According to a newspaper report the education minister of Uttarakhand on June 24, 2020 announced that the state government will establish two English medium schools in each block. Salient features of the scheme announced by the minister are:
According to the minister officials were directed to prepare a work plan in this regard. He also said for each of these English medium schools a Social Order Team which may be called Education Panchayat will be constituted. He expressed the hope that through this scheme 95 mini educational hubs will be developed in the state.
Before analyzing the implications of this decision a few facts pertaining to school education in Uttarakhand need to be stated upfront. The Economic Survey for 2019-209 prepared by the Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Planning Department, Government of Uttarakhand and presented to the Vidhan Sabha informs us that at the primary level there were 14,452 government schools with total enrolment of 4,67,122 children and 32,196 teachers in the state. As against this, the number of private schools was 4,726 with enrolment of 5,67,247 children and teacher strength of 35,084. At the secondary level too there was a similar discrepancy in the number of schools with government/ aided schools outnumbering private schools by 2733 to 941.
Enrolment in the two types of secondary schools was not too different – 5,89,099 in government/ aided schools as against 5,78,732 in private schools. As regards number of teachers there was a major difference between the two types of schools. In government/ aided schools there were a total of 61,603 teachers, whereas private schools had only 20,468 teachers. Thus even though the number of private primary schools is less than one-third the number of government schools, enrolment therein is higher by 21 per cent and the number of teachers by about 9 per cent at the primary level; at the secondary level private schools numbered just over one-third of government/ aided schools with only one-third of the teachers but their enrolment was 98 per cent of the latter.
Simple comparison of the two sets of figures shows that the enrolment ratio (average enrolment per school) in government or government/ aided schools was 37.3 at the primary level and 215.6 at the secondary level and in private schools it was much higher – 120.0 at the primary level and 615.0 at the secondary. Pupil-teacher ratio followed a similar pattern: in government/ aided schools it was 14.5 at the primary level and 9.6 at the secondary level, in private schools it was higher 16.2 at the primary level and 28.3 at the secondary level. These data clearly show that the people prefer private schools over government schools, even though the total number and teacher strength of government schools was much higher and average pupil-teacher ratio, which is considered an important factor contributing to quality of education, was much lower.
The above data provide only a snapshot summary of the comparison of private and public (government) schools in the state. A fuller and more nuanced picture would require disaggregation of the data by districts and blocks, by mountain and plain areas and by gender. Such a detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this paper. My limited purpose here is to underline the popular perception among the people that private schools provide better quality education than government schools.
Hence they are willing to spend considerable amounts on the education of their children, even when public (government) schools are many more in number, with more and better qualified and paid teachers and education in them is highly subsidized with many other facilities like mid-day meals. The latest decision of the Uttarakhand government to open English medium schools at the block level is clearly a response to this situation. The education minister of Uttarakhand has been reported to have said that these schools will prove that government schools can provide better education than private schools so that the government schools can gain peoples trust.
This is as open an acceptance of the fact that government schools have failed to win the trust of the people in comparison to private schools as can be. Secondly, it seems to concede that the quality of education imparted in government schools is not at par with that of private schools. Thirdly, it rests on the belief that the main reason why people are moving away from government to private schools is on account of their preference for English medium education. Underlying all these factors there seems to be the belief that education in the English medium, even in the primary classes, is inherently superior to education in the local language. It is not clear how this belief has been reached. It seems to go against all accepted theories of education and learning.
A few crucial questions need to be posed. Have people lost faith in government schools because they want English medium education for their children, even if it is of indifferent quality, or is it because of other reasons? What may these other reasons be: poor quality of instruction? lack or inadequacy of basic facilities (teaching-learning materials, furniture, playgrounds, toilets, drinking water etc.)? poor allocation of teachers – surfeit in some places and chronic shortage in others? indifference, lack of capacity, poor preparedness to accept the challenges of modern approaches among teachers? Has there been any study conducted or commissioned by the government seeking answers to these or similar questions? Or is the decision to open English medium government schools based on a priori knowledge and belief?
By establishing 190 English medium schools spanning classes 1 through 12 and affiliated to the CBSE a new kind of class structure will be created in the government school system. A putative class structure already exists with fully residential, co-educational English medium Rajiv Gandhi Navodaya Vidyalayas established in every district for talented rural children. It is to be seen how admission to these new schools is to be regulated. It is also a moot point whether the government can identify sufficient teachers qualified to teach in the English medium from classes 1 to 12 in 190 schools in one go. Let us not forget that Hindi has been the medium of instruction in our government schools for over seven decades now. Is it at all reasonable to expect the teachers to shift to English almost overnight?
Another set of issues relates to separate cadre of teachers for the English medium schools. As it is there are separate cadres for primary and secondary teachers in the education department. Will the teachers in these new schools have a unified cadre spanning the primary and secondary levels or will there separate cadres for primary and secondary teachers? If it is going to be the latter then it will result in four cadres of teachers in the state – two for primary and two for secondary teachers; else there will be three cadres. Managing this plurality of cadres can create mind-boggling problems especially as they relate to promotions, career chances and seniority. This arrangement is guaranteed to create a plethora of problems and conflicts in time to come which will surely tax the resources and ingenuity of those charged with its management and open the floodgates to litigation.
With the implementation of this scheme the architecture of the government education system in the state is likely to become rather complex with a large variety of schools. The basic structure of a large number of Hindi medium primary, upper primary and secondary schools would continue in their present form. Their number is in thousands. Superimposed on it would be 190 new elite schools. With the passage of time the demand will grow for increase in the number of English medium composite schools, irrespective of whether the experiment is successful in promoting quality in education and weaning the people away from private schools. Since the new schools promise to be better provisioned than the regular government schools there is a distinct possibility that the latter may face a severe resource crunch.
In conclusion it would be relevant to urge the Uttarakhand government not to go in for ill-considered schemes or quick-fix solutions to work towards putting its broken government school system in working order. It should instead concentrate on making the existing system functional and relevant to the needs of the children and society. The task is admittedly difficult but not impossible, if there is a sincere will to improve. The government should involve well-known educationists, develop a plan and strategy, take bold decisions and act according to the plan. The government should draw inspiration and learn from the example of Delhi which has successfully its transformed it public education system so dramatically in many respects it is considered better than private schools.
(These are personal views of the author)
Author is the former Chairman of Fourth State Finance Commission, Govt. of Uttarakhand and ex Vice-Chancellor, Kumaon University.