The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development has drawn up an education roadmap for Uttar Pradesh. Complete with timelines for radical reforms, it is intended to arrest and reverse the decline in the public school system in India’s most populous state.

It is unusual for the Centre to weigh in like this as school education is not its province. Beyond laying down terms for the implementation of centrally-funded schemes, such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan for elementary education and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan for secondary education, the Centre has little say in how states run their schools.

The idea for the Centre’s collaboration with Uttar Pradesh’s Education Department, came up during an “informal discussion with the state’s education officials”, said a senior official from the Human Resource Development ministry, who requested anonymity. The document, Roadmap for Transforming School Education: State of Uttar Pradesh, was a joint effort. This collaboration is unlikely to stop at this state.

The Union ministry has offered its consultancy services to other states too. It is already custom-designing an education reform plan for Jammu and Kashmir, which is exempt even from the Right to Education Act, 2009, a centrally-enacted law supporting a fundamental right.

The ministry has been sharing other ideas for reforms for some weeks now. In a letter dated July 20, issued jointly with the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, it asked states to “examine the possibility of shifting the anganwadi centres to the campus of the nearby primary schools”. Anganwadis are early childhood care and education centres, established through a scheme of the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

Also in July, the Ministry of Human Resource Development sent the states draft guidelines on Rationalisation of Small Schools Across States for Better Efficiency – essentially, mergers – inviting their comments. This was prompted by government think-tank NITI Aayog, but such restructuring, again, falls in the domain of the states.

Controversial reforms

Covering everything from teacher training to remedial measures, the Uttar Pradesh plan draws from reforms and experiments, some controversial, attempted elsewhere. For instance, it advocates Rajasthan’s merging of schools with low enrollments to rationalise the use of resources. Educationists have criticised this policy as responsible for children leaving the government system. Scroll.in had reported on this in May.

Uttar Pradesh has also been urged to adopt elements of Delhi’s Chunauti (or challenge) 2018 programme to improve learning. A pet project of the Aam Aadmi Party government in the national capital, Chunauti’s most salient feature is dividing children of the same class into groups according to their learning levels and teaching them separately using different materials. Educationists including Krishna Kumar and Anitha Rampal have criticised such segregation and labelling of children.

The plan for Uttar Pradesh also includes filling teaching vacancies, strengthening statutory parent bodies, setting up new committees for streamlining governance, and drawing from Telangana’s school-readiness programme as well as Tamil Nadu’s technology-enabled system of procuring textbooks.

“If Uttar Pradesh follows it, its schools will be transformed,” said the Union ministry official.

Photo credit: AFP
Photo credit: AFP

Largest school system

With 4.84 crore children in its 2.56 lakh schools, Uttar Pradesh’s school system is the country’s largest. Over 66 % of its institutions are government-owned or aided, but they enroll just 46.6% of the state’s children.

From 2011 to 2016, 29 lakh children dropped out from the public schooling system in the state. At 8.58%, it has the sixth highest annual dropout rate in the country at the primary level (Classes 1 to 5), and the “fourth lowest” transition rate ­– 79.1% – from primary to upper primary (Classes 6 to 8), says the roadmap.

Learning achievement is similarly low. Three rounds of the National Achievement Survey, conducted by the National Council for Educational Research and Training, for Classes 3, 5 and 8, shows that under 50% students of each class in Uttar Pradesh had attained the desired proficiency in mathematics, language or environmental science.

From data on mid-day meals consumed, the Ministry of Human Resource Development found that on a day, 44% children enrolled in government primary schools are absent. Teacher attendance, based on data from a 2009 study, is at about 69%.

The ministry’s plan sets a 2020 deadline for turning the system around.

Scroll.in has asked Uttar Pradesh’s education secretaries RP Singh and Sanjay Agrawal for their views on the plan and the possibility of its implementation. They have not responded so far. This copy will be updated if they do.

Mergers and rationalisation

The biggest reform proposed is the integration – or merger – of schools into “better resourced composite” ones. The state has 1.59 lakh primary and upper-primary schools and in 74% of them, different classes sit together for classes.

The state has very few secondary schools with Classes 9 and 10 – about 2,000. In 31% of all schools, enrollment is under 50. Each set of institutions comes under a separate administrative division, making this a fragmented system, wasteful and difficult to manage, said the Union ministry official.

The solution offered is merger. The plan is to first integrate primary and upper-primary schools sharing a campus into “composite Class 1-8 elementary school[s]”. Next, one such school – centrally-located and possessing land for expansion – in every gram panchayat will be identified as a nodal school. All primary schools within a 1 km radius with less than 50 students, and upper-primary schools with less than 30 students in the same radius, will be merged into the nodal school that will be upgraded to a secondary school.

Districts with the most low-enrollment schools – with fewer than 15 students – include Amroha (151), Bijnor (145), Pratapgarh (129) and Etawah (126). They will see maximum restructuring but the prior consent of school management committees, statutory bodies composed mainly of parents, is required.

The suggestion to move anganwadi centres to the premises of the closest primary school is aimed to help children make a smoother transition from pre-school to the primary education system.

Learning and testing

The focus on learning will begin at that stage too. A proposed “accelerated school-readiness camp” at the beginning of Class 1 is expected to equip children with basic numeracy, literacy and other skills.

The plans to close the learning gap in higher classes draws heavily from Chunauti. It proposes what Delhi did – divide children into groups based on their performance in a test. The schools in Delhi had two groups. The plan suggests three for Uttar Pradesh, from Class 3 to Class 8.

“Each category of students is taught starting from its current competency level, and level-appropriate learning activities and materials are used,” says the roadmap. The state can choose to implement it in a summer camp or through the academic year.

These interventions will be backed by a system of frequent testing. In the scheme outlined, standardised tests will start before school begins (for readiness) and last through the school years. A proposed assessment cell will conduct “two centralised summative assessments [end-term exams] … at the state level”, maintain a question bank and improve the quality of board exams in Class 10 and Class 12.

The plan, however, says little on the lack of facilities such as furniture or electricity in a large number of schools – which made Aadhaar enrollment a nightmare. There are schools without paved roads leading to them, or without boundary walls. But the only resource gap the roadmap acknowledges is that of teachers.

Photo credit: Shreya Roy Chowdhury
Photo credit: Shreya Roy Chowdhury

Recruitment and attendance

The report says 31% posts in primary schools are vacant, 18% in upper primary and 50% in secondary schools. Eighty-seven per cent upper-primary schools do not have subject teachers and only 6% secondary schools meet Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan’s staffing norms. In the ministry’s plan, posts will be filled but by “considering [the] school as a unit rather than district [or] state”. This, the ministry expects, will “prevent…frequent transfers” and allow subject-wise recruitment.

The report also notes that 24.36% vacancies can be filled at no additional cost, by simply transferring the 34,978 extra staff in schools with surplus teachers to ones falling short.

Once appointed, they must show up for work. The roadmap’s measures for controlling absenteeim include biometric attendance, public shaming by posting photographs on notice boards, a promotion policy based on performance in addition to seniority, and empowering parent bodies to keep a check.

In fact, the report proposes a significant power boost for parents in general. It suggests school management committees be registered as societies with powers to take financial decisions autonomously.