Quality Schooling: Sibal’s Dream Solutions

Perhaps one of the best presentations in India Today’s Conclave 2010 was from Mr. Kapil Sibal, the lawyer by profession but who appears to present himself as the best education reformist India ever got. (Those interested must click for the speech transcript in box)

However, I am hardly convinced about the possibility of speedy implementation of Kapil’s wishes to provide rightful access to every kid of the country to quality education. India still lives in rural India. At least 60 percent of the children in age up to 14 years go to the rural schools that are nothing but few rooms of all specifications with no facilities built in a desolate location outside the villages.

Kapil wishes to ensure quality through infrastructure by setting out minimum infrastructural laws–pupils to teacher ratio. A school ‘should have a playing field, and a classroom of certain dimensions. In the event of particular institutions not having so, a three-year period will be given to the institution to arrange for it. And comply with the norms under the Act.’ It appears to be an impossible task for the state government or the panchayats that are expected to play a definitive role in school administration.

Unfortunately, the rural schools never followed any norms of building design and architecture. Overall condition of schools on average is just pitiable.

I wish each state decides few conceptual designs and specifications for the primary, and secondary schools. I also suggest that all rural secondary school must integrate a skill training wing. Every student must compulsorily learn at least one skill. But the first important task is to prepare an architecturally sound but low cost building design with clear specifications and drawings of various types of school campus to be built. The design must be aesthetic matching with the rural environment preferably modular, so that the building work can be taken up in phases as the school grows in scale and activities. The infrastructure must include creativity centres, laboratories for language and mathematics with computers and other digital gadgets. At some stage a meeting hall may come up. But the campus must have a playground and also a gardening corner where children can grow plants and flowers. It should also have provision for residence of a caretaker teacher and a guard who should be responsible for the buildings and other assets in the campus.

How will it be excuted? There is only one way to make this happen. The main initiative must come from panchayats and the governing body that must be headed by a retired qualified person with missionary zeal selected by the villagers through consensus. The panchayat must be free to use local labour under NAREGA to cut the cost of building. As first task, the existing school must be connected with the village with 24×7 lighted metalled road with plantation on both sides. The school should be allowed to take donations from the alumni or local donors to improve the facilities.

In short, the rural school campus must grow as a showpiece of the community in cluster with panchayat bhawan, knowledge centre or kiosk that is being planned by the government, and the healthcare centre in proximity rather than having each of them in separate locations as is the practice now at least in Bihar.

I don’t know how Mr. Sibal dreams of broadband and last mile connectivity to compliment the shortage of good teachers, when 90 percent of the rural schools are vulnerable for pilferage of even the doors and windows and when the solar plant installed on a panchayat bhawan is taken away by thieves in the night, and when the schools are used by thieves for planning their next victims in night or for celebrating the success of a big prey or to accommodate the marriage party in summer for afternoon break after a long journey to its destination.

Majority of the rural schools at least in Bihar, as much as I know, are in real bad shape with not even a single regular teacher to manage the affairs there. In some places, even the good high schools that I knew years ago hardly have few students with very few teachers with little qualification and no motivation for teaching.

How will Kapil Sibal’s dream get realized? How will the country growth be sustained without good education for the majority of the population?

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