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Karnataka: Implementation anxiety

EducationWorld September 12 | Education News EducationWorld

Against the backdrop of the Right to Free & Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (aka RTE Act) which makes it compulsory for the State, i.e the Central and/or state governments to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of six-14, the primary-higher secondary (class I-XII) education system in the southern state of Karnataka (pop. 61 million) is set to experience a major structural change.

Radical changes in the structure of Karnataka’s school system have been recommended by a committee chaired by Prof. R. Govinda, vice chancellor of the Delhi-based National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), which submitted its report to the state government on August 17. According to the Structural Upgradation and Reorganisation of  School Education Report, “the existing structure of 5+2+3 years of general education has built-in limitations in honouring the constitutional mandate of Article 21A” (i.e the RTE Act).

Currently, primary education in Karnataka is offered in classes I-V and upper primary in classes VI-VII. Secondary education is offered in classes VIII-X and higher secondary in classes XI-XII. If the report is accepted by the state government, classes I-VIII will be classified as primary, classes IX-X as secondary and classes XI-XII as higher secondary. In short, the current 5+2+3 school system will be replaced by an 8+2+2 system. Moreover ‘pre-university’ education usually dispensed by undergraduate colleges will be abolished and classes XI-XII (higher secondary) will be merged with the school system. This will require  additional infrastructure and teachers. The report has identified a need for 22,718 additional rooms and 14,958 teachers in government schools.

An important recommendation of the committee is to abolish the state’s pre-university system and introduce classes XI and XII in all government and state board affiliated schools. “Pre-university level is neither under secondary level nor degree level and hence is in unsettled state. The age group between 16 and 18 is susceptible… they are closer to secondary school stage rather than college education,” says the report.

The Govinda Committee’s comprehensive 41-page report which includes a valuable history of the evolution of Karnataka’s primary-secondary school system, has been welcomed as overdue by the state’s academic community. “The 8+2+2 school system is normative across the country but successive governments in Karnataka have evaded switching over to this system under pressure from powerful secondary school lobbies, as secondaries stand to lose class VIII grants and fees. Now with the enactment of the RTE Act, the need to restructure the school system has become pressing. But although the proposals of the Govinda Committee’s report are unexceptionable, I have doubts whether it will be implemented for familiar reasons,” says Dr. A.S Seetharamu, former professor of education at the Institute for Social & Economic Change, Bangalore and advisor to the Karnataka government.

Likewise Dilip Ranjekar, chief executive of the Azim Premji Foundation (regd. 1998) which has been championing the cause of primary education and teacher training for the past decade, and is constructing the Rs.500 crore Azim Premji University for teacher training in Bangalore, is pessimistic about implementation of the report. “The Govinda Committee’s report is valuable because it proposes alignment of the school education system in the state with the RTE Act. But the Central and state governments have terrible records of implementing reports of expert education committees. Right from 1966 when the Kothari Commission recommended allocation of 6 percent of GDP for education to implementing the National Education Policy of 1986 and the National Curriculum Framework 2005, government implementation record is pathetic. If the state government is serious about school education, it must straightaway start building additional classrooms and training teachers as recommended by several expert committees including the Govinda Committee,” says Ranjekar.

Such fears of the academic community are justified. Addressing the media on August 21 shortly after the Govinda Committee’s report was presented to the government, primary and secondary education minister Vishveshwara Kageri requested time to study the report. “It is an elaborate process and schools will require additional infrastructure. Hence, it is not possible to implement the recommendations in one go,” he said.

The statement has an ominous — and familiar —  ring.

Summiya Yasmeen (Bangalore)

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