The ‘Cancer’ of Tuitions

In the South Asian culture, unfortunately, the desire to push children ahead in what is seen as a cut-throat, viciously competitive world has manifested in many undesirable approaches that plague the education system and undermine children’s ability to develop holistically with high quality 21st Century skills. Of all of them, few are as malevolent as tuitions. The premise is simple – if my child is to be a winner, then they must just simply spend more time each day being taught, so that they will know ‘stuff’ better and thereby score higher in examinations.

I’ve written on this subject off and on in the past. I believe it makes children jaded towards learning, reinforces a sense that learning is something ‘done to them’ and maybe worst of all creates a perception that learning is purely about quantity, leading to neglect of quality. When a child knows they are going to be taught the same material at least twice in different places all too often this leads them to treat school as their ‘social club’ – a place to have fun with friends and try to get some light relief in their lives. This undermines the value of school, exacerbates discipline issues and is most detrimental for those children whose parents can’t afford the tuitions.

Who delivers these tuitions after school hours and at weekends? All too often the smae teachers who claim to be so committed to the children’s development. Too many of them can’t resist the extra money over and above their teacher’s salary. In major cities parents have been prepared to pay high sums for these tuitions leading to some teachers earning a good deal more than school Principals!!

The Right to Education Act may have had many faults. However, this was one issue on which the Act was very clear and sought to deal with the issue simply and head on. Section 28 of the Act states:

“No teacher shall engage himself or herself in private tuition or private teaching activity.”

Now, when I read that it seems clear, unambiguous and pretty absolute in its terms. Therefore, I struggle to understand why this is apparently insufficient and inadequate to empower authorities to nip this in the bud and bring an end to the menace. However, simple unambiguous words seem to still leave scope for watering down and ambiguity as evidenced by this story from Times of India. despite the simplicity of Section 28, the article suggests that a blanket ban on tuitions only applies to teachers from government schools and colleges. In the case of private school teachers it reintroduces from nowhere the old waffle about teachers being allowed to take tuitions as long as they don’t do it with the pupils of their own school.

Times of India – Tripura High Court Ruling

As long as such ambiguity is permitted this isn’t going away. teachers will collectively have a vested interest in ensuring that the quality of teaching in schools doesn’t reach such a standard that parents feel their children don’t need tuitions. They may be prohibited from working with the children of their own schools but their financial interests can easily be served by looking after each other’s interests. I’ve even come across instances of teachers in schools openly suggesting that a parent should enrol their child for tuitions and giving the names and contact details of their accomplices.

There is a reason, anywhere in the world, why school doesn’t go on for 11 hours a day! Children need time to pursue interests beyond the realm of school, to reflect on their learning and to relax. They also need the vital personal growth that just simply comes from being a child. It’s high time the word as well as the spirit of the law is enforced.

RTE – CSE Review After Nearly 3 1/2 Years

April 2010 saw the Right to education Act come in to effect in India (my, my, doesn’t time fly when pursuing pie in the sky!!). So, it’s timely that Centre for Science & Environment (CSE) has carried out an extensive review of implementation of the Act.

Down to Earth – Elementary Failure

At the top level, on the biggest issues, the report gives a grim picture of progress so far on enrollment, prevention of drop-outs, teacher training and recruitment and parent empowerment. It doesn’t really get in to the other key areas of special needs education provision or integration of EWS children in to upmarket private schools where my suspicions would be that the failure to deliver is at least as bad, if not worse.

Of course, there were plenty of us at the time of the legislation being passed who doubted the viability and scope of the targets and promises. Nevertheless, with children as the biggest losers, ‘I told you so’ doesn’t carry much satisfaction. The legislation is a reality now and it’s time that educators and civil society started to bring pressure to bear on the Indian government to realign, to set fresh goals and to commit to put in place the resources necessary to achieve the avowed aims. If, over the next two years real progress could be achieved, then all would not have been in vain. However, without new fresh commitments I rather fear the failures would be brushed under the carpet and the objectives allowed to die a slow death – later to be blamed on party political issues!

I also believe that the best prospects for the future may genuinely lie in PPP, but partner selection must be good and the criteria for deliverables identified and communicated with clarity and transparency.

The children and the country deserve better.

Education and Politics

I usually steer clear of writing here in the blog on matters which are overtly political. However, this is something on which I feel so strongly, that I feel duty bound to make an exception. The following story is a tragedy to my mind, on at least two levels:

India Today – RTE Budget Slashed

Firstly, we have a government in power here who staked their reputation (supposedly) on what they described to be the most important legislation to impact education in the country in 60 years, but who then callously fail to allocate adequate budgetary funds, and then cut them even further. This is a completely cynical act when you consider that they are bending over backwards to fund things like Aadhar and cash in hand transfers in the short term, believing that with these they will be able to buy the loyalty of voters enough in the next 12 months to retain power in the next election.

Education policy for a country, especially when it’s a country the size of India with an education system so desperately in need of change, has to be a matter for long term planning and commitment from a government that genuinely cares about whether or not the country provides something approximating decent education, as a matter of right, for all. However, here’s all the evidence that the current government are neither serious or genuine in their intent to support the necessary changes in education.

One of the reasons for the passing of RTE (besides a tool for petty local officials to use to manipulate and torture those in the private education sector) was to move India closer to complying with its commitments and obligations under the United Nations Millenium Development Goals. However, this cynical slashing of the budget carries all the hallmarks of lip service and a lack of genuine commitment to meet the needs of the population (even if they are in the best interests of the nation in the longer term)

There’s a second level on which this story disturbs me. It was published on 17th December and yet I have heard barely a whimper in protest from my peers in the education fraternity or from the public as a whole. It’s an over-used saying that you get the leaders you deserve. I have to wonder whether a country that couldn’t even summon the energy to debate and discuss the RTE when the Act was first passed, will sit idly by while the government reneges on every commitment and promise they have made to change and improve the education system to ensure movement towards a fair and reasonable education for all may indeed deserve the government it has got.

The news since 17th December has been dominated by the uproar over the Delhi rape case. Even as the uproar and outrage continues, rapes continue to happen across the country and atrocities against women continue unabated. Discussions of death penalties and chemical castration are not going to provide long term solutions. Just think, anyone committing a rape, sexual assault or even ‘eve teasing’ today is doing so in the full knowledge of the anger and hatred being expressed across the country towards the perpetrators of the Delhi attack. Education does have the potential to bring long term change, to effect long term attitudinal adjustment and gender parity. However, are either the politicians or the population ready to engage in anything more than sticking plaster solutions and knee-jerk reactions? Whilst I can understand that it might take some time for the public mass dialogue on education to become serious and genuine, where are all the voices of the educators, the people in the country who claim to be the ones who both care about children and their needs as well as having the knowledge and skills to bring meaningful change?

Pravesh Vatika (Nursery) Admissions

Applying to get your young child admitted in to the school of your choice at Nursery level is an anxious time even when everything is clear. Regrettably, this year the whole process comes with a great deal more anxiety as a result of the fallout from the passing of the Right to Education Act.

As I’ve highlighted in earlier posts on this blog there were serious questions over the standards of draftsmanship and even the level of debate, research and analysis that went in to creating this legislation – despite it’s potentially devastating impact for lakhs of children in India. There are many issues to be resolved, even including the correct age for children to be starting school.

The level of anxiety that parents experience over admissions is evidence enough the extent to which the right to choice matters to parents, and their understanding that all schools are not the same. The private sector, unaided schools offer parents the right to select a school with an ethos, approach to learning and values that best match their own.

Whilst lawyers grapple with these factors in the highest courts of the country, life must go on for the nervous parents of children who are reaching school age this year. For our school we have the added ‘spice’ of having Junior School campuses in two different jurisdictions. So, in brief, here’s where things stand currently;

Delhi – Vasant Vihar Campus
The Delhi Government granted permission for schools to set up a points based set of admission criteria that are transparent and fair. They then stipulated that admissions must be open from 1st January to 15th January 2011. For our school, an online admissions process commenced from 1st January and will close at 4.00pm on 15th January.
Applications can be submitted, after reading and carefully understanding all the information given on the school website:
TSRS Vasant Vihar Admissions Site

The school is part of a wider body that is joining with thousands of other unaided private schools from across the country to challenge certain aspects of the Right to Education Act through a writ petition to the Supreme Court. It is way too early yet to suggest how this might impact upon the admissions process, but whilst going ahead we have reserved the school’s rights.

In turn, there are others who are challenging the Delhi authorities’ decision to permit a points system. They argue that the use of the word ‘random’ in the RTE means that the only correct way for admissions to take place is through a lottery system. This is now unlikely to change anything as far as the nursery admissions for this year, but may bring changes for next year.

Gurgaon – Aravali Campus
The Haryana State authorities have not yet issued their guidelines for Nursery admissions for the 2011-12 academic year. Therefore, we have felt it appropriate to wait for the clarity that will come from them. In most years the admissions would have been all complete by October of the year previous.

We request all parents to be patient in the meantime.

Well, We Never Expected THAT !!

Here’s a piece of news that didn’t seem to get reported nationally, b ut here picked up from the Bangalore edition of a newspaper. Just as we’re all reeling and figuring out how to accommodate EWS freeships to the tune of 25% up to age 14, the government has now come clean on something many of us had guessed would follow – they’re going to extend it to age 16:

DNA Bangalore article

Right to Education Act – Latest

An article from The Hindu newspaper, as the issues brought to the forefront by the Right to Education Act reach the Supreme Court for consideration:

The Hindu article

When Good Intentions Can Bring Bad Decisions

The following piece written by someone who goes by the name ‘Anonymous’ allegedly has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the Right to Education Act. I mean, really, nothing at all and completely unrelated:

Issued by The Ministry of Irrational, Unresearched
and Ill-Thought Out Decisions
10th August 2010

As Head Honcho and Minister I (and my friend Mr Aggrawal, who is so wise and helpful) have been shocked to discover that in the matter of restaurants for eating, people have been making choices, sometimes even travelling some way from their homes to dine at some so-called ‘better’ restaurants – and this despite the fact that there are many free government canteens dotted liberally around the city.
Aggrawal tells me that such extravagant use of free will undermines the entire fabric of society and I believe everything he tells me. So, enough is enough and all this silliness must now stop. Therefore, with immediate effect everyone is to only dine at the nearest restaurant to their residence and nowhere else.
In addition, henceforth, all those restaurants will be obliged to serve free meals to all people with a ‘B’, ‘T’ or ‘U’ in their names (should they later change their name for any reason, free meals are to continue), up to 25% of their customer numbers.
Now me and Aggrawal Sahib have already figured out what some silly killjoys are going to argue against our wise and sagacious prognostications, so let me deal with them right here and now.
Some say to me that not all restaurants are the same – that they serve different food. Well, that can be put right very easily. If your neighbourhood restaurant is a Chinese one, a Korean one or an Italian one, their cooks will get retrained so as to be able to cook roti, sabji, rice and dal. It’s what I grew up on, so I’m sure it’s good enough for everyone now! As a concession, they may serve soy sauce on the side, but we will regulate the price.
On the matter of price, some restaurant owners have been arguing that there should be a difference in price between roast duck and shitake mushrooms and dal and rice. My learned friend A says that is capitalist filthy talk and that you’re all just not being imaginative enough.
Both A and I, along with all members of our families have recently purchased large amounts of prime residential property in Vasant Vihar and Vasant Kunj. A told me this would be a great investment for the future, but i can’t exactly remember why. I also couldn’t quite understand why the people selling property were giving the name of the nearest restaurant in their advertisements – life really is a mystery.
Some silly person told me that according to the new census the population of Vasant Vihar and Vasant Kunj appears to have increased to 80 lakh – extraordinary! I’m told that for some reason lots of people are pretending they live there – can’t for the life of me think why they would do that. A says after we flush them all out our property will shoot up in value.
So, good news. We’ve solved all the problems and created a fairer, better world. Now A and I are off out to lunch (a secret little club that only a few of us know about!).

Bon appétit !!!!

RTE – Implementation Woes

Here’s an interesting editorial from Bangalore on some of the troubles brewing in RTE implementation:

DNA Bangalore article

Genuine Fear or Snobbery

Here’s an article from DNA newspaper, Bangalore. After reading it I have to say i was left feeling very uneasy (though conscious that there may have been some journalistic ‘spicing up’ to make a story out of it):

DNA Bangalore Article

What disturbed me was how two separate issues in the Right to Education Act (RTE) have apparently been merged in to a single issue:
a) Issue 1 is a requirement for all private schools to give over 25% of new seats in their admission year to take in children from economically weaker sections of the society,
b) Issue 2 is that no school would be allowed to suspend, discipline or expel any child up to Class VIII.

To see the two issues merged in this way smacks of snobbery to me. No wonder the parents quoted wouldn’t give their names. Where I come from there’s a name for this – NIMBY-ism, NIMBY standing for ‘Not In My Back Yard’. It means – yes, of course these children should have access to a decent education, but not in MY child’s school.

The suggestion that the innocent and blessed bachhas of the private schools might learn bad language from these children from ‘the wrong side of the tracks’. In my experience (and this goes certainly for UK and India), the worst ‘bad’ language is known and practiced by those at the very top and the very bottom of the society (socio-economically).

I grew up as a middle class kid, with a father in the army. When i was 11 I was admitted to an expensive English boarding school (paid for by the state because i passed some exams) instead of following my parents around the world like a nomad. The first few weeks amongst these ‘rich kids’ were a revelation and an ‘education’ my parents hadn’t bargained on – boy did I learn some spicy language!

Now before anyone cries out – “but that doesn’t apply in TSRS” I would caution them to stop for a moment – I move around amongst our students enough to know what goes on. There are also enough parents, teachers and others who can tell me – so i know that many have colourful and extensive vocabulary in both English and Hindi!!

Both Issue a) and Issue b) are very important and should have been part of a wider debate in the country long before now, but separately – no together. It’s not too late, but we do need the debate to be kept at a level where it doesn’t sink in to the realms of petty snobbery and classism.

Who’s Got it in for Private Schools?

It is perfectly possible to buy the arguments that the Right to Education Act is a piece of broad enabling legislation designed to guarantee the right of every child in the country to go to school and receive a quality education. It’s very plausible that the act is aimed to right the undeniable wrong that there are still millions of children in the country who are denied the right to go to school. That is, until you read the Act itself. Then, you soon realise that whilst that may be true of large parts of the text there are some very specific elements that have been ‘dropped in’ like depth charges that have very narrowly defined implications for the private unaided schools.

Now, again, critics could easily describe these as the self-serving protestations of greedy ‘fat cat’ educator barons who care only about profits and nothing for the education of the masses.

However, I believe you have to start suspecting that there is a very genuine intention on somebody’s part to fundamentally undermine the private unaided schools in this country when you see that so close on the heals of the RTE comes another piece of legislation – this time specifically targeting private schools:

I-Government Article

To read this article and especially the quotes from the senior source in the HRD miinistry one can immediately sense the scorn and derision towards these schools.

However, let’s share a few fact about these schools;
a) The vast majority of them offer more than one syallabus. Thus, whilst offering the International Baccalaureate or Cambridge IGCSE it is likely that they also offer CBSE (or most often ICSE), or occasionally state board. In other words, when it comes to their facilities and standards of education these schools are already answerable to an Indian authority body.
b) Beyond this, these are two organisations (IBO & CIE) of impeccable international reputations. Are they really likely to give affiliations to schools in India that undermine their worldwide reputation?
c) The IBO India representative is Farzana Dohadwala, CIE’s representative is Ian Chambers – both in my experience are thorough professionals committed to high quality education.
d) Taking CIE as an example, students in Indian schools affiliated to CIE have repeatedly won recognition, including coming top in the world in their subjects (hardly evidence of shoddy schools or examination standards)
India Edunews Article
e) The article casts doubt on the quality of teachers in these schools. ironically, if there is one major difference between these schools and government ones that really stands out it is accountability – teachers in these schools have to perform, otherwise they lose their right to keep their jobs! This applies both to indian and overseas teachers.

So, do we not have a basis for questioning the intent behind such actions?

In Delhi, the assault on private schools comes in many other ways;
a) Multiple court actions, usually instigated by the self-styled Social Jurist, lawyer Ashok Agarwal.
b) Just within the last few days circulars dated 12th April and 16th April from the Directorate of Education, firstly setting out stringent rules for the establishment of PTA’s (not bad in themselves), followed by a ruling that states that PTA’s must pre-approve fee increases before they are put to Managing Committees – a bit like inviting the diners of top restaurants to decide for themselves what the bill should be!

What motive could anyone have for wanting to pull down the private unaided schools? There is a radical viewpoint in the world, particularly held by some socialists that states that the only way to have anything approximating quality education for all is to abolish private education. Then, the wealthy and influential people in society would have no choice but to send their children to the local neighbourhood school. They would use their power and influence to ensure accountability.

Of course, nobody planning such a strategy would openly admit to it. They may even be able to hide their true motives from those they work alongside. Instead, they rely on the frog in the boiling water theory. India’s private schools could be in a battle for their own survival.

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