Over the years Asha has taken on many projects that work directly with government schools. This is important for multiple reasons.
The government median expenditure per child in government elementary schools is around Rs. 13000 (Rs. 15000 in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu). It is more efficient to build on this than create a parallel structure where we are paying for everything. For example if we appoint an additional teacher for Rs. 10000/month in a school with 200 children, we are effectively spending Rs. 600 per child per year. We do not have to spend on complete infrastructure, all the teacher salaries, and other expenses. We are focused providing what is missing, and filling the gaps. In other words, every dollar we raise will go much further when we work with government schools.
A majority of children go to government schools.
A decade ago nearly 80% of children went to government schools. That number has now dropped to below 70% because of the proliferation of cheap, low quality private schools in urban and semi-urban areas. In rural areas over 95% of children go to government schools, as that is the only option. Also, when there is private school in the area, parents tend to send their sons to that school and the daughters to the government school. The poorest parents send their children to the government schools. So the most vulnerable students and the most in need of help attend government schools.
Further, studies have shown that the quality (measured in learning outcomes) in cheap, low quality private schools is no better than (and in some cases it is worse than) the government schools.
A strong public education system is essential for a democratic society with equal opportunity for everyone.
Equal opportunity comes from access to good quality public education. Every developed country in the world has a strong public education system, from the United States, Canada, and Europe in the west to Japan and South Korea in the east.
If the government school system fails, it will be left to the private school system to fill the gap. By its very nature this will mean uneven access to education, going against what is a basic right of every child in India. Equal access to education is essential for a successful democracy.
The reach of the government is far and wide.
It is impossible for any network of NGOs to match the reach of government schools. For example, the government has successfully built elementary schools within 1 km of over 90% of the population. The funding invested, though still a small percentage of the national GDP, cannot be matched by a network of NGOs.
But government schools suffer from so many problems. Can they really be fixed?
Before assuming that all government schools are doomed to failure, let us examine a few government educational institutions that are very successful. Kendriya Vidyalayas are one example. These are central government run schools. A set of schools associated with the NCERT – Demonstration Schools next to every Regional College of Education, of which I and some other Asha volunteers are alumni of – is another example. And finally in higher education we all know of IITs.
The point is that it is possible to successfully run a public education system. If the majority of government run schools appear to be failing it is because of various systemic problems that can be fixed.
So, what can we do?
There are a number of models that Asha supports when working with government schools. Each model is relevant to the local region.
- Appoint additional teachers. This is the simplest and surest way to address many issues in government schools. It involves creating a relationship with the school administration, the local communities, and other teachers in the school.
- Provide additional programs for children, such as after school activities. These involve higher extra teachers to teach after or before school. This might require less cooperation from the school administration. These after school programs are focused on bridging the gaps in what the children learn in school during the regular school day.
- Infrastructure improvements. Often, what is needed is very little – a coat of paint in a classroom, fixing a chipped blackboard, providing a compound wall. Sometimes it is resources like a library or a computer lab. In all cases these interventions build on what is already available.
- Training for teachers and a network for teachers. The government does extensive training, but unfortunately not all are relevant to the problems teachers face every day and end up being de-motivating. We can provide training, support and other resources for teachers that encourage and motivate them and provide the help they need. The government bureaucratic structure often does not see the obvious, but we can show this by example.
Sometimes what is implemented is a mix of these models.
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