A new experiment with new hopes

Over the years, the strengthening of school education at primary level has been a major challenge for the government. This is most probably the only area where the private schools take a lead in reforming the education sector at grassroots level.

Barring a few schools, the government primary schools across J&K, particularly in Srinagar district, are in complete shambles. Majority of the schools no required buildings, infrastructure and other recreational facilities for students.

Even though the government roped in dozens of NGOs, and chalked out different strategies to revamp the primary education sector, but the poor implementation and the lukewarm response from parents played a spoilsport. With the result, the primary schools in the government sector continue to remain a liability for the department. The schools did not witness any change since their establishment in the district.

After the repeated failures of the successive regimes in bringing reforms in the education sector at primary level, the government has come up with the new order wherein the control of around 108 schools – 83 in Srinagar and 25 in Jammu, was transferred to Srinagar and Jammu Municipal Corporations under the 74th constitution amendment Act. Around 265 posts of staff including 200 posts from Srinagar schools and 65 from schools in Jammu district have been deputed to respective municipal corporations.

The officers at the helm see the move as a positive development for revamping of schools at primary level. But given our past experience it is unlikely to yield any good results on the ground. In a situation where the academicians and highly qualified teachers, besides the IAS and KAS officers, have failed to rejuvenate the primary education sector what can we expect from a corporator who is neither an academic nor an administrator.

From now onwards, these standalone primary schools of district Srinagar, along with the staff, will be under supervisory control of the corporators of the concerned areas falling under the jurisdiction of the Municipal Corporations. The corporators will be authorized to monitor the attendance and the overall functioning of these primary schools but that doesn’t mean this supervisory control will bring reforms in the education sector overnight.

Also these corporators are expected to utilize funds on these standalone primary schools out of the grants allotted to them from the concerned Municipal Corporations. From past many years, the government of India has pumped in crores of rupees for building infrastructure for these schools but the funds remained unutilized for some years and finally were surrendered to the government of India after facing cost escalation of the projects sanctioned by the MHRD. The crux is that the basic structure and planning of the government for the primary education sector is full of flaws. The government policies on primary education lack proper planning, and the schools have been set up without following the required parameters. Instead of witnessing an increase in the enrolment the schools have maintained a downward trend in terms of student intake. Taking governance to grassroots level is good, but the government should always see all the aspects of its decisions, particularly in the case of education and health sectors which are craving for the government attention.

Coming back to the point, the decision of the government to shift control of primary schools to corporators is likely to have adverse results because of so many reasons. One is fearful that at the end the situation might turn from bad to worse.

The first and the foremost thing is the clash of egos between the highly qualified staff and the corportators who in most of the cases don’t possess the same qualification as that of a teacher. The teaching community which is already a victim of identity crises have been further ridiculed by making them subordinate to corporators of the the municipal corporations. Given the annual allocation of funds from the government of India, the education department doesn’t need the financial support of the municipal corporations for strengthening the school infrastructure. The education sector should be exempted from being handed over to different departments for the sake of revamping the system. But now that the department has already ordered for shifting the control to municipal corporations it is unlikely that the decision will be reversed for now. We can only hope that this new experiment brings some positive results, and good reforms in the education sector at primary level. Let the new move not make the education sector a victim of identity clash between teachers and corporators.