Post Mortem

Who failed: Government schools or their students?

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 6/17/2020 1:21:21 PM IST

 The past High School Leaving Certificate (HSLC) exam resultsreveal a grave learning crisis in our state in the fact that not even half of the total number of government school students enrolled for HSLC exams manage to qualify every year. In the recent 2020 HSLC results, out of 5,144 students enrolled, only 2,140 qualified and 629 dropped out even before appearing. This means that the bulk of the students from our government schools fail to complete secondary education every year. 

Data also tells us that from 2013–2020, the contribution of government schools towards the total number of qualifying students in the HSLC exams have been marginal – a mere 12.5%. In absolute terms, only 14,718 out of 1,17,616 have managed to clear the HSLC exams from our government schools in eight long years. Another greatly disconcerting fact is that government schools seem unfazed drawing a blank in the HSLC exams. If we look at the data since 2015, we have had, on average, about 29 schools recording 0 pass percentage every year. This means that students spend year after year in these government schools learning next to nothing.

A history of exhibiting persistently low pass percentages over the years have subsequently diminished the appeal of government school, pushing parents to private schools. Not surprisingly, enrolment in private schools is about three times that of government schools as per the 2020 HSLC results. 

The dismal outcomes are despite the introduction of ground-breaking interventions in the school education space such as the Right to Education (RTE) Act, enacted by the Parliament of India in 2009, to ensure free and compulsory schooling for all children aged 6–14 years and several other flagship schemes such as the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) aimed at improving accessibility, equity and quality of education.

Given the low learning outcomes, it is ironical that the government school education system in Nagaland has one of the lowest pupil-teacher ratios (PTR) in the country. As per 2018-19 Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE) data, Nagaland has a total of 19,886 government school teachers (all categories) and 1,38,085 government school students. This roughly translates to about 1 teacher for every 6.9 students and yet, many schools report the shortage of teachers, which begs to question the manner in which resources are distributed across the state. 

Besides the teaching staff, we ought to take into account the State Directorate of School Education (DoSE), the District and Sub-divisional offices that function under it. After all, why do these institutions exist if not to improve the performance and quality of government school education? As per the latest available proactive RTI disclosure (under Section 4(1)(B) of the RTI Act, 2005) for FY 2017-18, there were about 24,690 employees including teaching staff that are deputed by the Government of India (GoI) under the Directorate of School Education, RMSA and SSA. To put things in perspective, the Government deputes about one official for every 5 students and yet, not a single student from government schools has made it to the top 20 HSLC achievers.

Considering the above, the question is – how did we get to a point this low that we have lost faith in government schools? We can garner some of the answers to this question through the 2018 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the Nagaland Government’s School Education Department. As we will see, a lot of it has to do with the lack of quality teachers, inequitable resource distribution, weak workforce management, improper planning, gaps in implementation of schemes and overall, poor governance.

Despite the low pupil-teacher ratio, quality of education imparted is bound to be compromised when teachers with questionable qualifications are hired. Bringing to light the callous attitude of authorities in charge, the 2018 CAG report revealed that out of the 812 teachers appointed by the DoSE during the period 2013–2018 for secondary school education against vacancies under RMSA, 549 teachers did not possess the minimum qualification of graduation with B.Ed. The report also found that 175 unqualified teachers, after joining service, were allowed to proceed for B.Ed with full pay (amounting to ₹8.80 crore) in violation of the government guidelines which stipulates only graduates with B.Ed. to qualify as teachers and that the Government will not depute serving teachers for professional courses. 

This is a double whammy! The unqualified teachers go for acquiring the minimum required qualification at huge public expense, the proxy teachers of still poorer standards deprive the students of their right to quality education. The rampant proxy teacher arrangements also reflect poorly on the local authorities such as the Village Education Councils which are responsible for the management of elementary education under the Nagaland Communitisation of Public Institutions and Services Act, 2002. 

Quality of education also suffers when we fail to a create a safe and enabling environment where basic needs such as functional classrooms, hygienic and separate toilets for girls and boys, safe drinking water are taken care of and students have good access to learning resources. Even with the enactment of the RTE Act and introduction of RMSA and SSA to address the quality aspects, enrolment rates in Nagaland’s government schools remain terribly low and only 57% of the government schools have electricity connection, 23% have a library, 56% have drinking water facilities and 22% have functional computers as per UDISE 2018-19 data. Further, many of the government school buildings that we visited as a part of the Governor’s Young Fellowship Program across the state early this year were in shambles. 

These schemes have failed to create any lasting impact in our state due to improper planning, misuse of funds and non-adherence to government guidelines. For instance, the CAG report found that 168 schools were approved for upgradation/strengthening in the state with a total outlay of ₹102.61 crores under RMSA during the years 2009–2014. Out of the 168, only 137 were taken up for upgradation and 113 were reported to be completed. On inspection of 47 schools in 3 sample districts out of the 113 completed, all 47 were found to be incomplete. 

Further, it was found that 58 schools were upgraded to Secondary and Higher Secondary schools between2013–2018 without adhering to the RMSA norms. These schools were upgraded despite having a Secondary/Higher Secondary within a distance of 5 kilometers of the habitations. Out of the 58, 14 had zero enrolment in classes IX and X (2017-18) and 7 schools were downgraded due to zero enrolment in classes IX and X for three continuous years. 

Perhaps, this is one reason why we see overcrowding of government schools with negligible enrolment rates in some areas while depriving students in other areas without access to secondary and higher secondary schools. The CAG report also revealed that in some cases, government schools were occupied by private individuals and utilized asprivate hostels. These instances have emerged as a result of improper planning, lack of consultation with authorities at the school levels, misappropriation of funds, and absence of stringent monitoring practices to check private profits using government resources. 

The CAG 2018 report also sheds light on some of the reasons why government schools do not have the facilities that are intended for them. Between 2006–2013, the GoI released ₹54.42 crore to the state under the scheme ‘ICT@Schools’to equip all government secondary and higher secondary schools with computer labs. However, the DoSE violated the norms by including 403 private schools out of 691 schools due to which the GoI stopped further release of funds under the scheme. Private schools benefitting from government funds does not appear to be the only reason why government schools are being deprived.

In 98 schools that were inspected under the RMSA framework, the CAG report found that science labs and library rooms were not utilized for their intended purpose. In 36 schools, lab equipment were found stacked in the cupboards unused and library books not made accessible to students. Basic water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities such as clean, functional toilets were not available in 85 schools. It is no wonder then that in the absence of quality teachers, poor infrastructure, lack of basic amenities and access to learning resources, our government schools are in perpetual decline.

Investing crores of public funds, year after year, to improve the government school education system have clearly failed to reap adequate returns. Lack of concern for government school education and absence of accountability on the part of the concerned authorities have become apparent. As a result, students who are the intended beneficiaries bear the brunt as their future is compromised and they are unable to reach their full potential. 

As these students leave school with sub-standard education, they are met with fewer life prospects, higher risk of unemployment and lower earnings. They are less able to contribute positively and participate fully in the democratic aspects of modern societies. We need to be reminded that educational failure levies high costs on the society. It can limit our economy’s capacity to grow and innovate. Educational failure also harms social cohesion, which imposes added costs on public budgets to deal with the consequences. For these reasons, it is pertinent that we focus on salvaging our government school education system and raising the quality of education at all levels.

Diepeu Mero, Governor’s Young Fellow, Kohima

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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