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EducationWorld October 07 | EducationWorld Special Report

Kendriya Vidyalaya Schools

In a society where government managed schools are synonymous with ramshackle infrastructure, truant teachers and poor learning outcomes, how do the 979 Central government-funded KVs improve their vital stats year after year? Sudha Passi reports 

S
aransh Sharma is the ideal Indian student, what most parents would want their child to be. Not quite 15 years of age, this class X student is conversant with computer technology and confident enough to detect flaws in the school’s professionally designed website, which he offers to rectify. Dr. Ikram ul Haq, principal of the school is impressed, and gives him the go-ahead. A beaming Saransh heads for the school’s computer lab to start work on his new assignment.

Saransh is neither a ‘convent’ nor ‘public’ school pupil, but is enrolled in the Kendriya Vidyalaya, ACR Colony, Delhi – a constituent school of the Kendriya Vidyalaya chain of institutions promoted and funded by the Central government. Nor is Saransh an exception; most senior students of the school are as confident and self-assured – testimony to the high quality secondary education dispensed by the Kendriya Vidyalayas.

The 979 English-medium CBSE-affiliated Kendriya Vidyalayas (KVs) across the country are co-ed class I-XII schools with an aggregate enrollment of 954,583 students, where motivation, perfor-mance, positive learning outcomes and outstanding examination results are routine. Some of India’s most talented high achievers in fields as varied as science and technology, education, medicine, sports and culture have been nurtured in the country’s Kendriya Vidyalaya schools. Among them: India’s first astronaut Rakesh Sharma; Olympic trap shooting silver medallist Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore; air pistol marksman Jaspal Rana; former Indian test cricketer Narendra Hirwani, and acclaimed film director Prakash Jha. Moreover numerous KV alumni are employed in the US space agency NASA, Intel, Microsoft and IBM.

Little wonder the Kendriya Vidyalaya chain has been ranked ‘India’s most trusted education brand’ in an annual survey commissioned by Brand Equity, the glossy weekly supplement of theEconomic Times – by far India’s most widely read business daily  and conducted by AC Nielsen-ORG Marg. The Kendriya Vidyalayas have topped the education segment since 2003. According to the 2007 Brand Equity survey of India’s Most Trusted brands (May 28), KVs are more trustworthy for the quality education they deliver than Delhi Public School, (which topped the EducationWorld-IMRB survey of India’s most respected schools (see EW August)) as also the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institutes of Management (see box p.70).

Widely acclaimed for their consistently outstanding CBSE board exam results, the overall pass percentage of KVs in the school leaving exams of CBSE in 2007 was 95.64 percent for class X and 93.14 percent for class XII – comparable with some of the best known schools in the private sector. Earlier this year Aparna Muralidhar, a student of Kendriya Vidyalaya, ASC Centre, Bangalore was ranked # 1 nationwide in CBSE’s class X exam written by 650,000 students across the country and Roshni Bano, a student of Kendriya Vidyalaya, IIT-Powai (Mumbai), aggregated a score of 490 in the CBSE’s class XII exam, just one mark less than the topper. Perhaps more significantly, 67.74 percent (class X) and 74.36 percent (class XII) of KV students scored above 60 percent in the two school-leaving exams whereas in most CBSE-affiliated government schools, more than 10 percent of students averaging 60 percent plus is a rarity.

How have the Kendriya Vidyalayas achieved this feat in a country where government-managed schools are synonymous with dilapidated buildings, ramshackle infrastructure, truant teachers, and poor learning outcomes? What is the secret of success of these co-ed schools spread across the subcontinent, which consistently improve their vital stats year after year?

“The primary objectives of Kendriya Vidyalayas are to provide quality school education to the children of transferable Central government employees including defence and paramilitary personnel, pursue academic excellence, set standards in school education, initiate innovations in teaching-learning pedagogies and promote national integration. Over the past four decades KVs have achieved these aims with great success. Our academic achievements are outstanding. In sports and extra-curricular education too, KV students are comparable with the best in the private sector. KVs have proved that a government institution can not only survive but serve as a benchmark for all schools, especially government schools to emulate,” says Dr. U.N. Singh, joint commissioner (academics) of Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS), the Delhi-based apex body which supervises and administers the country’s 979 showpiece KVs.

An autonomous organisation under the jurisdiction of the Union ministry of human resource development, KVS was registered as a society under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 in December 1965. Currently it has 18 regional offices which typically administer a cluster of 40-50 Kendriya Vidyalayas in their regions. Further down the admin chain, each KV has its own Vidyalaya Management Committee (VMC) which comprises the school principal, district magistrate, an educationist and 11 others. It’s mandatory for VMCs to submit detailed reports twice a year to the KVS regional office reporting the performance of their schools on several parameters and identifying specific problem areas.

An additional quality control check which is built into the supervisory system is that personnel from the regional offices inspect KVs in their jurisdictional cluster every quarter, and submit detailed reports with suggestions for improvement to the apex-level KVS. This three-tier management structure has ensured standardisation of infrastructure facilities, academic quality and accountability across KVs countrywide.

“The open secret behind the success of Kendriya Vidyalayas is our well-structured and well-administered organisation. Even though we are funded by the Central government, the apex-level KVS enjoys complete autonomy with minimal interference from government,” adds Dr. Singh, an alumnus of Patna and Manipur universities who acquired hands-on teaching and admin experience as principal of KVs located in Imphal, Patna and Kathmandu before being promoted to the position of joint commissioner (academics) of KVS in March last year.

The proposal to establish standardised Kendriya Vidyalayas or ‘Central schools’ across the country was made by the Union government in 1962 “to provide uninterrupted education to the wards of transferable Central government employees”. Consequently the first 20 Central schools were promoted in the academic year 1962-63 in cities and towns with a large concentration of defence personnel. Since then the Central government and its various organisations have financed the promotion of 979 KVs at an estimated cost of Rs.2,000 crore.

In keeping with its charter, preferential admission in all KVs is given to children of Central government employees (including public sector undertakings) and the armed forces, with children of state government employees next in the pecking order. If there are vacancies thereafter, they are filled through an entrance test open to children of lay citizens. However two seats in every KV are reserved for those recommended by the HRD minister or the local member of Parliament.

Waiting lists for admission into KVs tend to be long because once admitted, KV students are not required to pay any tuition fee until class IX, after which they pay a nominal Rs.40-50 per month. However all students except girl children who are the only child in a family, pay a monthly school development fee (vidyalaya vikas nidhi) of Rs.160-200.

According to the annual report (2005-06) of the apex level KVS, it received a grant of Rs.917.94 crore in that fiscal year from the Central government including Rs.183 crore as Plan expenditure, i.e for capital investment. Moreover KVS raised Rs.41.60 crore by way of internal receipts.

Quite clearly it is these generous grants which set India’s 979 KVs apart from the other 933,542 Central, state and local government schools characterised by non-existent buildings, lack of furniture, drinking water, toilets, teachers and pathetic learning outcomes (see EW cover story September). All KVs boast well-developed infrastructure facilities (funded by special capital expenditure grants of the Union HRD ministry) and a generous revenue budget of Rs.1 crore per school. In addition KV schools are allowed to charge a school development fee for the purpose of maintaining their infrastructure. For instance Kendriya Vidyalaya, ACR Colony, Delhi which has an enrollment of 3,600, collects Rs.60 lakh annually from students under this head from which it funds excellent facilities on a par with the best private schools – swimming pools, squash and badminton courts.

Subsidies and cash grants apart, KVs are given a good start by way of land grants of upto 10 acres, stipulated by the KVS charter and sponsored by Central and state governments and public sector enterprises which often construct the main school building as well. Even in land starved Mumbai, Kendriya Vidyalaya, Navy Nagar is located on four acres and has well maintained playgrounds. The school building houses 50 classrooms, eight laboratories, a well-stocked library with 18,515 books and subscription to several newspapers and 82 periodicals, and boasts three well designed computer laboratories providing broadband internet access – infrastructure facilities unthinkable in state and local government schools.

Nor is Mumbai’s KV, Navy Nagar an exception. Situated in the heart of Bangalore, KV, ASC (Army Supply Corps) sprawls across 15.29 acres and boasts enviable sports facilities. “We provide separate fields for cricket, football, and courts for basketball, volleyball and badminton. Co-curricular education includes drama, music and environment clubs. Kendriya Vidyalayas are not cram schools producing academic toppers but institutions which provide well-rounded, comprehensive education including a plethora of sports and extra-curricular activities,” says E. Ananthan, principal of KV, ASC Centre, whose student (Aparna Muralidhar) topped the CBSE class X exam written by 650,000 students countrywide earlier this year.

Kendriya Vidyalayas snapshot

India’s 979 CBSE-affiliated Kendriya Vidyalayas (KVs) are managed under the supervision of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS), an autonomous organisation manned by professional educators accountable to the Union ministry of human resource development. The chairman of KVS is the Union HRD minister and the board of governors comprises educationists, educational administrators and members of Parliament. Operationally, an executive committee of KVS formulates admin guidelines for all KVs countrywide and disburses revenue expenditure (approx. Rs. 1 crore per KV) and needs-based capital grants. The executive committee is assisted by academic, finance, works, and regional advisory committees.

The executive head of the administrative pyramid is the KVS commissioner assisted by joint, deputy and assistant commissioners. To decentralise its administrative structure KVS has established 18 regional offices countrywide with each regional office supervising a cluster of KVs. Moreover each KV school is served by an academic advisory committee and a vidyalaya management committee. This three-tier management structure has insulated KVs from government interference while ensuring standardisation of infrastructure, academic quality and accountability across the chain.

 

Admission. In keeping with its charter, preferential admission is given to children of Central government employees (including public sector undertakings) and the armed forces, followed by children of state government employees. Moreover 100 children of employees of the Union ministry of HRD are admitted every year into KVs countrywide. If there are vacancies thereafter, they are open to children of non-government civilians.

KVs admit students in class I (only a handful of KVs have kindergarten sections) without any entrance test or exam. For admission into class II and above, an entrance test is conducted and a merit list is prepared for each priority category. However for class XI entry, there is no entrance test and admission is on the basis of marks scored in the class X board examination.

 

Fees. KV students are not required to pay any tuition fee until class VIII, after which they pay a nominal Rs.40-50 per month. However all students (except girl children who are the only child in a family), pay a monthly school development fee (vidyalaya vikas nidhi) of Rs.160 (non-science stream) or Rs.200 (science stream). All KVs are permitted to retain the money generated from this levy for the purpose of maintaining and developing infrastructure facilities of their schools.

 

Financing. The 979 Kendriya Vidyalayas countrywide are fully financed (including infrastructure provision and teacher salaries) by the Central government and/or its affiliate departments and organisations.

According to the annual report of the KV Sangathan, it received a grant of Rs.917.94 crore in 2005-06 from the Central government, including Rs.183 crore as Plan expenditure, i.e for capital investment. Moreover it raised an additional Rs.41.60 crore from internal receipts during the year.


M
oreover in keeping with best practices in private sector schools, KVs don’t allow over-crowded classrooms. According to the Elementary Education in India 2006 published by the Delhi-based National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), against the average teacher-pupil ratio of 1:40 in government schools countrywide, the average teacher-pupil ratio in the 979 KVs countrywide is 1:26.

Ranglal Jamuda, commissioner of the governing Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, Delhi is unapologetic about the relatively handsome subsidies KVS and KV schools receive from the Central and state governments, which enables them to provide primary and secondary education on a par with private sector school chains such as DPS (Delhi Public School) and DAV (Dayanand Anglo Vedic).

“In a welfare state, elementary education is a matter of state responsibility. Further, there is a constitutional directive to provide free education to all children up to the age of 14 years. Therefore in keeping with these constitutional provisions, no tuition fee is charged from KV students up to class VIII. Moreover to promote female education, the Central government has stipulated that education up to class XII should be free for all girl students in Kendriya Vidyalaya schools. Nevertheless KVs generate some internal revenue through the vidyalaya vikas nidhi subscription scheme under which Rs.160 per month is payable by all students to promote and effectively manage some activities in the interest of students and their schools. However let me stress that grants and subsidies do not create excellent students. The teachers and employees of Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan take pride in their work and are known for their sense of commitment and devotion to duty. This is why KVs are widely respected,” says Jamuda.

Knowledgeable educationists tend to support Jamuda’s contention that the high calibre students produced by the country’s Kendriya Vidyalayas is less attributable to free and subsidised tuition than to the KVS administrative structure, which insulates every KV school from interference and micromanagement by educrats of the Central and state governments – the bane of all other (state and local) government schools.

Under this unique structure, every KV school is buffered against government and bureaucratic interference by the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan which is the apex level governance body of the KVs. In turn local KVs are insulated against KVS bureaucrats by the regional offices and against them by their own local Vidyalaya Management Committees. This multi-tier administrative structure ensures considerable autonomy, in sharp contrast with state government schools where the writ of the local block education officer supercedes that of principals.

Says Ms. C.P. Chaudhari, principal of Kendriya Vidyalaya, Navy Nagar, Mumbai, which boasts 2,053 students instructed by 76 teachers: “Of course we have to work within a set of rules but it is the VMCs comprising the principal, parents and teachers who manage each KV. There is minimum interference from the KVS management and we have the autonomy to take academic and other administrative decisions. This freedom and flexibility is highly appreciated by the principal and staff as it enables us to work independently and give our best.”

Institutional and teacher autonomy apart, the prime factor which enables KV students to top the pan-India CBSE exams year after year is its stringent and merit-based teacher recruitment policy. With teacher remuneration in all government schools following the guidelines of the Fifth Pay Commission, the salary and perks of KV teachers are better than of most private schools and on a par with the best high-end schools. The distinguishing characteristic of KVS is that it has instituted transparent procedures to select the best teachers from the huge flood of applications it receives annually. All applicants are required to pass an all-India written test followed by a personal interview. While the written test is conducted by an external agency, thereafter short-listed candidates are interviewed by a board comprising officials of the HRD ministry, KVS, chairpersons of the Vidyalaya Management Committees, principals, university professors, a psychologist and representatives from the SC/ST community.

Comments Dr. Ikram ul Haq, principal of Kendriya Vidyalaya ACR Colony, Delhi: “To eliminate favouritism and nepotism, the interviewers have no clue till the last minute as to whom they will be interviewing, as this is decided by a draw of lots. With so much transparency and scope for external tinkering minimised, teachers appointed are meritorious and committed. Moreover it’s made clear to teachers that they can be posted anywhere in India and that they should be in sync with the larger aims and objectives of the KVs.”

Tale of two surveys

Apart from outstanding class X and XII CBSE board exam results, India’s largest chain of 979 primary-cum-secondary co-ed Kendriya Vidyalaya schools has chalked up another unique distinction. It has been consistently ranked as ‘India’s most trusted education brand’ in the annual survey of Brand Equity, the well-known weekly supplement of the Economic Times – by far India’s most widely read business daily. According to the 2007 Brand Equity survey (May 28), Kendriya Vidyalaya schools are more “trustworthy” for the quality of education they deliver than Delhi Public School, Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), NIIT, and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs).

Conducted by well reputed transnational market research agency AC Nielsen ORG-MARG, the Brand Equity annual survey is the largest of its kind in India with a sample of over 7,000 consumer respondents across the country. Each brand was evaluated on the following parameters: relatedness (whether it evokes a feeling of warmth/friendliness), perceived popularity (if it’s well-known, recognised and accepted by a wide array of consumers), quality connotation (how good is its quality?), distinctiveness/uniqueness, and value for money.

Surprisingly even though promoted and managed by the (Central) government, KVs are rated higher on all these parameters than the private sector Delhi Public School chain of 130 English-medium secondaries, which topped the EducationWorld-IMRB survey of India’s most respected schools with Delhi Public School (R.K. Puram) and Delhi Public School (Mathura Road) ranked India’s No.1 and No.3 respectively. In the EW-IMRB survey, Kendriya Vidyalaya, IIT-Mumbai was ranked 40th and the Kendriya Vidyalaya, IIT-Chennai 46th (see EW cover story August).

In the Brand Equity survey, India’s most trustworthy education brands were Kendriya Vidyalaya, Delhi Public School, Indian Institutes of Technology, NIIT, Indian Institutes of Management, in that order.

On the other hand in the more specific and detailed EducationWorld-IMRB survey, 72 of India’s most high profile schools were rated and ranked inter se on 12 parameters – academic reputation, co-curricular education, sports education, quality of teachers, teacher-pupil ratio, value for money, leadership/management quality, parental involvement, infrastructure, quality of alumni, integrity/honesty, selectivity (in admission). In this survey the top five schools with their average scores (out of a maximum 10) across the 12 parameters were DPS, R.K. Puram, Delhi (8.02); The Doon School, Dehradun (7.99); DPS, Mathura Road, Delhi (7.93); South Point High School, Kolkata (7.80) and St. Kabir’s School, Ahmedabad (7.77). The most highly ranked KVs were Kendriya Vidyalaya, IIT-Mumbai, ranked 40 (average score 6.90) and Kendriya Vidyalaya, IIT-Madras (aka Chennai), ranked 46 (6.77).

Quite obviously in the collective public mind there’s a major difference between ‘trustworthy brand’ and ‘respected school’.

And given that the apex level KVS is manned by educators rather than run-of-the-mill bureaucrats who run government education departments, care is taken to encourage the best teachers and ensure their career progression. Not only are KV teachers routinely rewarded and given performance-based promotions, they are well aware that they could rise to the post of joint commissioner of the KV Sangathan, as compared to other government schools, where a teacher would at best retire as principal. Dr. U.N. Singh, a former teacher and incumbent joint commissioner of KVS, is a case in point. Moreover in-service teacher training is a serious subject in India’s 979 KVs. Attendance is compulsory for training workshops held during the vacations for a minimum of three weeks, and every teacher has to attend one such course in five years.

Comments Debashish Bhattacharya, an alumnus of Kendriya Vidyalaya, Andrews Gunj, New Delhi and currently general manager, Siemens Information Systems, Delhi: “Our teachers encouraged us to read and learn beyond the board syllabus, and to expand our learning to cover all-India competitive examinations for professional courses such as engineering and medicine. Looking back, I’m very grateful to my teachers for shaping my personality and helping me realise my career goals.”

C.M. Sreekumari, principal of Kendriya Vidyalaya, Gill Nagar, Chennai also attributes the fame and good reputation of KVs to the quality of their well-trained teachers. “Every school day in a KV is disciplined and organised with teachers continuously following up students’ progress. KVs have a unique system where teachers prepare ancillary study materials and coach students with academic difficulties,” says Sreekumari.

Another in-built success factor is the parent profile of KV schools. Most Central government officials tend to be better educated than parents who send their children to state and local government schools. Comments J.N. Sharma, former deputy commissioner of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan who also served as deputy commissioner in the Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (which administers the 551 Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas): “Fifty percent of the credit for the success of KVs should go to parents who are well educated, emancipated and provide supplementary home education to their children. There is regular interaction between school teachers and parents, with the latter carefully monitoring their children’s progress and demanding teacher accountability. KV parents are mainly Central government employees and hence driven by middle class values of hard work and academic achievement.”

Like incumbent KVS commissioner Ranglal Jamuda, Sharma pooh-poohs the criticism that the success of KVs is attributable to heavy subsidisation by the Central government. “KVs don’t receive any extraordinary subsidies from government. In all government schools, the state provides free land, buildings, basic infrastructure and pays teacher salaries. What distinguishes KV schools is the judicious use of the modest school development fee of Rs.160-200 per month paid by all students. This income is directly used by each KV to improve academic and sports facilities,” says Sharma, currently a consultant with the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan chain of schools.

Although it’s true that all government schools are subsidised, it’s an open secret that per capita allocation for KV students – children of Central government employees – estimated at Rs.10,000 per year, is higher than in state and local government schools. Moreover given that in effect KV school education is essentially a perquisite of office to the estimated 4 million powerfully unionised Central government employees prompts the Union HRD ministry and the KVS to make extraordinary efforts to provide high quality English medium secondary education on a par with top-end private schools. Therefore KVs receive generous start-up funding, maintenance and capital expenditure grants on a needs basis. Thus they are light years removed from state and municipal government schools which are starved of funds and basic infrastructure such as pucca buildings, toilets and water facilities.

Moreover KV schools are distin-guished for their uncompromising policy of adopting English as the medium of instruction (although there are a handful of Hindi medium KVs) . This separates them from state and local government schools bedevilled by the vernacular language policies of state governments.

“Pitiably, even though they are government schools, KVs are not accessible by the vast majority of India’s children who are obliged to attend ill-equipped and mismanaged state government and municipal schools offering poor teaching-learning standards. There is no accountability and no buffer against political and bureaucratic interference in government schools. Consequently government schools are characterised by high drop-out rates – 53 percent of children drop out before they reach class VII,” says Melliyal Annamalai, a Boston-based computer scientist and education activist and a volunteer of Ashanet, a US-based NGO devoted to spreading education among the disadvantaged.

Undoubtedly the 979 KVs spread across the country serve the useful purpose of templates for government schools even as they demonstrate that given clarity of goals, operational autonomy and parental support, all government schools can be transformed into vibrant teaching-learning centres if they are community managed. “Once a school is approved and funds allocated, members of the local community and parents should be made members of school management committees with powers to demand accountability and penalise non-performing schools and teachers. And above all the state government must provide initial start-up funding and infrastructure facilities on a par with allocations to KVs,” advises Dr. A.S. Seetharamu, former professor of education at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore.

The other lesson state governments can learn from the successful Kendriya Vidyalaya model is the importance of promoting an insulated administrative and supervisory organisation modelled on the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, for state and local government schools. “The absence of an autonomous and powerful body like the KVS in the states is the cause of the pathetic condition of state and local government schools. The ministry/department of education in the states is a policy making body and doesn’t have the time or inclination to monitor public school education. Replicating the KVS comprising educators rather than bureaucrats in the states will ensure accountability, minimise political interference and improve teaching-learning standards,” says Debashish Bhattacharya (quoted earlier).

Quite clearly the Kendriya Vidyalaya philosophy of government school education produces results, which is why the transforming and upgrading of all government and municipal schools to the standards of KVs is a national imperative. The approach paper to the XIth Plan admits as much. “Our longer term goal should be that all schools in India have physical infrastructure and quality of teaching equivalent to Kendriya Vidyalayas,” it says in a rare tribute to the management of India’s largest chain of schools which offer live proof that public education standards can be sharply upgraded by replication of the KV structure, philosophy and community involvement model.

For the overwhelming majority of India’s 450 million children, it’s a consummation devoutly to be wished.

With Summiya Yasmeen (Bangalore); Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai); Gaver Chatterjee (Mumbai)

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