The unsung foot soldiers of our education system

The unsung foot soldiers of our education system

Submitted by alvin on Wed, 2016-08-24 11:18  ‘Who will miss the CRPs and BRPs?’ This thought-provoking question was put forth by a committee constituted by the Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Human Resource Development, New Delhi, in its draft report incorporating indicative operational guidelines for strengthening and revitalising Block Resource Centres (BRCs) and Cluster Resource Centres (CRCs), at the sub-district level. That was in June 2011. The question is pertinent even today.   The report captures a typical day in the life of a cluster resource person (CRP). At 9.30am, he heads to a school to begin the day by observing a classroom. At 10 am, he enters the classroom with his observation sheets. The students watch him as he goes and sits in the back. Over the next 25 minutes, he observes the teacher taking the class through different kinds of ‘nouns’. Then he moves over to another classroom and fills in the sheet on ‘geometry’. Another 25 minutes later, he moves into another classroom, where the teacher is taking a lesson on ‘properties of light’, and fills in the sheet. During all these three sessions, the teacher glances occasionally in an anxious manner in his direction which is noticed by the children. At 11.30 am, the resource person moves briskly around the school to see if the walls are in good shape, toilets are working fine, and so on. At 11.45 am, he goes into the head-teacher’s room and takes the attendance register to monitor the students’ attendance over the last few days. He takes some time to take down the numbers.    Around 12 noon, he is already running late for a School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) meeting. At 12.15 pm, he gets a call from the block resource centre (BRC) about some urgent data on mid-day meal (MDM) to be gathered from schools and submitted that same day afternoon. At 12.30 pm, he attends the SDMC meeting but his classroom observations that day still linger in his mind. He feels that the geometry class could have been better with the use of a particular teaching learning material. He makes a note to remind the teacher but is not sure when the next visit will happen. The SDMC discusses substitution for a teacher who would be going on leave. The CRP makes a note to check with other schools in the cluster as to how they could spare the services of a teacher for the leave duration.   At 2 pm, he visits the block resource centre 8 kilometres away to collect the new data format for information on children with special needs. A resource person at the block shows him the circular and explains the data fields. Between 2.45-4.30 pm, he sets out to four different schools and tells the concerned teachers what they need to collect about the children in their schools. The teachers are clearly not happy with this new data but he is not sure how to respond but blames the department as he does not know ‘why’ this new data is being sought and how it will change anything. At the end of the day at 5.30 pm, he returns home feeling that he has been very busy but wondering how much he has really contributed to making education better in his cluster.   Are the resource persons happy? The stark reality is that thousands of block resource persons (BRPs) and cluster resource persons from across the country – there are approximately more than 1,20,000 resource persons representing government’s efforts to reach out to every school and school teacher - would be feeling just the same way as the CRP in the above description, right through their tenure.   A study done (Source: Nayantara et al, 2010) of the satisfaction levels of CRPs and BRPs clearly indicate that these resource persons themselves are unhappy on several key parameters relevant to their roles, such as balance between academic and administrative work, level of skill utilisation, conditions of work, physical facilities, emoluments and job satisfaction levels. The CRPs and BRPs are frustrated as they are called upon to respond to multiple programmes and situations, requiring them to juggle various priorities. Therefore, they lack focus and integration into the overall vision of school improvement. Almost every programme places a huge expectation on these unsung foot soldiers. They feel that the expectations from them are not always commensurate with the inputs and support they receive. In the same vein, there is a widespread perception among the education officers about the futility of CRC and BRC.   Pertinent questions Therefore, it becomes inevitable to raise certain key questions: why are BRPs and CRPs existing in our education system? What does the system seek to gain from their presence? Do the schools and teachers perceive them as being their true representatives in the official sphere? Can they mentor 40-50 teachers with whom they interact regularly? Who will miss them if they are not there?   Historical perspective Before we attempt to answer these questions, a brief historical view would be necessary to understand why the roles of resource persons were created in the first place and how they have evolved over time. The block and cluster resource centres (BRCs and CRCs) were created on a large scale throughout the country as a means of creating academic structures that support and improve the quality of education in schools. They were initially set-up under the district primary education programme (DPEP), which was implemented in a phased manner in select districts and later expanded through Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). During the DPEP period, the BRCs and CRCs focused mainly on delivering training to reorient pedagogic practices of primary school teachers, to make them more sensitive to children from excluded groups and make learning more enjoyable. Collecting field data to monitor fund utilisation had been another key role played by the BRPs and CRPs then. However, the education system treated their work as non-systemic, limited and time-bound, as the District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs) were hardly connected to their work. The SSA has subsequently widened the scope of school reform efforts by integrating these resource centres with the larger system and state institutions. The effort for annual planning and review - that needs to emerge from block and district levels and to be consolidated at state and national levels - is a huge task. It includes both infrastructural requirements, educational quality – curriculum and pedagogy – and equity concerns with emphasis on enrolling and retaining children in schools.  The need for data has increased with the addition of district information system for education (DISE) and quality monitoring efforts. Some attempts have been made to bring in more focus for these academic institutions. The Right to Education (RTE) Act commits the country to providing quality education and outcomes for every child. It requires the state to continue and deepen the process of school improvement set on course by the SSA.  The institutions of BRC and CRC, which earlier had elementary school focus (in reality, it retained only primary school focus), are expected to include secondary schools into their ambit.   The challenges A close look at how these resource persons are performing their roles bring out the multiple challenges faced by them on the ground. • They spend enormous amount of time compiling and consolidating various kinds of data (running into 100s of templates), relaying it from school to cluster and block levels upwards and vice versa. Many times, they are not aware of how this data is being used. The volume of data they need to handle is not only enormous, but the process gets repeated as the data collected is barely organised. • Very few CRPs and BRPs make school and classrooms visits with prior preparation and plan. The visits are often based on limited information from textbooks. The frequency and duration of their visits become random with both the teacher and the resource person not knowing when the next visit is going to take place. There is no proper mechanism of providing qualitative feedback to teachers. • Many of the resource persons are unable to personally demonstrate a good model lesson as they do not possess adequate level of content knowledge. They are not able to address the actual academic needs of teachers.  • Though block resource centres are expected to design and execute relevant trainings, they are hardly in a position to do so. Training quality is severely compromised due to lack of good master resource persons, arbitrary selection of teachers, poor content knowledge and monotonous cascade mode of delivery, lack of access to experts, etc. This is compounded by unconducive training venues and learning environment, due to lesser budget allocation. The key issue is that training is not directly linked to classroom processes.  • The selection of resource persons made recently in Karnataka has been very good. The process somehow has been able to identify the best of teachers to take up this academic role. However, there is a need to make their tenure a little longer – from 3 to 5 years – to enable the resource persons to make meaningful contribution.   • Capacity building of resource persons is very limited. There is a need to conceptualise and design a state-wide, contextualised approach towards capacity building of the resource pool. • The cluster resource centres are usually rundown and hardly used for meetings. Block resource centres are often empty office spaces, unable to accommodate all personnel. Both centres do not have books, lab and teaching learning material and other minimum infrastructure requirements to enable conducive dialogue amongst teachers. • There is a lack of coordination between the state, district and block levels towards having a common vision. The coordination and supervision is restricted to project exigencies and state demands. • The workload this resource pool has had to handle is huge and unwieldy. Instances of a CRP having to visit and supervise increased number of schools and carry out multifarious assignments simultaneously makes their role very challenging. They also have to supervise and support varied kinds of schools, multi-grade, multi-lingual, across elementary and secondary levels.  • Most often, though these resource persons are expected to make number of visits to schools in certain frequency in their own two-wheelers and are paid limited travel and maintenance allowance.     Need to prioritise In order to make the roles of CRPs and BRPs really count, they, with the support and full understanding of the system, would need to focus on the key essentials of their roles: The committee that submitted draft guidelines for strengthening resource centres has proposed four inter-related approaches for CRPs. It’s good to go back to them again and see if they are relevant even in the present context.               a. School academic coordination: The resource person works with each school closely and ensured that the school’s academic planning and processes are carried out well. This includes regular preparation, curriculum reviews, conduct of assessments, including need-based training to teachers, adequate allocation of teachers and support to teachers, especially to address learning levels of all children. b. Community and equity support: Achievement of equity dimension of schools, as emphasized by RTE, is possible only with community ownership and support. This involves creation of conditions for disadvantaged sections of society. The resource person has to work with the community to improve social equity within and outside schools. c. Supervision: The resource person acts as a supportive mentor and guide for all dimensions of school’s work. Through supervision, He/she aims at effectively overseeing the implementation of education policies and programmes to ensure teaching and learning takes place simultaneously enabling the system to be vigilant. d. Administrative support: Key focus here ought to be to help schools focus on teaching by enabling them to spend minimal time on record-keeping and administrative tasks. This will take away the burden of non-teaching work from teachers, yet fulfil the needs of the state machinery to make sense of what’s happening with relevant and timely data.       e. Rationale for BRC’s role: The existential need for the block resource person’s role emerges from the constant systemic support and guidance for the CRPs to implement the approach on the ground, enabling them to work actively with schools and community. The BRC coordinator supports, facilitates and appraises CRPs’ work, liaise between BEO and clusters to sort out any administrative hurdles, networks with DIET, universities and NGOs for capacity building and carrying out research.              Will they realise their potential? The roles of resource persons have a huge potential for being positive enablers in the education system. They can hope to realise their potential only if the system stops expecting unrealistic outcomes from them and are allowed to focus on their priority goals. Author: S V Manjunath is currently heading Azim Premji Foundation - Karnataka as its State head. He made a mid – career shift more than six and half years back, when he joined Azim Premji Foundation.