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Unequal Education

October 16, 2006


The middle classes and the poor in India are forced to study in inadequately equipped schools.

Thousands of children in urban India, mainly from the middle classes, study in schools without playgrounds, packed like sardines in small, dusty, ill-ventilated rooms. They are compelled to use unclean toilets and walk around narrow, dark, unswept corridors and forced to study in schools situated in noisy, polluted areas. They are indeed lucky if they have trained teachers and amenities like a good library or a playground, or a concerned, committed management which cares for discipline, hygiene and the all-round development of the child.

Schools with such woefully inadequate facilities are flourishing all over the country although this article is about the different kind of schools (both for the elite and for the middle-classes) in one of the better cities in India – Bangalore.

The irony is that inspite of many schools being sub-standard, they have no dearth of students! Parents usually have no choice but to admit their children into such schools, either because they cannot afford the ‘good’ schools or because the ‘good’ schools refuse admissions for want of seats. Or because they have different criteria for admitting the students – like economic class. The truth is however that there is a shortage of good schools in all the cities in India. A city like Bangalore because it has grown rapidly in the last few decades has a greater problem than most.

Quantity not Quality

There are over 1000 primary schools in Bangalore including government, government-aided, private and corporation schools, but they cannot manage the influx of students. The 400 or so high schools are insufficient in number too. It is not surprising therefore that the government has chosen to turn a blind eye to the schools which do not have the facilities that a school is required to have by law, hesitating to close down schools even if government recognition is denied! After all, if they close down the school, where will the students go? And what will happen to the government’s ‘literary rate’ statistics?

What the regulations say

The grant-in-aid code lays down the conditions for the starting and for government recognition (temporary and permanent) of private schools in the state of Karnataka, and for the eligibility of schools to receive financial aid from the government. The code does not ofcourse apply to government schools and thus they do not have to fulfill any requirements!

In case a school opts for the ICSC or the CBSC syllabus, it has to fulfill some conditions. It should have classes up till the sixth grade before an NOC (No Objection Certificate) can be given by the state government for the school’s affiliation to the ICSE/CBSC boards. Once the school obtains an NOC, the grant-in-aid code ceases to apply to the school. However getting the NOC is very difficult, almost as difficult as obtaining permanent recognition. Though the grant-in-code does not have the force of law, it can be used to deny recognition to schools.

The grant-in-code

The general conditions for starting and recognizing of high schools as stated in the grant-in-aid code are:

The schools should be open to all communities without any distinction of caste, creed or religion.

The Department of Education should be satisfied that there is a need for the institution in the locality.

The premises should be satisfactory from the viewpoint of health, sanitation, and extent of space and playground facilities.

The location should be convenient for children.

The normal size of playground should be five acres.

The classroom sizes have also been laid down. For example the classroom size for the eight grade is to 18×24 feet, or as per the design of the room.

There should be an office, classrooms, toilets, a craft room, library-cum-reading room, a games room, a multipurpose hall (25×60 ft) and library books of minimum value.

Other guidelines include a stipulated amount of equipment, furniture, maps, charts etc as well as a stability fund of Rs 50,000.

Staff should be duly qualified as per the prescribed pattern.

Even if the school which has applied for recognition is likely to have these facilities in the near future, temporary recognition is granted. This is on paper only. In practice, conditions like playground or classroom sizes are ‘waived’ in ‘deserving’ cases. The reason given are that it is not always practical to fulfill these conditions. However, this has created much a lot of heartburn amongst schools which have been denied recognition or the NOC.

Elite Schools

Old schools like Baldwins, Bishop Cottons or Cathedral have no such problems ofcourse. Bishop Cottons (Boys) for example was established in 1886 when plenty of land was available. These schools have large playgrounds and even swimming pools! But unfortunately admissions are restricted.

Some newer schools have excellent amenities. Valley School, situated on the Kanakpura Road has 112 acres of land. The students enjoy treks into the forest and activities like bird-watching. Ofcourse the fee structure and at times the donations required to get into these schools make it beyond the reach of the ordinary child.

There are other schools like National Public School, National English School and Frank Anthony School which have good amenities and it is the professional class which makes a bee line for these schools. They are less expensive than some elite schools. However there is a perennial shortage of seats resulting in a mad scramble for admission. Parents with transferable jobs always seek out reasonably priced, good quality English medium schools like these for their children, and often, they have to compromise.

Each school is known for a particular aspect…it’s unique selling point so to say. National Public School makes no bones about the fact that academic excellence and discipline is it’s top priority. For Frank Anthony it’s Academics and Sports. Bishop Cotton (Boys) is proud of the wide range of activities they offer for the all round development of the pupils. St Josephs (Indian) High School is a government-aided school and stresses discipline and hygiene.

Government Schools and their problems

Some government and government aided schools have very good infrastructure. Kendriya Vidyalaya (Hebbal) for example has one of the largest playgrounds in Bangalore. However even the Kendriya Vidyalaya’s suffer from a perennial shortage of staff. Another central government school, the Army school, has several playgrounds, huge classrooms with high ceilings and has greenery and space. The Corporation High Schools, particularly the old ones, as well as aided schools like St. Josephs also have playgrounds and decent sized classrooms.

For a school to be above average, it is not just the physical amenities that are important. There has to be order, system and cleanliness. If a school is unswept and dirty, the classroom walls are crumbling and unpainted, the pupil is likely to hold the school in low esteem. This can lead the student to carry and indifferent attitude towards the school and to education. The teaching may also be poor and without respect for the teachers or the school, the student often loses interest in studies. In this regard the private schools score higher. The management staff in government schools often lack the will to maintain basic order and cleanliness….or even ensure strict attendance not only of pupils but of teachers.

The indifference of teachers and the management of government schools rubs off on the children and often drop out of school. Many of them come from homes where education is given lower priority than supplementing the family income, and thus there is no pressure to study. Is it any wonder then that Indian schools have such a high drop-out rate?

The solution?

One of the way out of the mess that Bangalore schools have got themselves into (lack of infrastructure) is that municipal grounds are allocated as playgrounds to schools which lack them and these playgrounds can be shared. This has been suggested to the state government by GS Sharma, who is the founder of KUSMA (Karnataka Unaided Schools Management Association). Another solution is to operate the school in shifts, as had been implemented in Pune. Also, new schools can be constructed around a common playground.

The need of the hour is to provide quality education to students from all strata of society.

(Published in The Deccan Herald, Bangalore)

Note: Although this article was published some years ago and since then the quantity of schools have increased, and efforts are being made to improve quality, there is a long long way to go. It is not only Bangalore – the rest of India is in the same boat.

It’s time the government steps up to improve primary education instead of spending it’s time and money on reserving seats in higher institutions of learning.

Related Reading:

A small scale survey which helps in choosing the right school
Does a fancy school guarantee professional success?
The deep malaise within our education system
Only good primary school education can prepare our poor to participate in the economy
What helps kids score academically?
Are Indian parents good career counselors?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2007 12:15 am

    Studying in inadequately equipped schools is problem for lower middle class and poor people but higher middle class children get better standards of education. Some of the customers of my internet cafe are lower middle class people. They studied in telugu medium schools and they cannot speak or understand english properly. They come to my internet cafe only for watching videos, hearing songs and graphic designing. Nowadays public and private sector enterprises mostly prefer those candidates who can speak english fluently for selecting them for jobs. Most of the people who can speak english are higher middle class people. So, higher middle class people mostly gain jobs in business enterprises. Lower middle class and poor people cannot compete with high middle class people except in some cases. My father was villager and studied in oriya medium school but he used to speak english fluently. He also worked as officer in a public sector bank. Most of the villagers and some of the town people are still unable to learn english. Rich and high middle class children study in english medium schools and lower middle class and poor children study in local language medium schools. Nowadays, there are also some english medium schools that do not have proper infrastructure and adequately trained teaching staff. Andhra Pradesh government made an idea of converting telugu medium government schools as english medium and some schools in Visakhapatnam were converted as english medium but some self-proclaimed telugu language lovers filed case in court and forced to revert back those schools as telugu medium. Those so called telugu language lovers also send their children to english medium schools but they don’t like poor and lower middle class children studying in english medium schools.

  2. December 13, 2007 6:01 am

    @Proletarian Revolutionary:

    You have made good points. Thanks.
    I feel it’s important to have scholarships for poor children in the elitist schools. It’s the only way (good primary edu) to alleviate poverty.

  3. Nikoleta permalink
    November 16, 2008 6:31 pm

    I think that someone has to find a way to help this childrean because if no one really hepls them that is never going to stop and things are going to become more bad and more bad

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