School Phagathanshi Mission on the claim of No-dearth-of-fund (I)

SK Singh *

 School Fagathansi Mission at Moirangpurel High School, Andro AC, Imphal East on August 17 2019
School Fagathansi Mission at Moirangpurel High School, Andro AC, Imphal East on August 17 2019 :: Pix - TSE

For enhancing performance of schools and therefore of the competence of students, fund, nay, adequate fund, is required for sure. But, and a big but, fund alone is not sufficient. Some other ingredients, some constituents perhaps equally weighty as fund, are absolutely necessary.

This 12th Feb, 2020 the CM of Manipur near triumphantly declared that there would be no dearth of funds for this school mission. This rather bold pronouncement was made on the occasion of official inauguration of five government schools, under a scheme of the GOM, 'School Fagathansi Mission', launched by the government on 18 January, 2019.

An enthusiastic CM lavishly lauded this new initiative towards improving quality of teaching in government schools as a new avatar in the realm of teaching in public domain. In his perhaps, over-enthusiasm and as a great rationalist, he toyed with the idea of transforming one school in each constituency, I repeat, in each of the 60 constituencies in the state as a Model School.

The objective is clear:- produce reasonably good students in government schools as well. The immediate question is whether uninterrupted flow of funds is a sufficient condition to guaranty improving quality of teaching and therefore of the standard of students. The answer is, without a doubt, a clear, 'No'.

Few major issues can be dissected if adequate funds alone are sufficient input for the project. After all, the most essential component of a good institution could be, of course, resources to fund. We need infrastructure that could encompass facilities like buildings, roads, facilities that again include classroom amenities including computer labs and public amenities including bath rooms.

Still another big component without doubt, remains 'teachers', to be precise, competence of teachers. If the GOM desire to turn 60 existing nearly moribund schools, I repeat, near defunct schools, into kind of 'model schools' , adequacy of funds, a commodity scarce enough to elude many of the governments, should be supplemented with good teachers. Of all the essential ingredients, the most crucial one could be the human factor, that of management, running the school without outside interference.

School buildings can be improved without a fuss so long funds are pumped in. Other essentials like the 'computer bay', or washrooms essentially a big need for particularly girl students, roads , playgrounds can be put into position without much a stir, if the words of the CM about 'plentiful of scarce funds' are to be relied upon.

The greatest burden which funds cannot buy as yet, could be inter-a-lia, quality teachers and the essential input, called 'management' of the schools. These 'teachers' should not be just teachers but real time teachers, who can mould the young mind, the beginners through their depth of knowledge and their motivational approach to groom the students.

The CM referred to provision of Rs 43 crore in the RE with another 25 in the BE. Even assuming BEs could be revised ultimately to achieve a still larger chunk of fund, say Rs 50, higher than the RE of previous year, the sum boils down to Rs83 crore, say even 100 crore.

If 60 schools of the names notified like Chingmakha High School or for that matter Praja High School and the like, still worse than these in terms of availability of infrastructure and teachers (competent to teach) in the hill districts, the Rs 100 crore would turn out to be a pittance.

With less than 2 crore of rupees a school, it is not feasible to develop, to make the schools, kind of a 'Model School'. Still the CM contemplates to rope in more schools under the scheme next year. Can this be taken as practicable even for the physical component part forgetting 'good teachers', I mean the dearth of it?

Even the much talked-about 'plentiful of funds', is a suspect given the scenario occurring around. For the country as a whole public education sector is struggling for funds on every aspect of education, be they infrastructure, appointment of teachers, improvement of quality, even basic nutritional support to name a few. For the country as a whole expenditure on education has declined from 10.9% in 2014 of overall public expenditure to 9.7% in 2019.

In other words, expenditure on education sector has fallen from around 3% of GDP to under 3% vis--vis, a target of 6% of GDP. Our neighbor Bhutan earmarks 7% of GDP for education sector. On the face of the emerging scenario, the claim of 'plentiful' of funds may sound over-patriotic.

Do we claim to have a plenty of such teachers dedicated and full of zeal to deliver. Such quality teachers are not commodities that one can procure like computers or building materials or the like; they are grown naturally through a system. Availability of such committed teachers particularly the ones who would be assigned with responsibility of heading such select schools would remain a casualty.

Still another grey area could be in the domain of 'management' of the schools. Can the Head Master or the Principal act independently to discipline the teachers in particular and then the students in general?

More importantly even where a capable and proficient Head Master is identified for a select school, the bigger question increasingly relevant these days is would he be able to discharge his functions independently without interference from the political bosses and more frequently from their cronies?

Still a larger concern could be in the areas of competence of teachers, teachers who would be able to teach the subject, able to covey the fundamentals, in these days of specialization? Can the English teacher or for that matter, mathematics teacher deliver the goods? This reminds me of an advertisement in the national paper a year or so back for recruitment of teachers for teaching mathematics and science in certain American junior schools.

Why from India; it's simple for equally competent teachers the US school wound end up paying more to US teachers than from third countries like India or Pakistan. The fact is however that they want really competent, the very best teachers, to teach in American schools. Where do we stand in the backdrop of this reality?

The job of screening prospective teachers was outsourced to a Delhi consultancy firm. Zealous to start a carrier in the US, with fat pay accompanied with the attractive perks, many bright boys and girls came forward. The final screening was done by the school authorities from the US and few were selected for a carrier in America.

The point I am trying to drive at is that those finally selected from among the few equally competent candidates from across India could be just brilliant and one can imagine the quality teachings in the allotted schools in the US. In other words American school students are fortunate to have the best teachers in their choice of subjects.

Do we have a system to screen teachers to retrieve such really capable teachers for posting in these select 60 schools? It's a big question and the answer could be anything bordering on a clear 'No'. The few thousands of teachers recruited over the years through the conventional method of a written test and a viva -voce for 10 marks for Primary Teachers is too subjective.

Such teachers however exposed to advance technology for teaching are not expected to be anywhere near competence, most are understandably saturated. The most important ingredient for a teacher to be good is his or her academic content; then only trainings and exposures would elicit a gem out of it. The rest would remain moribund and would remain in the long run, heaping liability on liability.

The most ideal approach could be to go for a smaller target, forgetting political considerations, like if for valley schools why not for hill ones and the like. This 'School Phagathansi Mission' should be an academic exercise and not a political maneuver.

It should be based on near-absolute possibility of transforming the school academically and not merely improving the infrastructure which can perhaps be raised rather easily. For a school to be graded as 'Model', the two components should go hand in hand, not in isolation. Raising buildings could be easy but not imbibing competence to teach.

The GOI has formulated a New Education Policy keeping requirements of providing quality education, innovation and research. Several new schemes like National Initiative for School Heads and Teachers' Holistic Advancement (NISHTHA), Pradhan Mantri Innovative Learning Program (DHRUV) etc which may be of advantage to our 'School Phagathansi' program. These need deeper understanding. .

To be continued

* SK Singh wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at kunjabiharis(AT)rediffmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on February 26, 2020.

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