Parents in Karnataka caught in school limbo

Several privately-run schools in Bengaluru and elsewhere in Karnataka have been functioning for years despite violating regulations. Many factors keep them going, ranging from corruption to a belief among parents that central board schools prepare children better for a competitive world

Updated - February 08, 2024 03:35 pm IST

Published - February 02, 2024 07:00 am IST

According to a survey, 294 schools were illegally offering English medium despite permission to teach in Kannada medium, and 95 were found cheating parents and children by providing central board education though they had permission to offer only State board syllabus.

According to a survey, 294 schools were illegally offering English medium despite permission to teach in Kannada medium, and 95 were found cheating parents and children by providing central board education though they had permission to offer only State board syllabus. | Photo Credit: file photo

Rajashekhar (name changed) is a worried man. His daughter studies in Class 4 at a reputed “global school” in Bengaluru, but he is unsure what awaits her next year.

“The school has Karnataka State board affiliation for Class 1 to 8 and CBSE [Central Board of Secondary Education] affiliation for Class 9 to 11, but the school neither teaches the State syllabus nor the CBSE syllabus. My daughter is taught the ICSE [Indian Certificate of Secondary Education] syllabus, which the school says will prepare children for ‘global challenges’. But starting this year, the State government is holding board exams for Classes 5, 8, and 9. So next year, my daughter has to write a State board exam,” he explained.

Teaching a different syllabus is a violation of the Department of School Education and Literacy (DSEL) rules. In addition, both the CBSE and State-affiliated classrooms are allegedly run in the same building, also going against the rules.

While he is unhappy with the school, he also knows that any stringent action by the State government may lead to its closure. “If the school is closed, where will we get a seat in a school midway for Class 5?” he asks, lamenting the difficulties of finding a seat in a ‘good school’ in the city.

Thousands of parents of children studying at such unauthorised schools — 1,316 as per a survey by the DSEL in the academic year 2022-23 — are confused and worried for their children’s future. As the academic year 2023-24 draws to a close, the DSEL issued a circular on January 9, 2024, on conducting a survey and taking appropriate legal action against unauthorised schools, including closure.

While the number of unauthorised schools is available, their names are not, leaving parents clueless about the status of their children’s schools. The implication is that only at the end of the year for a board-going class will parents and children find out that their school has been de-rostered or has not been registered at all. However, some schools tie up with other schools that have a legitimate affiliation, or an unrecognised school may send their children as private candidates.

Closure of schools 

Among the unauthorised schools, 294 were illegally offering English medium despite permission to teach in Kannada medium, 63 schools were running without affiliation from any board, 95 were found cheating parents and children by providing central board education though they had permission to offer only State board syllabus, 74 schools had upgraded the classes without affiliation, around 620 schools had additional sections without permission, and 141 schools were identified for shifting the schools without getting permission from the department.

The department had granted a 45-day grace period for these schools to follow the rules and rectify their mistakes in April 2023, but they failed to do so. Therefore, the Commissioner, DSEL, issued an order on August 10, 2023, ordering the closure of those unauthorised schools by August 14, 2023.

However, that was not to be. A day after the Commissioner’s order, Madhu Bangarappa, Minister for DSEL, made a U-turn and said, “In the interest of students, we will defer this order and will initiate the action in a phased manner. He argued that these unauthorised schools had already enrolled students and that any immediate action on those schools would affect children’s education.

Parents say the State government has not made the list of unauthorised schools public, which they have been demanding. 

Parents say the State government has not made the list of unauthorised schools public, which they have been demanding.  | Photo Credit: file photo

Government action 

With the academic session now coming to an end, the issue of school closure has been revived. The Commissioner, DSEL, in her circular this year, instructed Block Education Officers (BEOs) to make a list of unauthorised schools in their jurisdiction and take suitable action. The Commissioner warned that if any unauthorised school was found to be functioning, concerned officials would be held accountable.

The review of applications submitted for starting new schools and renewing old ones for 2023-24 is over, and permissions have been granted. However, the details of private schools recognised by the department have not been made public. What’s keeping parents guessing is whether the State government will act this time or again defer it. Bangarappa was not available for a comment on the issue.

B.B. Cauvery, Commissioner, Department of Public Instruction, said suitable action would be taken against unauthorised schools after a survey. “We are very particular that all unauthorised schools which are not affiliated to any board, State or central, be closed. We have given them sufficient time to register, but these schools have failed to do so,” she said.

Private schools oppose action

Private school managements have opposed the recent circular by DSEL, claiming this will lead to chaos and corruption. They also allege a lack of coordination between DSEL and the State government. While the Department seems keen on even closure of unauthorised schools, the government doesn’t seem to be, they point out.

Shashikumar D., the general secretary for Associated Management of Primary and Secondary Schools in Karnataka (KAMS), said, “The officials have not only issued the Recognition Renewal (RR) for schools but also generated UDISE codes and now suddenly are calling them unauthorised. A 2006 circular authorised private school managements to open additional sections, but now the Department is holding these sections as unauthorised. This State-wide survey of schools will only lead to more corruption.”  

However, KAMS also conceded that many private schools were cheating parents, calling themselves “international” and “global” schools. “Most of them have State board affiliation but teach other syllabi, collecting hefty fees from parents. This is because of negligence or corruption of BEOs and DDPIs [deputy director of public instruction]. If action is taken against these schools, action should also be taken against errant officials,” Shashikumar argued. 

Parents caught unawares

“As parents, we are caught unawares. Most of us go by what the schools claim, and we are not aware of mechanisms to cross-verify these claims. The State government has also not made the list of unauthorised schools public, which we are demanding. Even those schools deemed unauthorised in 2023-24 have completed the admission process for 2024-25, again putting the future of thousands of children in the doldrums,” said B.L. Yogananda, General Secretary, Right to Education Students’ and Parents’ Association.

In fact, complicated education systems make it difficult for parents to understand where their children’s school stands. Neither CBSE nor ICSE boards give affiliation to new schools immediately. Private schools need to run from Class 1 to 5 with State board affiliation for at least five years and only later apply for affiliation from the central boards with a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the State government. Based on this, the concerned board gives a provisional certificate, which is not an affiliation but an indication of the start of the process of affiliation, which usually takes four to five years. 

Many private schools are accused of showing these provisional certificates, or NOCs from the State government, to parents to claim they have the requisite affiliation already. Many private managements have also wrongly registered themselves as central-board affiliated on the UDISE portal, which also misleads parents. Some schools even buy state board textbooks from the Karnataka Textbook Society but never distribute them to students since they don’t teach them, industry insiders said. 

Demand driving these schools

The reason schools are teaching a central-board syllabus while being affiliated with a State board is the demand for the former.

“There is a general impression among parents that the central syllabus is of superior quality and prepares their children better to crack entrance exams to IITs, IIMs, and even medical courses. Many parents are now taken in by international schools, which claim to prepare children for the global stage. Private school managements are exploiting this to no end, charging them fees running into several lakhs. The State government needs to improve the quality of education in the state board if need be, and instil confidence among parents over the same,” said Umesh G. Gangavadi, president of the School Development and Monitoring Committee, Karnataka. 

Developmental educationist Niranjanaradhya V.P. said the Department officials have failed to monitor and take legal action against illegal schools. “These unauthorised schools need to be shut down in the interest of students and parents. However, many private schools are run by politicians and their kith and kin, which has put pressure on the officials to look the other way as well. But it is the students and parents who are being exploited,” he said. 

Now that the State government has decided to hold board exams for Classes 5, 8 and 9, the issue has come to a head. Those students studying in schools with State board affiliation but being taught one of the central board syllabi are in a fix now. “Some of these schools are now trying to teach children the State board syllabus in addition to the central syllabus, which is a burden on students and confuses them,” said a source.

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