Site Visit Report: Adopting Government Schools

by Prof. E. Annamalai

Dheena Bandhu (DB) is an NGO in Chamarajanagara, headquarters of the district by the same name situated 60km west of Mysore. It is a bilingual town with speakers of Kannada and Tamil. DB is run by Mr. Jeyadev guided by a committee, who was a teacher of chemistry in a local college and took voluntary retirement recently to devote full time for social service in the field of education. DB runs an orphanage and a school and is on shoe-string budget. It is supported by donations and funding from individuals and organizations, Indian and foreign. Its activities are guided by Vivekananda's spirit of dedicated service to the helpless. DB has an organic link with Vivekananda Foundation jointly established by Dr. Sudarshan, Dr. Balasubramanian and Prof. Jeyadev. DB is an organization working out of commitment and the atmosphere is not of a professional NGO. The staff of DB work with a sense of voluntarism drawing meager salary; one of them is a woman, who took voluntary retirement from bank service.

Ch.nagara district is strategically located adjacent to Biligirirangan Hills, habitat of tribals (Sholigas and others) and on the border of reserved forest. Agriculture is the major occupation of the people. DB's new project is to improve schools in the district through improving teacher competence at the primary school level. The schools include those in remote villages and tribal areas. Improvement of teacher competence involves sensitizing the teachers to the problems of poor children in government schools, raising the level of their conscience to do their work, enriching their subject knowledge and raising their pedagogical skills by providing teaching aids, which at present consist mostly of display charts (DB has an artist to make them; the ideas for them come from teachers and students). This improvement task is carried out by social workers recruited by DB (a better term might be education facilitators), who visit schools assigned to them every day (they are also made to visit other schools to be familiar with a variety of situations), interact with teachers, take the class when a teacher is absent, give talks on subjects like hygiene, health, environment protection, forest preservation, moral values etc that are non-existent or inadequately covered in the syllabus, be a link between teachers and parents. Their approach, according to Jeyadev , is to be positive, which means noticing and appreciating the positive strengths of a teacher and building on them, and not putting him or her on the defensive. The school adoption scheme of Govt of Karnataka (One rough estimate is that about 10% schools in the state have been adopted by individuals, companies and organizations to give inputs for school improvement) has come in handy for DB to administer its new project. It has adopted 52 schools in the district and has recruited seven social workers (six men and one woman), who have been working for the past two to three months. They are paid a salary of Rs 1200 pm and Rs 200 for travel expenses. They maintain a detailed diary of the work they do every day. They are given orientation in DB before put on the job and they meet periodically at DB for briefing.

The site visit was to a programme on Sept. 3 in a village called Chandkawadi six km from Ch.nagara. It is connected by tar road and buses run through this village. It is a big enough village to have two schools. The programme was in one of the primary schools and the spacious compound has a middle school and a building for School Cluster Centre (govt. centre). (These centres are for providing resources -books and equipment- for a cluster of schools in the vicinity and for organizing short training programmes for teachers; they are manned by a deputed high school teacher ; this particular centre is yet to function). This school, however, is not typical of the schools under the care of DB. The occasion was a workshop for teachers organized by Vivekananda Foundation and the social workers of DB also participate in these workshops in which Jeyadev (or any resource person) gives interactive lectures to teachers on a chosen topic. This topic for this particular programme was environment and the talk was by Jeyadev. There were about fifty teachers (30 men and 20 women). The talk was followed by discussion and snacks.

A majority of the teachers were genuinely interested in the information given by the speaker and were taking notes. Some of them were well informed; one pointed out the negative effects of bleach preventing disintegration of the human waste in septic tanks when the speaker spoke about the need for using bleach to maintain hygiene. One point in the discussion was how the primary teachers are not given credit for working with scholastically poor children from 'deficient' home background with no parental help for doing home work, while the teachers of middle class children in towns get credit for 'superb' performance. A mention in passing was made to NCERT's new curriculum with disapproval. It was encouraging that the discussion did not descend to issues of poor working conditions, salary etc as discussions normally end up in teacher gatherings even for training. This is perhaps one positive aspect of training by an NGO as opposed to one by the Education Department. After the workshop I spoke with briefly with some teachers and had a session with the social workers of DB. My observations on the school enrichment project of DB (DB does very little to improve physical facilities of its adopted school, which is generally the forte of companies that adopt schools) are derived from these two interactions and from the answers to my questions by Jeyadev. There were no parents or students to talk to about this project.

I reached Ch.nagara at 1.15 pm travelling the 60km in two hours by a passenger train pulled by a steam engine. (What a contrast to Shatabdhi I had travelled from Chennai the previous day! Like the Kendriya Vidyalayas and the village govt. school both are run by the govt. for different clientele). I was picked up at the tiny station by Jeyadev and taken to DB on his old TVS moped. I had lunch there with the inmates of the orphange -rice, sambar, a curry, buttermilk and pickle. The function was to start at 2pm and we waited for the Block Education Officer who was to go with us to the venue in his jeep. He did not turn up nor informed DB. When his office was called they said that BEO was out of office busy with arrangements for the Teachers day on 5th. Bureaucratic attention is for the modern rituals and such symbolic acts. The substance of education is the concern of others. Jeyadev hired an autorickshaw and we reached Chandakawadi thirty minutes late. The teachers were waiting. I performed the ritual of inaugurating the workshop in the absence of the BEO. We returned to Ch.nagara after the programme by bus standing.

Jeyadev assured me that the project was getting support and cooperation of the education dept. The DDPI Seshagiri Rao was personally interested. The departmental cooperation is necessary for the smooth conduct of the project. BEO is helpful by sending circulars on time to teachers to attend workshops of the project. He does it because DDPI is interested in the project. Equation with the top bureaucrat is necessary for an NGO to run projects successfully. Jeyadev and DB as well as Vivekanada Foundation have good standing and so I do not envisage lack of bureaucratic support to the project.

Scalability is not a problem as there will not be difficulty in recruiting the required number of social workers-even motivated ones. The project is replicable in other places, provided there are NGOs with credibility in the teaching community and acceptability with education dept. officials like DB. Monitoring social workers in a large scale may be less efficient and so the project under one organization may not go beyond a district.

The project is conducted by committed people and the money is spent very carefully. There are three substantive questions to be asked in evaluating the project. The first question is whether the project is a duplication of work. There is an inspectorate in the education department whose officers visit schools to inspect teacher performance and functioning of the school. They are not concerned with improving teacher competence. This project is not inspection of schools. There is a need for in service training for teachers because their pre-service training may have become outdated as changes are made in the curriculum; in the training school the prospective teachers are not sensitized to the problems of rural schools and are not oriented to empathize with first generation learners. DIETs provide in service training also. Some teachers told me that it was not sufficient. To a question on the difference between DIET in service training and DB's one teacher told me that attending the former is compulsory and later voluntary. I am not so sure because the BEO sends circulars to teachers to attend DB's programmes. Another difference according to a teacher is that DB programmes are lively and there is lot of discussion. It amounts to the fact that govt. institutions do not do their job properly and so NGOs step in to do that job well. Ch.nagara district is a DPEP district and DPEP programmes include in service training. I did not think of this at that time to ask.

The second question is whether there is any confrontation or uneasy relationship between teachers and social workers and as a result, non-cooperation from teachers. Both groups told me there is none. One reason given was that the social workers are more qualified than the primary teachers and so there is acceptance of their intervention. This is not very convincing. The reason may be the fact that Dheena Bandhu and Jeyadev are held in high esteem by the teachers (as by the department officials). Another may be that the project is very new and the social workers have established rapport with teachers. It is difficult to say now whether it will change over time and the teachers' initial enthusiasm will wear out. Once the teacher competence is improved, the social workers' job ends- at least until some years when the curriuclum substantially changes. I am not aware if there is any time frame for the project and if the social workers will be assigned to schools uncovered in the first stage. Adoption of schools also must have a time frame and DB may have to adopt new schools.

The third question is about the retention of the social workers. Most of the current batch have B.Ed and they could not get regular teaching job. There are thousands of unemployed B. Ed trained teachers in Karnataka. This may be one reason why people choose to be social workers. But I must say no one gave the impression that they are in it for want of anything better and all were enthusiastic and committed. DB has done a good job of selection. Some of them are former students of Jeyadev and they were inspired by him and are loyal to him. But it is natural that they will like to leave if they get a regular teaching job, which gives a salary four times more than their present one, when the employment situation in the state improves. When the social workers get married their monetary need will be more. Turn over of social workers will not be catastrophic to the project if DB gets new recruits and orients them. This will have the advantage of sustaining the initial enthusiasm of new recruits.

During my brief interaction with teachers the following points emerged. The govt. in its effort to decentralize the administration of education wanted to give the management of schools including payment of salary to teachers to village panchayats. The teachers opposed this move and the govt. dropped it. The apprehension of the teachers was that the panchayat members may misuse their power, which may include taking a cut in their salary. This apprehension might have some validity but it is interesting that the teachers do not resent the power of the education department officials -they belong to their class- but resent the power of the villagers over them. The govt. has formed school improvement committees for each school, in which village panchayat members and parents are members. I was told that after this watch dog committee teacher absenteeism has come down. I don't have independent verification of this. Teacher's leave has to be approved by this committee and the teachers feel that it is undignified for them to get leave sanctioned by 'illiterate' parents. They are objecting this. The social workers may play effectively the role of link between parents and teachers as there will be no status problem.

DB and the social workers prepare notes for their talks on subject that are adjunct to the curriculum. After a few trials DB may be encouraged to publish them as supplementary/ reference materials for teachers. Such materials are not many in Indian languages.

The ultimate test of course is the improvement of education through this project in terms of students' better scores for one academic year, if not for two.

There is a delicate difference between privatizing education and involving private agencies to supplement govt.'s efforts to improve education. I would say that the Asha project carried out by DB belongs to the second. It is unique in going beyond providing physical facilities, library, teaching aids etc to improve teacher competence and attitude. To ensure that the govt. does not shift or dilute its responsibility in this area, such voluntary in-service enrichment may be linked with and used for improving similar in-service programmes in School Cluster Centres, DIET and DPEP.