Short-Cuts in Building Institutes of Excellence Would Backfire

by August 8, 2018 0 comments

Short-Cuts in Building Institutes of Excellence Would BackfireBuilding an institute of excellence requires a lot of spadework and the education sector is a classic example of this fact. We can’t think of short-cuts here.

In 1925, my aunt, Saraswati Vora, stood 33rd in the Bombay Presidency matriculation. The marks scored by her were the highest amongst the comparatively few girls who appeared for the exam. The occasion was, therefore, celebrated as special by our community, especially by the womenfolk. We can imagine what a small proportion of people studied as far as matriculation, especially so from among the bania community. It largely considered studies beyond Class Three to be a waste of time and which delayed the boys’ entry into business. Some families went to the extent of considering higher education to be a handicap in the conduct of commerce. The more one has studied, the greater is the likelihood of the person seeing too many angles to a proposition and becoming indecisive!

Today, education is seen as wealth. In his latest book entitled, ‘The New Wealth of Nations’, Dr Surjit S Bhalla describes the “acquisition of education as the acquisition of wealth”.

Less than 250 years ago, Adam Smith wrote a book, ‘The Wealth of Nations’ in which he expounded that the “invisible hand of competition” as guiding an economic system based on individual self interest.

Why go that far? When I began working, it was explained to me by some business captains that the key to wealth was instinct, if not also intuition. For, finance was the key to creating wealth. With the advent and growth of information technology, however, knowledge began becoming the key to wealth. That is when the balance of big business started tilting to South India whether in Bengaluru, Hyderabad or Chennai from Mumbai and Kolkata.

Bhalla has a wide vision of education as wealth. It also makes individuals in a society more equal; women get empowered and become equal to men. Similarly, countries, because of their educated citizens become more equal. To remain wealthy with the help of property has become difficult after the abolition of the princely States, of jagirs and zamindaris, as well as the land reforms which took place over the years after Independence. Mega-industrialists are a small percentage of the population. As a result, to become a Bill Gates or Jeff Beroz, the promoter of Amazon, the e-commence king, it is education reinforced by imagination that is needed.

The Government of Delhi deserves to be generously complimented for realizing the importance of schooling, and that also under the state umbrella. Not  many families can afford to pay the fees of unaided schools, and like anywhere else in the world, including the US, the state has to take the brunt of the responsibility. For the quality and kind of teaching to come up across the country in state schools would take time to materialise and be equal to the challenge.

A primary reason for parents preferring private or unaided schools is the medium of instruction. Without knowing how to speak and write simple English, it is difficult to get a reasonably well paying job. It has always been so in our country since the advent of the British in India.

The realization that the question affected the masses dawned when the youth who had not studied past Class III/IV began aspiring for well paid employment. This need has been becoming obvious over the last 30 years. Many a school across the country has switched to English medium, partly or entirely. Those that have not changed have lost students or even closed down. The changeover in Delhi has begun although only lately and for it to now take place quickly is not possible because teachers in English are comparatively few. Hence Hindi will have to remain the main name of the game.

The unaided schools are about a third of the total in Delhi, if we remember that the municipalities also run primary schools. They will have to be depended upon until the state institutions are fully upgraded in every way. A sufficient number of teachers who can teach well in English have to be developed. Until then, care should be taken to protect and nurture the English-medium schools that the country has, whichever sector they be whether  state, aided or unaided.

With the advent of the Right to Education Act, 2009, unaided schools are under severe pressure, which is not widely realized. The reason is that 25 percent of the students have to be taught free because of their being economically weaker. That means that the schools’ expenditure has to be met from the fees collected from only 75 percent of the pupils. “Charge 75 but teach 100” is the economic theme song.

For the Union Territories including Delhi, the staff and teachers have to be paid on the basis of the 7th Pay Commission. If the fees are commensurately raised, many parents can pay but some find it difficult and protest. The one solution to this knotty problem would be for Governments to give the parents truly under pressure a limited scholarship per student. If that is not possible, let the private schools increase fees to the extent justified by the increase in expenditure.

It is not in the national interest to squeeze the schools for the sake of only a percentage of their students. Instead, the schools should be induced, encouraged and helped to expand in order to teach more children. To strangulate them would be to gradually destroy them without developing their competent alternatives in the state sector.

When I was at schooling age, Kolkata’s best institutions were the Hare School and the Ballygunge Government School. They were owned and run by the State of West Bengal and were preferred even by the wealthiest of parents. Their children were sent to the famous missionary institutes only if they failed to get admission to Hare or Ballygunge. To build up schools of such excellence on a large scale would take time. Until then, avoid socialism for the sake of some. Remember, the Soviet system as well as its ideology was destroyed by itself. Not only the pupils but also a few parents need to be educated. Well-known schools do not have to seek out applicants. In Delhi, parents apply spontaneously based on the reputation of the school and their children join if they are lucky.

After two or three years, a few parents begin nit-picking and gradually become grievance treasuries until they end up complaining to the Government. If they happen to have a contact or two, the authorities lend an ear and a ding-dong begins. The bigger schools have thousands of students to teach and attend to their problems, apart from administrative duties and answering to occasional emergencies. The question is: How much teacher energy should be devoted to the thousands of youngsters and how much to the odd nit-pickers?

There are others who relish litigation and petition the courts which have little choice but to hear both sides and eventually issue an order. There is a separate tribunal where teachers and staff members can petition for the wrongs done to them. But there is no tribunal for dealing with parent grievances. In the bargain, the community of schools have to knock courts’ doors more often than corporate houses!

Writer: Prafull Goradia

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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