I had an accommodating co-commuter on bus route 21H on my way to work on Thursday afternoon. Jasmine, a class VI student, was on her way to St. Antony's Higher Secondary School in Foreshore Estate.
Unlike most children who find it difficult to understand my mix of Tamil-Malayalam-Telugu-English, the happy little girl volleyed a few questions at me. Thanks to the ongoing Board examinations, Jasmine was happy that she could get up late.
Otherwise, she begins her day at 6 a.m. when she walks quite a distance to the Semmencherry bus stand to reach school before the bell at 8 a.m. Next academic year, though, Jasmine will be shifting to another school in Navalur. But she will still have to take two buses. So, why did she choose this school rather than joining one in Semmecherry? She says, “ Anda pallikoodathula vasadi koraiva irukku (that school has few facilities).” Besides, her father wants her to study in English-medium – something Jasmine, too, is excited about.
The Foreshore Estate school offers both Tamil and English medium syllabi, but Jasmine says after class V many shift to the latter. “There are 46 students in Tamil medium in class VI, while there are 98 in English medium,” she says.
The school education sector was one of the major beneficiaries of the Union budget 2012-13, with the Right to Education (RTE) Act through Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) getting an outlay of Rs. 25,555 crore. Does that mean many students like Jasmine who aspire to study and speak in English will get what they want even from local body schools in their neighbourhoods? K. Shanmugavelayutham, convenor of TN-FORCES (Tamil Nadu Forum for Creche and Childcare Services), says, “We need money to train teachers and improve infrastructure in schools or the quality will suffer.” Also, he says, there is always a gap between fund allocation and utilisation.
Enrolment of children in government schools is also a concern. The management of Fathima Matriculation Higher Secondary School, a private school in Saidapet, says they receive many applications from children with parents whose annual salary is less than Rs. 2 lakh in spite of the presence of government schools in the locality. These children come in the 25 per cent specified by the RTE Act, but they refuse to go to government schools.
The budget allocation also comes in the wake of increasing concerns of the quality of India's education system as reported by two surveys. The Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) 2011 report rates the State with a nearly 100 per cent enrolment ratio but the learning outcomes of children as dismal. Not that India's best schools were in great shape either. The Wipro-Educational Initiatives ‘Quality Education Study 2011 showed that learning by rote is prevalent among children from top schools in the country.
Non-governmental organisations TN-FORCES, World Vision India, Social Watch – Tamil Nadu and Samakalvi Iyakkam – Tamil Nadu, reviewed the Union Budget and pointed out that there has only been a marginal increase from 4.6 per cent in 2011-2012 for children under schemes such as development and health. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Integrated Child Protection Services (ICPS) have not received the attention they should have got. Representatives from these four NGOs pointed out that “it was only a random redistribution of resources rather than any focussed or committed intervention”.
With the State gearing up to present its budget, academicians want the per child allocation to be increased from 54 paisa to Re.1. District level child welfare committees and a State Commission of Protection of Child Rights should be formed.
If schools are to mould the future generations then we need to see improved infrastructure, better salaries paid to teachers and an ideal student-teacher ratio. After all, a happy teacher often ensures a happy classroom.
Liffy Thomas writes on school
education for The Hindu .
School education sector received Rs. 25,555 crore in the Budget