Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXII No. 15, November 16-30, 2022
Explaining that as many as 15 lakh students had enrolled in government schools over the last two years, Chief Minister Stalin announced in October a sizeable allocation of funds towards the development of government school infrastructure. New schools are to be constructed at a cost of Rs. 1,050 crores, 800 of which is earmarked towards building new primary and middle schools and the rest, higher secondary schools. The grant comes on the heels of the Perasiriyar Anbazhagan School Development scheme announced earlier this year, which aims to construct 18,000 classrooms and toilets over the next 5 years at a reported cost of Rs. 7,000 crores.
TN is known for its focus on education and no wonder – some of the game-changing programs currently implemented by the administration include the self-explanatory Free Morning Meals scheme; the Illam Thedi Kalvi educational outreach program that mobilizes teachers to impart door-to-door education for those unable to commute to learning institutions; and the Ennum Ezhuthum scheme that aims to establish strong foundational literacy in children by the age of eight. Measures are being taken to improve the quality of education imparted, as well – announcements from the School Education Minister Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi indicate a move towards holistic education that includes exposure to literature, the fine arts, sports and technology; monthly PTA meetings are in the offing to improve the association between parents and teachers; and all government and aided schools have been directed to raise awareness of mental health, child abuse and drug prevention, with the provision of psychiatrist support for students in need of counselling.
The push is earnest and it needs to be. A report published earlier this month saw the TN School Education department slipping a rung from Level 2 to Level 3 in the Performance Grading Index calculated by the Ministry of Education for the academic year 2020-21. The PGI comprises a total of 1,000 points that take into account five domains, namely, Learning outcome, Access, Infrastructure and facilities, Equity and Governance process.
Media reports say academicians blame the outcome on the lack of a level playing field between schools run by the State and Union governments. Educationist PB Prince Gajendra Babu is quoted thus in the New Indian Express: “The Union government runs different institutions like Kendriya Vidyalaya, Sainik and Navodaya which are special schools. But State governments run general schools… how [will the] Union government evaluate PGI?” In this regard, the Education development committee coordinator K. Leninbharathi is said to have pointed out that the State shares equal responsibility with the Union government in ‘ensuring learning outcome, equity and infrastructure.’ It is a key remark, for TN’s grading was pulled down by weak scores in the Infrastructure and Facility category of the PGI Index. As testimony to the infrastructural stress faced by government schools, a video of a government school principal from Krishnagiri district went viral on social media recently. Recorded at a Gram Sabha meeting, the clip saw the harried principal lament the lack of basic facilities for the 95 students in her school despite what she claimed were her best efforts. Teachers were forced to conduct classes for multiple grades in a single room, she said, adding that the institution had no place to conduct classes for students from grades 6-8.
The paucity of resources in government schools has made itself felt in other ways, too. A kindergarten wing launched in 2018 across the State in 2,381 anganwadi centres functioning as government schools was forced to shut down earlier this year due to a shortage of teachers, attributed to a spike in student migration from private to government schools. More than 43,000 students who chose the Montessori-based pre-primary education course will now study at the same anganwadi centres under the Social Welfare department. The move has caused some disappointment to educators, who feel that the Montessori system at pre-primary level was a good move that would have afforded a ‘robust introduction to learning skills that are badly missing for government school students.’
The dissonance between the growing budgetary importance of educational spending and the chronic struggles faced by government schools is striking. Fair to surmise then, that perhaps the focus must also be on the efficient allocation and accountability of funds. The Tamil Nadu government is said to be in the process of conducting core research on topics such as the usage of social media to address issues in school education. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to explore a process for internal audit, as well – while the administration’s sincere commitment to public education is clear from the scale of funds budgeted for the cause, some of the problems require study-backed solutions as well as money to solve.