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 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.
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?
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.
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