Education News

Education News


Controls regimen for international schools

Twenty-first century India’s economic liberalisation and deregulation experiment is now over 15 years old. But officials of the Union HRD (human resource develop-ment) ministry seem unaware of this revolutionary development. They continue to tighten the already tight regime of licences, permits, rules, regulations and quotas on institutions of education.

Now hard on the heels of the ministry having carved out an additional 27 percent quota for OBCs (other backward classes/castes), over and above the 22.5 percent quota reserved for SCs and STs (scheduled castes and scheduled tribes), in all central government sponsored institutions of higher education (including the seven IITs and six IIMs), comes another decree to regulate 5-star ‘international’ schools springing up across the country.

A high-powered committee of the HRD ministry has reportedly formulated a stringent set of guidelines for international schools, particularly those affiliated with foreign examination boards, to bring them to heel. Henceforth, all schools which offer the syllabuses of the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO), Geneva or CIE (Cambridge International Examinations) UK, or of any other offshore examination board, will have to comply with the HRD ministry’s freshly-minted guidelines drawn up by an eight-member committee headed by erstwhile education secretary P.R. Dasgupta. However, faith-affiliated or missionary schools are exempt.

According to the new guidelines, all future international schools as well as the 50 already operational in India (36 following the IB curriculum and 14 affiliated with CIE), will have "…to seek governmental clearance before setting up operations in India, show respect to the Indian Constitution, adapt their curriculums to the Indian context, restrict the entry of foreign teachers and, most importantly, make their source of funding public".

To implement the ministry’s guidelines, a six-member standing committee has been constituted to scrutinise proposals of parties interested in establishing international schools in India. The committee is obliged to give the green (or red) light within six months of application. The standing committee will also supervise affiliations, syllabuses, curriculum, fee structure, faculty details and publish lists of approved schools periodically. Interestingly, according to the new rules, international schools will "…not have the same foreign principal/faculty for more than three consecutive years". Nor can these schools import more than 20 percent of the faculty from abroad. Also, in a bid to ensure pay parity — a major grievance of locally recruited faculty — all teachers in these schools will have equity in pay scales according to rank and designation.

Surprisingly, Prabhat Jain, chairman and promoter of the state-of-the-art, IB affiliated Pathways World School, Delhi (estb. 2003) accepts regulation as a mixed blessing. "The descriptive ‘international’ is much-abused. Any school with reasonably decent infrastructure terms itself ‘international’. Government supervision will definitely make school promoters more careful. However, on the negative side, this system will intensify licence-permit-quota raj in education," says Jain.

There’s the rub. Quite obviously educrats at the Centre and the state levels were less than content that they had no control over schools set up with budgets ranging from Rs.30-150 crore and charging unprecedented tuition fees. In the time honoured tradition they offer "rich opportunities". To expect the ministry or the educrats who cut their teeth in the heyday of licence-permit-quota raj to appreciate that international schools serve as excellent benchmarks for the country’s private/government-run schools, and could well help to raise standards of school education across the board, is to expect too much. Theirs is a simple nostrum: If it’s successful, control it!

Neeta Lal (Delhi)

Uttar Pradesh

Party-pooping revelations

Massive hoardings and press advertisements featuring smiling children proclaiming "Mulayam is my school", have been an integral part of the ruling Samajwadi Party’s election campaign in Uttar Pradesh’s long drawn two-month, seven-stage state elections, the outcome of which will be made public on May 11 .

Prominent quarter page inserts featured in all dailies announce that under teacher turned chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s three-year rule in India’s most populous (166 million) state, 40 new primary schools were inaugurated every day, 20 million children were provided daily mid-day meals, 16.70 million primary school children provided free textbooks, 3.16 lakh new teachers were recruited and primary school enrollment pushed to 99.98 percent.

Expectedly the Samajwadi party’s massive publicity blitzkrieg omits to mention that of the state’s 26 million primary school children, almost half can neither read, write nor do basic mathematics. This party-pooping revelation is made by the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2006 of the Mumbai-based NGO Pratham which surveyed 20 families in 30 villages of 70 districts in UP.

Set against national averages (ASER 2006 covered 16,470 villages in 549 districts in 29 states and four UTs), the survey indicates that only 59.6 percent of UP’s three-five age group children attend pre-schools or anganwadis compared to the national average of 73.1 percent. Yet surprisingly in the six-14 age group, only 8.9 percent children (cf. the national average of 9.1 percent) are out of school. This figure changes drastically in the 7-16 age group where only 59.1 percent of children are enrolled in government schools (cf. the national average of 71.3 percent). Retention percentages are depressing with 8.9 percent of children aged seven-16 quitting midway. In the age group 15-16, 22.6 percent of children drop out of school (girls averaging 25.6 percent).

In terms of learning outcomes, most of the state falls in the danger zone with only 58.5 percent and 43.4 percent of children attending classes I-II able to read and recognise age appropriate letters, text and numbers as against the national percentages of 73.1 and 59.3 respectively. The gap widens in classes III-V with only 51.4 percent and 47.1 percent children being able to read or do basic mathematics including subtraction against the 65.9 percent and 65.1 percent national average.

Little wonder given the poor quality education offered in government schools, there’s a growing migration towards private institutions. At least one-third (30.3 percent) of children in the six-14 age group in UP attend private schools. That puts the state ahead of the national average of 18.8 percent.

Educationists in Lucknow say that the poor learning outcomes of government schools can be attributed to the wide disparity in the ages of children in every classroom. For instance in class I, the age range could extend from five-13, while in class VIII it could range between seven-16. Rukmini Banerjee, national coordinator ASER 2006, says such wide age disparity in classrooms throws the entire schooling system off track.

Speaking at a function in Lucknow to release ASER 2006, Partha Sarthi Sen Sharma, assistant state project director of the Union government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA or Education for all) programme, admitted that a critical lacuna of SSA is that it doesn’t measure learning outcomes. "How are we to compare our achievements in the state with say, five years ago? We need scientific tools if we are to compare ourselves with the world. In the absence of any such government effort, ASER becomes a talking point. There should however, also be discussions on pedagogy and we must try to ascertain if children are actually getting age appropriate reading material, and whether we can link the literacy of mothers with SSA," said Sharma.

In a state where more than half the child population is preparing for life without primary education, these questions need quick answers.

Vidya Pandit (Lucknow)


Global leaders

Although indigenous politicians, businessmen, philanthropists and educationists seem to pay scant attention to the development potential of 21st century India’s abundant human resources — 450 million Indians are below 18 years of age — offshore there is greater appreciation of this huge factor endowment.

On March 29 the Goldman Sachs Foundation, a NewYork-based philanthropic trust founded by global investment banking and securities giant Goldman Sachs Group, Inc, together with the Institute of International Education (IIE), a New York- based non-profit organisation specialising in the international exchange of people and ideas, announced that an extraordinary group of 29 second-year students from leading Indian colleges have been identified as Goldman Sachs Global Leaders 2007. This is the second batch of Indian students to be conferred this honorific. This year’s Indian honorees are among 150 outstanding second-year students selected from 90 top colleges and universities worldwide, including the Pennsylvania and Princeton universities, Spelman College, USA, and Macquarie University, Australia.

The Goldman Sachs Foundation’s professed mission is to promote excellence and innovation in education and to improve the academic performance and lifelong productivity of young people around the world. This mission is attained through a combination of strategic partnerships, grants, loans, private sector investments, and deployment of professional talent from Goldman Sachs. Established in 1999, the foundation has awarded grants of $94 million (Rs.395 crore) since its inception, providing development opportunities to youth in more than 20 countries.

Of the 29 Indian students identified as potential global leaders this year, six are of the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (Pilani), and five of Mount Carmel College, Bangalore. Others are students of IIT-Kanpur; Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi; Loyola College, Chennai; St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi; The National Law School of India University, Bangalore; Nizam College, Hyderabad; Presidency College, Kolkata; St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and Fergusson College, Pune.

Acknowledgement of their potential and the honorifics conferred apart, each Global Leader receives a $3,000 grant for educational expenses. Moreover, 75 of this year’s 150 Global Leaders, including 15 from Indian colleges, will participate in the annual seminar/workshop of the Goldman Sachs Global Leadership Institute, scheduled for July 7-13 this year, in New York City. At the institute’s annual jamboree they will interact with renowned leaders from the private, public and non-profit sectors and discuss leadership and global issues.

"Global Leaders are youth who have exhibited outstanding academic talent, proven leadership abilities and are individuals with strong interest in global affairs," said Brooks Entwistle, managing director and chief executive of Goldman Sachs India, at a glittering function held in Mumbai on March 29 to celebrate the 29 Indian Goldman Sachs Global Leaders. "India is playing an increasingly important role in the global economy, and these Goldman Sachs Global Leaders will undoubtedly take on critical leadership roles in business and society here and around the world."

Indeed, India’s high potential young achievers are not without honour save in their own country.

Gaver Chatterjee (Mumbai)

Tamil Nadu

Quick fix palliative

It’s hardly a state secret that science education in India is in the doldrums and that a growing number of students with scientific bent are streaming into engineering colleges. The mushroom growth of privately promoted ‘self-financing’ engineering colleges (of the 250 engineering colleges affiliated to Chennai’s Anna University, 238 are self-financing institutions) has led to over 23,000 seats in the science stream lying vacant in Tamil Nadu’s 60 government-sponsored arts, science and commerce colleges. This discovery has hit educationists in a state which prides itself as a cradle of science research and innovation, hard.

Perhaps, with a view to encourage school-leaving students to take to science, the state government has prompted the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), which formulates guidelines for admission of students into technical institutions and universities, to notify new guidelines for lateral admission of science graduates into engineering programmes. "Science education in the country has suffered primarily due to lack of employment opportunities for science graduates. As a means of providing students avenues for better job opportunities after graduating, science graduates may be permitted to join engineering courses in the second year along with engineering diploma holders through lateral entry. The selection of candidates will be based on an entrance test, merit being the basis for admission," says an AICTE notification issued in January.

This notification marks a radical policy innovation because hitherto only students with a diploma in engineering from polytechnics were permitted lateral entry into second year BE/B.Tech study programmes. Now students with a B.Sc degree with mathematics as a subject and 60 percent-plus average also qualify for lateral entry into the second year or third semester of the BE/B.Tech degree programme.

The AICTE notification has received mixed response from academics in the state. Comments Dr. S. Ramanathan, principal of Presidency College, Chennai, ranked India’s numero uno science college by India Today (June 2004): "We welcome the move by AICTE to offer science graduates lateral entry into the second year engineering programme. In our college, though we receive an overload of applications for a few seats, top-ranked students are reluctant to study science. Only after they fail to secure admission into engineering or other professional colleges or if they average only 40-50 percent in Plus Two, do they opt for the science stream."

But while most academics concede that the science education scenario is indeed dismal, some of them are of the opinion that the latest AICTE notification benefits neither Indian science nor engineering. "AICTE is only facilitating science students already interested in engineering to enroll in engineering programmes. On the other hand if government policy advisors are truly intent upon improving science stream enrollments, they must ensure that colleges and universities are well-funded, have well-equipped science laboratories and excellent faculty, and adequate funding for research. Moreover instead of low-end research, research scholars must be encouraged to create new knowledge and innovations. Serious science students need stimulating environments to give their best. The latest AICTE initiative is at best a palliative of limited value," says Prof. Mangala Sunder Krishnan of the department of chemistry, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.

But in the Indian context, that’s a long term solution. Quick fixes are preferred, even if of limited value.

Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai)


TAISI moves forward

The mushroom growth of 5-star international schools affiliated with offshore examination boards charging mind-boggling (Rs.60,000-400,000) annual tuition fees has prompted much tut-tutting and head-shaking among old guard education pundits and professors. But there’s no denying that perhaps because they charge high tuition fees, the managements of post-liberalisation India’s new genre 5-star schools are in the forefront of pedagogy innovations and hell-bent upon ensuring that real learning happens in their classrooms. Therefore whatever their demerits — actual or imagined — they serve the useful purpose of setting new teaching-learning benchmarks in primary-cum-secondary education.

The imperative of riding the new technologies-in-education wave to improve teaching/learning in the 21st century was the focal point of the second three-day convention of The Association of International Schools of India (TAISI, estb.2006) held in Bangalore from March 30-April 1. The convention titled ‘Teaching and learning in the 21st century’ attracted principals and heads of 30 top-bracket private international schools plus another 125 fee-paying (Rs.4,500-5,000) delegates from across the country. TAISI is a not-profit organisation registered in July 2006 with the objective of bonding India’s genuine, professed and aspirational international schools under one umbrella to protect common interests and extend academic and administrative support to member institutions.

"Within a few months of our inaugural conference last September membership has grown to include over 25 top-grade international schools across the country. This conference has been organised to debate and brainstorm about issues like the changing role of teachers, integration of technology into classrooms, and international best practices in academics and holistic education," Anu Monga, the founder chairperson of TAISI and principal of Bangalore International School, said in her inaugural address.

The low-profile inauguration ceremony presided by Monga was followed by a keynote address by Henry Nicols, consultant to the International Center for Talent Development, USA. In his multimedia presentation interspersed with scenes from the Oscar-winning 1989 Hollywood blockbuster Dead Poet’s Society, Nicols highlighted the life-changing impact that committed teachers have on every student’s life. "Teachers have a special responsibility to discover talent and potential in students and help them realise it. By providing adequate classroom stimulation and support, a challenging teacher can work wonders upon a student’s academic skills and extra-curricular abilities," said Nicols.

The first day also featured papers by education professionals including Susan Baum, co-director, International Center for Talent Development (‘Tiered Instruction in Education’); Ellen Deitsch Stern, principal, Ecole Mondiale World School (‘How your philosophy of teaching impacts the classroom’); William Bickerdike, regional manager, South Asia, Cambridge International Examination (‘CIE/ECIS professional development’), among others.

On the second day of the conference (March 31) a stimulating presentation was delivered by Harvard University alumna Shuchi Grover who is on the distance teacher education faculty of her alma mater and promoter-CEO of the Bangalore-based online portal (see p.44).

On the concluding day of the smoothly choreographed conference, which also included a sightseeing tour of Bangalore for the 125 delegates, learned and insightful papers were presented by Bindu Hari, director of The International School, Bangalore (‘Building leadership sklls for furthering organisational goals and priorities’); Megan Brazil, head of primary school at Ecole Mondiale (‘Understanding 21st century assessment’) and Kalpana Mohan, principal of Vidyashilp Academy (‘Alternatives to textbooks, homework and examination’).

Indeed the three-day conference was packed with inspired presentations by highly qualified and on-the-ball principals/leaders of international schools. Little wonder most delegates expressed satisfaction. "This conference has been an enlightening journey for all delegates. It was an unusually stimulating convention which provided information about contemporary best practices and encouraged exchange of ideas with teachers, pedagogy innovators and technology-in-education enthusiasts," said Marie Thomas, a teacher-delegate from the American School of Bombay.

Enthusiastic teacher response has prompted TAISI chairperson Monga to plan more such seminars to encourage interaction between the association’s member institutions. "It’s important that TAISI member schools stop regarding each other as competitors and cooperate to raise teaching-learning standards. In this way they can meet parent-student expectations and also serve as benchmarks and standards-setting institutions to non-member schools. This year, TAISI hopes to organise three more conferences in which issues like poaching of teachers by international schools and variable salary structures for teachers of different nationalities will be discussed," says Monga.

Meenakshi Nambiar (Bangalore)

Poaching wars

The long predicted faculty crunch in Indian academia has begun to bite with a vengeance. And inevitably its first manifestations are being experienced in institutions of professional education (engineering, medical, business management colleges). With the number of engineering colleges having risen from 2,100 in year 2000 to 3,449 currently and med and B-schools from 235 to 262 and 900 to 1,400 respectively without much attention being paid to faculty training and development, inter-institution teacher poaching wars have broken out across the country.

Faculty poaching is particularly acute in the southern state of Karnataka (pop. 58 million) where managements of 108 private sector engineering colleges are engaged in furious salary wars to attract tried, tested and proven teachers. On the eve of the new academic year (starting August), engineering colleges in the state are pulling out all stops to attract — and retain — qualified faculty.

"There is a massive faculty shortage in engineering colleges across the state. With faculty salaries in benchmark government colleges having been kept low for several decades, teaching became a low-paying profession and top-rung graduates opted for jobs in industry. But in our college we cannot stint on hiring the best teachers. Our standard salary structure for qualified faculty is 50 percent higher than AICTE stipulated norms," says P. Shyama Raju, director, Reva Institute of Technology and Management, Bangalore (estb.2002).

Despite numerous government restrictions on tuition fees chargeable to students, ever since the Manipal Group’s pioneer Kasturba Medical College in Manipal began providing ‘self-financed’ medical education in the early 1950s, private sector professional colleges have always managed to attract the most qualified faculty because of the leeway they had to charge near cost-related tuition fees — legally or illegally.

Moreover Karnataka’s private educationists have done professional education in post-independence India a signal service by standing up to socialist ideology driven Central and state governments by asserting their fundamental right to "establish and administer institutions of their choice" as pronounced in Article 30 (1) of the Constitution of India.

In 2002, they won a famous victory in T.M.A Pai Foundation vs Union of India when a 13-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that all citizens have a fundamental right to establish and administer education institutions of their choice and interpreted the word ‘administer’ to include the right to admit students on merit and levy ‘reasonable’ tuition fees. Moreover this historic judgement of the apex court was confirmed in Inamdar’s Case (2005).

Given the freedom to charge reasonable, cost-related tuition fees, private colleges of professional education are in a position to pay their faculty much better than government institutions in which annual tuition fees are rock-bottom — Rs.15,000 in engineering colleges and Rs.35,000 in medical colleges. Little wonder there is a mass migration not only from perennially cash-strapped government colleges but also from low-end private sector institutions to more capital-intensive, better-managed private professional colleges.

However in Visveswaraya Technological University, the nodal affiliating varsity for all 108 engineering colleges in Karnataka, the import of the landmark TMA Pai Foundation and Inamdar judgements doesn’t seem to have registered. Following complaints from the managements of some engineering colleges, VTU has constituted a five-member committee headed by Prof. S.I. Saudatti, former vice-chancellor of Mangalore University to frame new rules of service. "If a faculty member quits midway through a semester, classes are disrupted and students suffer. To prevent this we have formed this committee to frame new rules and policies," says K. Balaveera Reddy, vice-chancellor of the Belgaum-based VTU.

Meanwhile, hitherto neglected and underpaid professors and lecturers of engineering colleges are revelling in their new found status. "This is an overdue development. It’s high time college managements became aware that the quality of their institutions is dependent upon the quality of faculty rather than fountains and gardens," says a professor of mechanical engineering who recently switched to a mid-range engineering college with a 100 percent pay hike (Rs.75,000 per month).

Meanwhile pay scale guidelines of the Delhi-based All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) followed by government engineering colleges countrywide, remain unchanged at Rs.16,400 and Rs.19,400 per month for professors and principals. The exodus from government colleges which offered job security even if not high salaries, is about to become a gold rush.

Srinidhi Raghavendra (Bangalore)