For quite some time now, a lot of people—wise and not so wise—have been shouting themselves hoarse that the quality of our school education system is going down. Complaints galore despite the education department in the state having been ruled by heavyweights in politics, starting from Panampilly and Mundassery to CH and M.A. Baby. That need not be a surprise, considering the vast expanse of the subject and the highly complex nature of the problems plaguing it.
There is a lot of work happening silently on addressing these problems, including on syllabus upgradation. Also, we have been regularly implementing improvements in the administrative area. Inspite of all this, there is one issue that keeps coming back again and again, in various garbs: the one caused by the link between the stability of teachers’ jobs and the number of students.
This is an area where frauds were taking place even in the Travancore era. A teacher going on leave, her replacement working without pay and then getting a job on the basis of that claim, was just one of these. The system of school managers getting cuts from the teacher’s pay also dates back to that era. When one issue is resolved another one will crop up.
The news now is about inflated student numbers. The rate of population growth in Kerala has fallen sharply in the last half a century. And the number of children in Kerala, which was about 40 lakh, just three to four years ago, is now about 34 lakh. One reason attributed for this fall is the strict implementation of Aadhar cards, which makes it difficult to inflate such numbers.
Considering the decrease in student numbers and the increase in the number of schools outside of the government-aided scene, it seems the student-teacher ratio will only fall further.
Inflated student numbers are not caused just by a need to make job appointments permanent. At least in some places, such inflation is caused by the thinking that a school in the neighbourhood should not be shut down. For instance, there is a government school in Kozhikode, with 27 class rooms and all of 77 students. But local people continued to insist that there were 250 children studying in that school. Only when they were told that our aim was not to shut down that school but to start another educational institution using the facilities there, did they allow us to take a look inside the school premises.
All this shows that the problem of inflated student numbers is not easy to explain away. In one place, the game may be to save a teacher’s job and to avoid transfers for some. At another place, it may be done to inflate teacher numbers. And at still another place, it may be to save a government school in the locality from being shut down.
Altering the existing laws to end these frauds in aided schools will not lead to another “Vimochana Samaram” as many fear. Society may not have been ready for such a change at the time of Mundassery but that is not the case now. Still, that is not the answer to this problem.
The fact is we can stop these frauds from next year itself by using existing technology, by using the Aadhar card system alone.
There should be an Aadhar number for all school children in the state’s schools. This should include all schools, including central schools, unaided schools and, CBSE, ICSE and IB schools. These numbers and other information should be made available to the government while ensuring that personal details are not made public. One way to do this is to include just the Aadhar numbers on the government website without including other details, such as names.
It is not an impossible task. Currently, we have information on 34 lakh children. Some 3–4 lakh names may still be outside the net, and will need to be added. Alongside, it has to be ensured that those outside the government system are also brought under this Aadhar-based system. This task can be completed in the next four to five months with existing facilities only. With that, the government will have all the data on everyone involved in the state’s school education system.
The next step would be to publish this data. It can be done easily through the [email protected] system. This will ensure that the data will be available to everyone freely, and will put an end to all frauds on inflated student numbers.
In short, you do not have to invent anything to do this. You can use existing systems to collect the data—use high-sounding words like data-capture, if you will—on how many children study in which schools, under which boards in the state. Publishing this information will put an end to all frauds. It is not different from the system used in our professional colleges during admissions.
Well, some new con artist may enter the scene with a new trick. We can tackle those when they come up.
As Bhojaprabandha says “Skill is needed for using a tool. We already have the arrow; what we need is Partha”.