Offloading baggage of past: How Andhra is reforming school education sector

Under the 'Amma Vodi' (Mother’s Lap) scheme, mothers from poor families who send their children to school will get ₹15,000 per year to meet educational expenses

All the school supplies including books and uniforms will be provided free to the students from the coming academic year. Representational image only. Photo: iStock

If Arvind Kejriwal has earned accolades for improving quality of education in Delhi schools, his Andhra Pradesh counterpart Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy is going beyond the template set by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government and has embarked on a much more ambitious drive to reform school education in the state.

Unlike his political moves, which are largely driven by vindictiveness, Jagan’s approach towards the two key policy areas — education and healthcare — has been refreshingly different. And, not surprisingly, the initiatives in these two sectors are finding traction among general public.

The reforms in school education, to be rolled out from March 1, has six major components: Changing the medium of instruction from Telugu to English in a phased manner, massive spending to improve school infrastructure, free supply of books and uniforms, modifying academic curricula in consultation with leading international universities, upgrading the mid-day meal menu to make it more nutritious and establishment of skill development centres across the state.

Language row

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Brushing aside the opposition from several quarters, the YSR Congress Party government is going ahead with introduction of English as the medium of instruction across 45,000 state-run schools.

In the first phase, it would be implemented from classes I to VIII from the academic year 2020-21. However, Telugu would be taught as one of the compulsory subjects. For classes IX and X, English would be the medium of instruction from 2021-22, a government order said.

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English labs will also be introduced in all government schools, and both CBSE and ICSE syllabuses will be followed. Teachers, too, would be trained to switch over from Telugu to English medium of instruction.

The opinion is divided among education experts while the opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP), BJP and Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party have raised objections over the government’s ‘thoughtless’ move.

Those supporting the introduction of English have dubbed the criticism as a conspiracy to deny the benefits of English education and the employment opportunities it provides to the weaker sections of society, Dalits and minorities.

The critics, however, said the move would undermine the promotion of Telugu language and culture, apart from putting pressure on young minds by denying them the chance to learn in their mother tongue.

However, in the midst of the raging row, the people by and large appear to be welcoming the government’s decision, given the popular perception of English as an aspirational language that equips students better for future jobs in the global market.

The chief minister said that his decision was based on two factors: The poor were finding it difficult to send their children to private schools as government schools didn’t have English medium. There is also a need for government schools to gear up to future challenges and the need to make India a skilled and developed nation.

“Why shouldn’t poor children too study free of cost in government schools in English medium? Telugu will be taught in all schools; there is no threat to the language,” he asserted.

Then and Now

A programme christened as ‘Mana Badi: Naadu-Nedu’ (Our school: Then and Now) forms the key component of wide-ranging reforms. Under this scheme, the government will spend around ₹12,000 crore to improve facilities and infrastructure in schools by 2022-23.

In the first phase, around 15,715 government schools would be taken up this year for providing a range of facilities — separate toilets for boys and girls, drinking water, ceiling fans, lighting of electrical bulbs, green blackboards, chalk pieces, proper furniture, compound walls and English laboratories.

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“With this programme, we will transform government schools into temples of education. We are attempting to reform Telugu people to compete with the world. Education is the only way for that,” Jagan said.

In addition to upgrading teaching and learning skills, it will focus on improving quality of mid-day meals, supply of textbooks, uniforms and shoes to the students on time and maintaining teacher-student ratio.

The programme envisages providing a pictorial view of schools showing how they look now and how they will look after implementing the scheme, taking nine parameters into consideration: provision of lights, fans, blackboards, furniture and compound wall, construction of toilets, repairs and painting of classrooms, providing safe drinking water and provision for English labs.

Under the ₹6,500 crore scheme ‘Amma Vodi’ (Mother’s Lap), all mothers from poor families who send their children to school will get ₹15,000 per year to meet educational expenses.

Awe-inspiring scale

“The scope of reforms appears breathtakingly wide and covers all aspects of school education. There is also massive support for English medium education. A majority of the parents, irrespective of their social profile and earning levels, want to send their wards to English medium schools. As a result, there is mushrooming of private English medium schools in the state,” said noted educationist and former member of Legislative Council Prof K. Nageshwar.

A massive exercise is underway to train nearly 1 lakh teachers so that they are capable of instructing in English. About 2,700 instructors are undertaking the training that is set to be completed by the end of this month. The training programme will extend all the way down to the village-level schools.

The more challenging aspect is to prepare the existing students to adjust to the English medium. Starting March 1, a two-month bridge course will be held for students of classes IV and V. For students of classes I, II and III, a two-month intensive learning course will be conducted to initiate them into English medium.

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The training for the students will be provided in residential schools at the Mandal level and students will be provided food and lodging during this period, the state education minister Adimulapu Suresh said.

The training will be provided through digital classrooms, educational movies and videos. The idea is to acclimatise students to the English medium and ensure that students who have till now studied through Telugu medium are not left at a disadvantage.

Another area of reform relates to improving and updating curricula. The Education Department officials said that they had consulted experts from reputed international universities of Chicago, Oxford and Cambridge and also educational institutions of Australia and Sri Lanka to improve the curricula and make it more suitable for the emerging realities.

All the school supplies including books and uniforms will be provided free to the students from the coming academic year.

The mid-day meal menu is being made more nutritious. Apart from sambar and rice, the new menu will include egg five days a week, and a leafy vegetable curry, dal, and various other local delicacies such as pulihora (tamarind rice) and khichdi.

“The reforms programme aims at transforming government schools into vibrant and competitive institutions. The goal is to meet the requirement of what the fast-changing technology in the world expects from youth ten years from now,” the minister said.

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