PUCL Bulletin, July 2003

Government schools vital
-- By Mahi Pal Singh

Why do private schools which are known as public schools in India, attract a large number of parents to send their wards to these schools? We need to go deep into this aspect of education in our country particularly because Article 45 of the constitution of India puts the onus of providing free and compulsory education up to the age of 14 on the state government and the central government which run government (state) schools in states and territories under the direct rule of the central government.

Failure of government run schools to attract students and to stop them from dropping out means that the government will never succeed in fulfilling its obligation under Article 45 and education to all children up to the age of 14 will always remain a dream as it has remained even after 55 years of attaining freedom. Public schools cannot be expected to fulfill this aim as they are out of the reach of the general public even in metropolitan cities, not to speak of the deep and far-flung areas of rural India where large sections of our society still fail to see the face of a primary school.

Admissions for KG and Nursery standards start with donation or payment under the table…. amounts varying from ten thousand to one lakh and fifty thousand depending on the name and fame of the public school to which parents want to get their wards admitted. These schools charge heavy fees combined with compulsory purchases of uniforms, books and stationary from stores which are run by these schools themselves or from pre-arranged stores. Except for board classes, these schools fix their own syllabi and prescribe their own books. Most of these books are those in which someone from a particular school has contributed as a writer and is invariably priced very high.

Then start unit tests and their preparation - not by the teachers and their students, but by the parents of students. Since parents who send their wards to these schools are mostly businessmen and bureaucrats who have no time to look after their wards, and in most cases are not even trained to help their wards in studies, a search for tutors starts and the whole exercise ends up in arranging two or three tutors for every child. These tutors, most of whom are from government schools, shoulder the responsibility. Parents of those students who still do not do well are called once a month to the schools and the teachers dutifully inform them of the failure of their wards. However, due care is taken about highlighting the abilities of their children. They are praised well to puff up the lungs of these parents, so that their middle-class sensibilities are not hurt.They rather have a sense of pride on being told that their children abound in inherent intelligence and talent.

However, if a child does not end up getting through the class at the end of the year, the parents are called and offered a 'pass' certificate, along with an appropriate marks-statement for their children so that they can take their wards to some other school, which invariably is a government school. Thus those not doing well are weaned away and extra payment-seats are created for new students to be admitted. Those whose tutors work really hard, continue to produce better results adding to the name and fame of these schools. Some schools, not really well-known ones, provide certificates on payments ranging from five to ten thousand for other than Board classes even to those students who have not even seen their buildings, thus making extra money from this additional source also.

Thousands of students with such (actually) fake certificates of these financially unaided by the state but recognised schools are fully valid for joining any school. Of course, some of the best students of government schools, whose parents feel that they should do something more for their talented children, shift to "public" schools every year. This continuous churning process ensures supply of better students, of course with better resources, to public schools and also impoverishing the already poor government schools.

The net result is that there is a wide difference between their Board results. The different social strata to which the students of the two categories of schools belong is never taken into consideration while comparing their result, nor does anybody care about the abysmal difference in amenities available to the two categories of students.

An account of the state of things prevailing in government schools, written thirteen years ago (PUCL Bulletin, September 1990) by Dr. R.M. Pal which says, "Even where schools function, the physical condition is deplorable - there are no desks, no drinking water facilities, no lavatories. You visit any corporation and Government schools in Delhi and you find that children in primary sections are not provided with desks; they are required to squat. Children from poor families do deserve better physical environment than in their places of residence where they have no amenities of life.

Let them have some amenities at least in their school where they can feel happy, and if they are happy they may not drop out," reads no different from another report, 'No Drinking Water in 31 MCD Schools' published in Hindustan Times dated 31.8.2001 which stated, "The Municipal Corporation of Delhi is still unable to provide minimum facilities to its students in many primary schools. There is no drinking water provision in as many as 31 school sites. As a result, children have to fetch water either from their homes or slip out of the school in between classes to the nearest water tap. Of these, 13 sites are in Pahladpur Bangar Municipal ward in North Delhi, the other school sites are spread over Rohini, Shahdara (North) and Shahdara (South). Delhi Jal Board has been unable to provide tankers in these schools."

The account reads like a page of pre-independence history of some remote area in Rajasthan and not that of what is happening in the heart of the capital of India after 55 years of achieving independence, although, the country is supposed to have made great technological advancement by developing Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and nuclear arms capability during the last few years, which speaks volumes for the priorities of the government of the day. However, during the last few months, because of the intervention of the Delhi High Court as a result of a public Interest Litigation (PIL) case, the local government has initiated some action to give government schools a better look at least outwardly, though much remain to be done if things are really to be changed, and if past experience is any indicator, nobody is serious about bringing about fundamental changes and improvements in the system and the conditions of education in government schools without which providing quality education to the vast masses of the Indian society cannot but remain a mere dream.

Unlike public schools, where teachers are selected and kept on merit, the government schools are stuffed with teachers, particularly the senior ones, most of whom do not even know their teaching subjects well. Government schools in Delhi prove the point best. Here Post Graduate Teachers (PGTs) called Lecturers, who teach Senior Secondary classes, get promoted to the post in a queer manner. Trained Graduate Teachers (TGTs) teaching Science or Mathematics up to Secondary level are promoted as Lecturers in any of the subjects in Arts or Commerce stream, like History, Political Science, Geography, Economics, Sociology, Accountancy, Business Studies and even in English, apart from Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics and Biology (which they teach in schools), only by doing a post-graduate degree course in that subject even though they do not study the particulars subject during their graduation and have absolutely no experience of teaching that subject in their schools, whereas the rules do not permit TGTs of Hindi, Sanskrit, Punjabi etc. to be considered for the promotion in subjects other than these languages even though they generally study those subjects at under-graduate level and may have an experience of teaching such a subject for a long period in their schools with competence.

The result, for example, is that many of the English PGTs themselves cannot write an application for leave and many PGTs in Political Science do not know the fundamentals of the Constitution of India. But who cares for these government schools?

Should the government and the officers responsible for perpetuating this state of affairs not be held responsible for criminal negligence of their duties and gross violation not only of Article 45 of the Constitution but also of the spirit of the fundamental human rights to equality by denying to the students of government schools equality of opportunity on which the foundation of our Constitution, and in fact of any democratic society, is laid?
How serious is the NDA government at the centre in providing free and compulsory education to all children up to the age of 14 years, is clear from the fact that even after passing the 93rd Constitution Amendment Bill (now 86th Constitution Amendment) in November, 2001 making it a fundamental right of every child to get free and compulsory education up to the age of 14, it has failed to follow it up by a central legislation with a detailed mechanism necessary for its implementation even after a lapse of more than a year and a half. It was not unreasonable, therefore, for the UNESCO in its "Education for All Global Monitoring Report: Is the World on Track," to include India in the list of 28 countries which in its opinion would not be able to achieve the target of universalisation of primary education even by the year 2015. The reduction in the budgetary provision for education from Rs.4904.63 for the next year shows the government's apathy for mass education in the country.

Its elitist bias is also clear from the fact that the Union Government spends Rs.39,000 per year for a student studying at a Navodaya Vidyalaya, whereas a student in an average government school gets only Rs.2000 including the central government's share of Rs.241 ('Gross Neglect of Education' by Eduardo Faleiro, Mainstream, March 29, 2003).
The social welfare programme of providing free and compulsory education up to the age of fourteen was not left to private 'public' schools even by capitalist countries like Japan and the United Kingdom who bore the complete financial obligation needed to make it a success in the 19th century. How can we leave such an important obligation in the hands of purely business-minded people, for there are hardly any known educationists running these business establishments, who run these public schools for purely business reasons. However, if India has to stand in the line of developed countries this programme of universal education must succeed, because

Welfare of the country as a whole cannot be ensured without the well-being of its people, which is turn depend on their being educated, and educated well for that matter, because that is one of the essential conditions for a society to live a successful democratic life.

But it is my firm belief that these vestiges of the British Raj -- the public schools - so long as they exist, will not allow the dream of universal compulsory education to be fulfilled because their very existence will hinder government schools from flourishing and shouldering this constitutional obligation, as they will remain a neglected lot so long as these public schools exist for politicians, bureaucrats and the powerful middle class people to send their wards to. The day they are all left with no option but to send their sons and daughters to government schools, I am sure the government schools will be in a far better condition than these 'public' schools are in today.

Then there will not be any 'public' schools, the breeding grounds of snobs who fell slighted in rubbing their shoulders with those of the sons of poor farmers, labourers and those belonging to scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes - in other words the sons of the soil of India, the real working class which can ensure the development of the country, and whose happiness and well-being in turn can be the only yardstick measuring the development and prosperity of the country.

Then these schools will become embodiments of equality and tolerance - the two cardinal values which are essential in a pluralistic society like India and which will make our society a humanistic and civilized society, devoid of the inequalities based on sex, caste, religion, language and place of birth - the dream the founding fathers of our Constitution has cherished in their hearts and every civilized man will feel honoured to belong to. That will be a sure bet for ensuring development, security, happiness, and peace in the country.


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