In the villages of Karnataka’s north-eastern districts, working and studying go hand in hand. That’s how college was for Vaijnath Bapure of Kalaburgi district’s Kalamandargi village.
“We would wake up early, do chores around the fields and get to college. On returning too, there would be work around the farm. If you wanted to study, you would have to sleep less,” he said.
Vaijnath, who obtained his degree in 2012, said that most students went to government schools – where the medium of instruction is Kannada – and colleges – where lecturers often teach in Kannada even though English is the medium of instruction. Students in such situations tend to write the exams in Kannada.
Students like Vaijnath form a large number of students whom the media routinely ignore in their haste to celebrate students who had done exceedingly well in exams. Results of the pre-university board exams were no different. The achievements of a handful of students mask the tough social and structural realities that a majority of students, cutting across socio-economic backgrounds, negotiate every day to simply make the cut.
The first blemish on this year’s results is that the pass percentage is down by three percent from that of the previous year. A closer look at the figures shows that there are several layers to the pass percentage – language, caste and region – which affect not just students’ ability to study but also the infrastructure available for study.
Historically, south Karnataka’s districts have fared well on all indicators. The coastal and Malnad regions are rich in resources and have temperate weather, ensuring that agriculture at least remained somewhat stable.
As in previous years, the coastal districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi have topped the state, both securing a pass percentage of around 90. The closest any other district comes is Kodagu with 79.35 percent. Yadgiri district has the lowest pass percentage of 44.16.
“There is regular drought here,” says K Somashekar, Yadgir district president of the All India Democratic Students’ Organization.
Even when it wasn’t a drought year, he said, life is an everyday battle with harsh conditions. “There is no industry here and agriculture is rain-fed. So when parents go to the cities in search of work, their children go along to supplement the family income. They are often enrolled in schools and colleges, but don’t attend classes. They just turn up for the exams,” Somashekar says.
Somashekar says that students in government institutions in north-eastern Karnataka face many problems as the region has remained backward on multiple indicators which have not been addressed since the British era.
Illustrating, he said Gurmitkal constituency – which senior Congress leader and Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge represented for decades – is one of the two most backward parts of Yadgir district. “You will find schools, colleges and hostels in Gurmitkal, but there’s hardly any staff,” Somashekar says.
Vaijnath, recalled that they once did not have an English teacher in his college in Kamalapur village in Kalaburgi district for two months because the person got transferred.
Staff shortage is a serious concern. “Most students who fail, do so in English or Maths. There just aren’t enough teachers. Those who are posted here, obtain transfers to other places,” says Somashekar.
When Vaijnath was in school, English was simply unheard of in his village. Everyone went to government schools and wrote their exams in Kannada. In 2016, II PU students who wrote their exams in Kannada have a lower pass percentage than those who did so in English. This statistic requires more study.
While most of the media reported regional differences in the results, there wasn’t nearly as much attention on another layer that results are recorded by: caste. Results of the pre-university students show that SC students are at the bottom of the list. The difference between the pass percentage of General category students and SC students is about 20 percent.
Since these communities lack economic stability and other resources, they tend to send their children to government schools and colleges, which have bad infrastructure and where quality of teaching is also poor.
Enrollment collected by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan through its District Information System for Education shows over three quarters of all Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribe children in school access government education at the primary level.
Head of the Centre for Child and the Law at NLSIU Bengaluru, Niranjan Aradhya says that the pre-university results indicated that lapses of the government and social inequities were manifested in the results of students belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
“The government needs to invest money in schools, to level the playing field. Government schools often lack library and laboratory facilities at the higher primary level. I’ve been arguing for a common school system for 20 years. We need equity in education for all children, whether upper caste, SC or ST, because these lead to disparities in higher education, employment, and availability of opportunities later on in life.”