is no accountability, no proper, timely and effective inspection of schools. Inspection by peers is hardly meaningful unless sustained and evaluated periodically. 

But the question is how inspections can be carried out with the present dispensation? Principals, DEOs, Asst Directors and sometimes Directors are of same scale. The DEO acts as principal in charges of many schools in the absence of regular principals. If the climate is conducive, they may sit in Directorate as Asst Directors and in bad times may be sent back as Principals or DEOs. There is no well-defined hierarchy to bell the cat?

In 2009, the pass percentage of Class X was 57%. Thousands of students were thrown out of education system. Last year, when the results were 97%, instead of celebrating it, we rued the system saying that Class X is no more a benchmark. This year, the results seems to have rationalized. Its a wake up call to take CCE seriously in lower classes itself to prepare them for board exams, especially Class X. Dissection of average marks in different subjects will be a good way to start with to know what we were missing down the line.

Moreover, to get into the bottom of the disintegration, there needs to be a thorough understanding of the CCE pattern, which is often blamed by majority of teachers for poor performance.

Earlier, they rued that students weren't serious due to no-fail policy. Now, when the pass percentage have come down, they blame the CCE pattern itself.

In fact, CCE pattern is widely misconstrued by most of the stakeholders. It prepares the students for life rather than just higher studies. There has been no serious effort among teachers in implementing it in true spirit. Blaming it as paper-work intensive system, the focus is deflected from children failing the purpose itself.

With a little bit of tweaking here and there, its one system, which gives sufficient emphasis on overall development of the child. It is observed that there has been a drop in the capability of writing among the children due to irrational mark allocation in different tools in formative assessments in lower classes, which can be easily overcome by following a rational system giving an extra edge for pen-paper test, preparing the students for summative assessments. Problem Solving Assessment (PSA) introduced by CBSE a couple of years back seems to be far beyond the comprehension of our teachers.

There has been wide discussion of inclusion of soft skills in school curriculum, but how many teachers in our Islands have ever seen the well-researched Life Skill manuals prepared by CBSE? Do they use it in schools? How many periods are earmarked for the same? Instead of blaming the system and looking out for solutions, there is a serious need to get acquainted with the materials provided by CBSE as well as NCERT, and implement it in true sense.

The state of evidences of assessment by government schools will tell another sordid tale of affairs how much they are concerned about the students. If the Administration is serious about improving the quality of education in the govt run schools, they need to check the quality of evidences of assessment of each school. To make CCE work, periodic internal assessment of evidences need to be carried out.

A one time quality assessment test at two levels can help in getting a clear picture about the ground reality.  To assess the quality of language and mathematics up to Class V and Maths and Science upto Class VIII would help in assessing the teachers, schools as well as students. Necessary inputs and outputs from the review can help in taking remedial measures.

On making the teachers responsive and accountable, the Secretary recently made a remark about carrot and stick approach. Only reward and punishment can bring meaningful change in the system. Transfers are very lucrative in the department. A lot of political as well as bureaucratic pressures are exerted on the Directorate to accommodate the ‘well connected’ teachers in the headquarters. Others manage on medical ground; true or false. Yet others come up with excuses of ailing old parents, and close relatives; some actual, some cooked up to stay in South Andaman Main Island, not even Neil, Havelock and Little Andaman. If the warning from Secretary-cum-Director that non-performers will be shown the door makes an impact, well and good. Moreover, there are no incentives for performers, who gradually feel let down by the Directorate.

While the private schools with minimal infrastructure and manpower delivers, the over pampered government schools with experienced teachers and quality infrastructure fails miserably. The govt spends around Rs 20 crores on just salary of teachers, and per head expenditure on a child comes to more than Rs 40,000/- but the output is dismal. The irony is that when a parent spends Rs 1000/- per month for education in a private school, government spends Rs 2000/- per month on a child in government school. 

Sixth Pay Commission brought a windfall for the government teachers beyond their wildest dream. But in terms of output, there is hardly anything to write home about. The teaching fraternity instead of discussing the debacle in board exams would be more keener to discuss threadbare about Seventh Pay Commission and its nitty-gritty.

Its a fact that educated parents including govt teachers admit their children in private schools despite knowing that the teachers are not experienced and are not paid at par with those in govt service, but they are confident that the schools will deliver.

Its an enigma why govt schools in outer Islands, where there are no private schools too fail to perform. The enrolment is not bad. The community as stakeholders too needs to give a thought about it. 

If ten percent of the time teachers spent on gossiping about their pay scale, DA and pay band is utilized to discuss about education and their students, the Administrator wouldn't have to worry about the declining quality of education in the Islands.