CHENNAI: As the State moves towards universal education, more attention is turning towards the yawning gaps in quality in the school system. There is a wide gulf between schools with their own swimming pools, computers for each student and digital classrooms and the dilapidated, badly-lit, underequipped structures that still provide education for thousands.
The State government is now encouraging private players to come help bridge that gap, at least in the government school system. Last month, the government introduced the school improvement scheme to enable greater participation of the private sector in government schools.
“We have already had a good response. Many queries have come in, calls and letters to the chief educational officers,” says P. Perumalsamy, Director of School Education, adding that a number of corporates, non-governmental organisations and individuals have expressed interest in the scheme, less than three weeks after the government order for the scheme was passed. He says that Coimbatore, Namakkal and Erode seem to have evoked a particularly good response.
The scheme invites private players to “adopt a school”, by signing a memorandum of understanding with the School Education department for a five-year period to implement projects in 10 suggested areas: purchasing land, building and upgrading classrooms, constructing compound walls, playgrounds, libraries and laboratories, providing drinking water and toilet facilities, and equipment for science and computer labs and sports activities, innovation in teaching and learning methods and student welfare activities. A minimum of Rs.3 lakh for primary schools and Rs. 5 lakh for secondary schools, must be committed.
At least two information technology majors are seriously exploring involvement in this scheme on a large scale. Based on their previous experience in working with schools, however, they emphasise that training programmes are as important as the infrastructure projects.
“If you give them sophisticated infrastructure and they don’t know how to use it, then what is the point of that?” says P.R. Sankari, an executive with the Intel Teach programme, a programme designed to improve teaching and learning through effective integration of computer technology in classrooms. So far, 45,000 teachers across the state have been trained through the programme.
Other corporates, especially in the information technology space, have also taken up the burden of training. Microsoft’s Project Shiksha has focussed on accelerating IT literacy among teachers in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme. IBM has partnered with the Chennai Corporation to adapt the power of technology for educational needs, training educators in home-school communication, classroom instruction, teacher training, student assessment and data management. Some corporates prefer training to building programmes because of the red-tapism involved. “If you want to give infrastructure, you have to get through so much bureaucracy,” says an executive responsible for corporate social responsibility at an IT major. He hopes that the GO will ease the red tape.
At Infosys, clean drinking water facilities have already been identified as a major need, with a reverse osmosis plant being set up in a government school at Sholinganallur as the starting point for a larger project. While the Infosys Foundation has been responsible for the large projects, from tribal schools to library drives, the employee-funded Sneham has sponsored toilets for girl students in government schools and also runs personality development programmes. “It is a need-based decision, to look at training or infrastructure. Even when employees can’t give money, they can still give time,” says Sujit Kumar, Infosys human resources manager in Chennai.