Telangana's 'govt school drive': Social mobility or TRS' election ploy?
The Telangana government has launched a massive special admission drive called ‘Prof Jayashankar Badi Bata’ across the state in an attempt to wean students away from private schools and get them into state-run schools. The carrot that is dangled at the end of the stick is that the English medium education will be introduced from the 1st to 8th grade in state-run schools, beginning this academic year.
Launched on June 3 with great fanfare, the drive will be on till the end of the month. Teachers of government schools have been asked to visit every household in the state with the twin objective of creating awareness among parents about the facilities offered in state-run schools, and identifying children who are the right age to be enrolled in schools.
The teachers and the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) are not deterred by the fact that textbooks are not ready, faculty vacancies have not been filled as yet, and the poor facilities in the schools have not been addressed, etc. Moreover, schools are also scheduled to reopen on June 13.
Besides focussing on offering English-medium schooling, the campaign talks about how the TRS government is offering scholarships to the eligible SC, ST, and OBC students, providing donation-free English education, better teaching than the private schools, free midday meals, and free medical check-ups for all students. The government also claims that an amount of ₹7,289 crores is being spent on improving school infrastructure.
However, many wonder why a government that never gave priority to school education in the past seven years, has suddenly discovered the English medium to be the emancipator of the downtrodden and is seeking to promote government schools as a better option than private schools. Teachers admit the English medium is the need of the hour, but the campaign is ill-planned.
An election campaign in the guise of Badi Bata
Prof S Simhadri, a former teacher of Osmania University and also state president of the Samajwadi party calls this an election campaign in the guise of Badi Bata. He said the English medium ‘Badi Bata’ was launched in rural areas with an eye on the upcoming Assembly elections due next year. To add fuel to fire, none of the issues responsible for the decline of state-run schools has been addressed.
Pointing out that the government finds English a convenient tool to reach out to the rural voters, Prof Simhadri said, “There is a strong urge for English education among the SC, ST, and BC communities who can influence the electoral outcome. But, the fact is that the TRS government has willfully destroyed state-run school education. In the year 2014-15 when the state was formed, the budget allocation for education was 10.89 per cent. The TRS government has gradually brought it down to 6.24 per cent in 2022-23.”
Further, he explained that meagre budgetary allocation means making government schools unattractive even for the poorer sections of SC, ST, and OBC communities and driving them to private schools. “The policy pursued so far has been to kill education silently and close the government schools on the pretext of lack of enrolments. Now, the same government is talking of bringing in the English medium in government schools in the name of meeting the aspirations of the rural poor,” pointed out Prof Simhadri.
The Social Democratic Forum (SDF), an independent organisation of former bureaucrats, university professors, and activists, substantiated Prof Simhadri’s views. The SDF had recently organised a programme called night stay (Badi Nidra) in 48 schools in 10 districts for four months in order to study the conditions in the state-run schools and hostels.
The SDF members interacted with students, villagers, and local level people representatives to gather information on the functioning of the system. The SDF had said in a statement, “Same pathetic scene of inadequate rooms, dilapidated school buildings, schools without compound walls, lack of drinking water, non-availability of toilets, confronted us. In some schools, the only available toilet is always kept locked by the teachers for their use. Many schools which require five teachers are run with single or two teachers. The state school system is a victim of government’s indifference.”
Moreover, the SDF made it clear that the introduction of English will become meaningful only when qualified and trained teachers are made available in these schools.
Meanwhile, Prof K Srinivasulu, a senior fellow ICSSR, New Delhi, said that parents of weaker sections construe English as a vehicle to upward social mobility and the Telangana government appears to be in a hurry to reach out to these families with Badi Bata.
“Though it is well known that the majority of teachers in state-run schools are not fit to teach in English, no serious attempts have been made to improve the condition by recruiting qualified teachers. English medium sans qualified teachers worsen the situation, then students are likely to miss out on both, the Telugu and the English medium equally,” Srinivasulu warned.
The Telangana BJP unit has also expressed a similar sentiment. The state party chief spokesperson, K Krishna Sagar Rao, said the TRS government is not sincere in promoting a government-run schooling system in Telangana State.
Rao alleged that for eight years now, ever since the formation of the TRS government as many as 4,500 schools have been shut under the guise of rationalisation of schools. He accused the TRS government of conniving with private school operators for the personal benefit of those in power. “The government has almost dismantled the public school system in the state of Telangana,” alleged Rao.
The motive behind promoting English medium schools
According to Professor Sravan Dasoju, chief spokesperson of Telangana Congress, under the cover of English medium and claim of spending ₹7,280 crore on infrastructure development lies a deeper design to mobilise poorer sections of rural areas to favour TRS in the next election. English is being used as the bait, he said.
Also, Dasoju stressed that the urban electorate had lost faith in the governments and it is evident in the polling percentage in the Assembly elections held in December 2018.
“The rural constituencies, especially the reserved constituencies, witnessed a high percentage of polling than the urban areas. Rangareddy district, where the concentration of the Hyderabad elite is higher, recorded a voter turnout of just 61.29 per cent, while the reserved constituencies such as Madhira (SC), Nakirekal, Wyra, and Dornakal saw a voter turnout of 91.27 per cent, 88.49 per cent, 87.99 per cent, and 85.80 per cent respectively. Against this backdrop, Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is trying to project himself as the messiah of masses by offering English medium education,” said the professor adding that the CM wanted to mobilise these rural voters so that they will vote for TRS in the next Assembly election.
Retention is a problem
Many teachers, who are participating in the Badi Bata, are sceptical about retaining the students enrolled during the ongoing enrolment drive. A school teacher who is actively involved in the drive from the Nalgonda district said if there was no improvement in the infrastructure, retaining these students till next year will be a problem.
Speaking to The Federal on the condition of anonymity, the teacher said that post-pandemic, due to the family finances and higher fees in private schools, it may easier to wean students away from private schools during the campaign.
“The drive, however, is launched when the system is plagued by many problems such as non-availability of textbooks, non-recruitment of teachers, lack of proper buildings, etc. If the problems persist, in spite of many attractions like free English medium, midday meals, medical check-ups, parents will not hesitate to take their wards back to private schools again,” the teacher added.
In his experience with Badi Bata, parents are indeed receptive to the idea of English medium schooling but they lack confidence in the quality of state-run schools.
No adequate plan
Chava Ravi, president of TS United Teachers Federation (TSUTF), shared another viewpoint. According to Ravi, teachers were not participating in the Badi Bata wholeheartedly as many are worried that the new programme may be used to postpone the resolution of their issues pending with the government for years.
“As many as 21,500 teacher posts are lying vacant. There is no school that doesn’t have a vacancy in the state. Teachers’ mutual transfers have not been done. Thousands of requests for transfers on spouse grounds have been unattended. Similarly, promotions have been denied for years,” said Ravi, adding that there is a “lurking fear” among the teachers that in the name of the introduction of English medium education all these issues will be pushed under the carpet.
Ravi also said the government had ignored the suggestions from teachers on the timing of launching the drive. The drive has been launched in June instead of April when private schools have already completed their admissions, he pointed out.
“Now the majority of parents have enrolled their kids in private schools in April itself. Only those who cannot afford private education are available to join government schools. They have no option but to enrol their kids in government schools. So, the introduction of English medium doesn’t seem like a sincere effort,” he added.
Government remains unfazed
The government remains unfazed. Sridevasena, director of school education, offered incentives to the best performers in the enrollment drive. The director announced that the top three districts and top 10 schools that enrol more students will be felicitated by the state government.
Education minister Sabita Indra Reddy called upon the government and party machinery to ensure that the children of school-going age in anganwadi centers are enrolled in government schools. The government is apprehensive that they would be lured by the private English medium schools and never return to state-run schools.