The recent news reports of BBMP educational authorities' knee-jerk statement as a fall out of a sharp decline in the SSLC and 2nd year PUC results in their schools and junior colleges for 2016-17 would not have gone unnoticed.
The statement from the Special Joint Commissioner, BBMP (Education) proposed to hand out punitive actions such as increment cuts and suspensions to teachers and subject inspectors for failing to improve the pass percentage in SSLC and PUC examinations. While the overall average pass percentage in the SSLC exams (merely indicating those students securing 35% overall marks) from the 33 BBMP high schools has come down to around 40% this year from 57 % during 2015-16, the PUC pass percentage during the same period has dipped marginally from 61 to 57 %.
One would expect the concerned authorities to bring up real issues and address them squarely, in times such as this. However, such high-handed attitude of taking punitive measures against teachers purportedly towards improving educational quality would not yield the desired results. Instead, it will surely add to the already insecure feelings and dissatisfaction among the teachers and other academic staff resulting in long term irreparable harm being caused to the morale of the system.
Let us critically examine some of the current realities of the BBMP-run education system
For long, the BBMP has stopped recruiting full-time permanent teachers for its schools and junior colleges. For nearly 20 years or so, authorities have resorted to the regressive practice of hiring teachers on contract basis through an outsourced agency even to teach core subjects like science, mathematics and social sciences. Though these contractual teachers meet the requisite educational qualification criteria technically, insiders say that the entry of most of the teachers into the system has been on dubious grounds, with no proper selection process undertaken.
Many of them owe their allegiance to the local corporator or MLA, whose patronage they would have sought to find their way in. The civic body has also got some retired teachers back to teaching through this route. Clearly, not all of them are competent or committed.
The result is that a significantly high percentage of poor quality teaching staff have ended up teaching in BBMP secondary schools, denying quality education to the most deprived children. Needless to say, this singular retrograde step has created a deep disparity among the teaching community, resulting in huge salary differences to the extent of nearly 6:1 ratio between regular and contractual teachers, pushing contract teachers to form a separate union to espouse their cause for gaining permanency through legal means.
Another big reason for the falling dynamism in BBMP schools is that there is no concerted effort among the school staff around the beginning of the academic year to get newer children admitted into their schools. If at all, they put up some superficial effort to meet the requirement of some official circular.
The reality is that many of the schools located in the heart of the city face stiff competition from hordes of private aided and unaided schools, which naturally become the preferred choice of parents. BBMP schools therefore end up getting 7-8 children of migrant workers from other states every year just to keep the school running. These are children who are unable to get admission into so called 'better' private schools. Chances are that they stay on for 3-4 months before migrating back to their native states. The real issue is the lack of conducive learning environment for the children.
The other familiar issues around lower enrolment numbers in schools - improper deployment and utilisation of resources, imbalanced pupil teacher ratio, lack of conducive environment for teaching and learning, etc – naturally come up in the BBMP schools context too.
This trend further lends itself to vicious cycle of some teachers using all kinds of influences to get postings around convenient city locations, thus providing themselves enormous amount of free time to pursue their non-academic activities nonchalantly. The BBMP has shown lackadaisical attitude in not addressing this crucial issue of continuing downslide in admission levels of children year on year in their schools.
Interestingly, a few schools located on the outskirts of Bengaluru seem to be doing well, both relatively in terms of admission and academic parameters. This could be on account of non-existence of private schools around those areas resulting in larger number of enrolment, requiring the teachers to cater to their needs. This looks to be more of an aberration.
It is high time the BBMP relooked at its strategy of managing its schools optimally. This may even require them to close down a few schools having a continuingly poor record of admission over the last few years, merging it with nearby schools, redeploying its teaching and other non-teaching staff optimally, thus reducing wastage of human, material and infrastructural resources. In any case, there is a shortage of qualified subject teachers in most schools, and this rationalisation would address the crucial resource crunch to some extent.
Focus on teachers
The third key reason why a paradigm shift is needed in educational administration of BBMP schools is that the teachers of BBMP high schools and junior colleges lack genuine opportunities for their professional development, leading to low self-esteem.
Though some of them do get nominated for some of the annual training programmes conducted by the education department, they seldom feel identified with those capacity building efforts as majority of the teachers who attend them are from the education department. Thus BBMP school teachers end up with a feeling of being not welcomed, and therefore take a less than active role in those workshops and interactions.
The BBMP has to take this up on priority with the implementing agencies of the education department – RMSA and DSERT – and make sure that their teachers don't feel isolated. More importantly, there are no other fora for BBMP school teachers to come together on a common platform to share and learn from each other, unlike their colleagues from the education department who participate in subject-teacher forums and the like.
As far as possible, there should be integration across different types of schools and teachers across various government departments, as they all come under the purview of the state government. Continual professional development opportunities should be made available commonly to all teachers irrespective of which type of school they belong.
The fourth compelling reason for educational reform is the organisation structure of the BBMP and the low priority given for education at the highest level of its administration. Besides the commissioner, who is overall responsible for managing the affairs of the BBMP, education matters are being entrusted to a Special Commissioner level officer (Indian Information Service cadre), who incidentally looks after other key areas such as estate, horticulture and welfare. There is a Deputy Commissioner – Development and a Deputy Director Education. Besides there are Education Officers / Assistant Education officers for each zone and subject inspectors (essentially for each subject, subject teachers are assigned this role for a certain temporary period, much like the cluster resource persons of the education department), who support the Principals/Head Masters of various schools. But the key missing link in the whole education wing is the absence of academic focus, leave alone any kind of expertise.
How does one explain the fact that in about 60 schools (12 primary, 33 secondary and 12 junior colleges) run by the BBMP (it also runs nearly 80 pre-primary schools), there are more than 500 teaching posts lying vacant for decades? There are instances galore of head teachers and principals who are asked to look after two schools simultaneously, schools having zero admission for years, responsibility of retired principals not being entrusted to others for months, resources lying unutilised in children-less schools for years on end, etc.
This clearly indicates that the civic body is neither keen nor competent to improving education and somehow wants to run its institutions without addressing the most basic needs. It demonstrates deep apathy and neglect of education, though the 12th schedule of the Constitution, through the 74th amendment act of 1992, lists promotion of education as one among the 18 functions of the civic body.
Time for radical step
However, the BBMP administration is already crumbling, unable to effectively manage the greater Bengaluru metropolitan area of more than 750 kms, with a population of over 10.1 million. Bengaluru civic body is managing the fourth biggest urban civic body in the whole country. Its mandate is orderly development of the city.
The urban body has come under severe criticism in the recent past from the tax paying public, state and national media, various courts and experts for its lackluster handling of the water bodies, storm-water drains, roads and in tackling the traffic, and infrastructure woes.
It is high time the state government took a long-term view of the BBMP's role, particularly the educational role.
It will be for the greater good if the educational aspect, which is currently being given a short shrift by the BBMP, is given its due importance by merging schools and colleges run by the local body directly with the education department, including infrastructure and playgrounds on priority. This is to ensure basic minimum standards are maintained in these schools and nearly 15,000 children who are currently studying therein are not any more subjected to step-motherly treatment.
S V Manjunath currently heads Azim Premji Foundation - Karnataka as its State head. He made a mid – career shift more than seven years back, after spending more than two decades in the corporate sector. He had been a human resource professional, having worked in reputed public and private sector organizations like Bharat Electronics, Bosch and Himatsingka Seide, where he last held the position of Associate Vice President – Human Resources. Managing the Industrial Relations, playing a balancing role between the management and unions; aligning the goals of the workforce with the vision of the organization was his forte.
Manjunath has a Bachelor's degree in Arts and a Master's Degree in Social Work along with a post graduate diploma in Personnel Management & Industrial Relations.
The key focus of Manjunath's role at the State level is to bring about improvement in quality and equity of school education across the State, with an overarching purpose of significantly and sustainably improving the K-12 education system.
Manjunath has interests in literature, music and cricket. He has authored two books in Kannada, one a collection of essays on his experiences as a Human Resource Professional entitled 'Janasampada' and the second a photo feature called 'Sakha-Sakhi', a unique piece dedicated to his parents commemorating their 50 years' life journey.