Kerala government’s latest reforms in the field of education has now earned them the ire of a large group of higher secondary school teachers. In June, a cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed that the government would implement bold and sweeping changes in public education, suggested by the state appointed Khader Committee.
Among its many recommendations which have now been implemented, what was protested downright by teacher unions was the suggestion to club the Directorate of Public Instruction (DPI), Higher Secondary Directorate (DHS) and Vocational Higher Secondary Directorate (DVHSS) under a single entity. Essentially, this means that the old departments of education would be dissolved and a new entity termed the Directorate of General Education will control all classes from grade 1 to 12.
Not only this, the Khader committee has also suggested a slew of administrative reforms that has not gone down well with the higher secondary teachers in the state. Over the past few months, several teacher groups have taken to the streets to protest against the implementation of these suggestions.
Quality of curriculum
The Government of Kerala appointed MA Khader, an educationist, to look into administrative and educational reforms at the school level. This is how Khader committee came to be. The committee presented recommendations for school education which the government has decided to implement.
Among dissenting teachers and teacher associations, a key concern is the impact on quality of education in Higher Secondary Schools with the structural reforms that have been proposed. The higher secondary school education had followed a CBSE curriculum unlike the state syllabus taught from classes 1-10.
Every year, several students from CBSE schools too join government higher secondary schools as there is no change in syllabus for them.
“50,000 students from private schools join us every year. This is reflective of the quality of education we provide. We follow NCERT books here and we have been offering quality education for the past 28 years as an independent body,” Arun Kumar, President of the Aided Higher Secondary Teachers’ Association (AHSTA), told TNM.
The integration of all all classes will eventually lead to the state syllabus being being taught for higher secondary schools as well. This would put a stop to the large number of CBSE students taking admission in these schools.
“Students find it easy to attempt and clear National level competitive exams, thanks to the syllabus and system we follow. With the recommendations coming into force, this could change. CBSE students would choose private schools over government schools if the syllabus is changed,” Arun says.
Speaking to TNM, Rajan Gurukkal, Vice President of the Kerala State Higher Education council argued that unifying the boards into one was an attempt to standardise the school education system and create a smooth transition in the different levels of schooling.
“Making administrative changes is not going to affect the quality of education. The government’s move to unify the school education into a single board is the first attempt to bring all classes under one authority and then standardise the quality of quality of education and for cognitive development of students. The smooth transition from one grade to the other has to be ensured,” he said.
Regarding the CBSE vs State curriculum debate, Professor Rajan Gurukkal said that bringing higher secondary into the same board would mean a change in syllabus from CBSE to state.
“This will cause inconvenience to higher secondary students as the syllabus will change. Presently, the state syllabus is not as comprehensive as CBSE - which is preferred in classes 11 and 12. The government’s aim is to bring the state syllabus on a par with the Central one,” Professor Rajan added.
Eligibility requirements of teachers
The committee also suggested a slew of reforms from eligibility criteria of teachers to dissolving key posts in such as Assistant Education (AEO) and District Education Officers (DEO). This has also not gone down well with several teachers who took to the streets to protest as they got wind of the decision.
Presently, the eligibility criteria for a HSS teacher is PG and B.Ed, apart from clearing the UGC SET or NET (State Eligibility Test or National Eligibility Test). A PhD, M.Phil or M.Ed are also considered if the candidate has not cleared his/her SET or NET.
With the Khader panel recommendations, the eligibility criteria has been relaxed. If implemented, teachers with just B.Ed and PG qualification will become eligible to teach higher secondary classes in government schools.
“The move attempts to encourage middle school teachers by promoting them, based on seniority. But in the process, the quality of education will be impacted as teachers no longer need to have additional qualification,” Arun adds.
The committee also recommends each school from classes 1-12 to have a Principal and a Vice-principal from the higher secondary classes (std 11 and 12) and high school classes (std 8-10) respectively.
“The main reason for a protest by higher secondary teachers is a perceived change in their status in the whole system. Currently, classes 11 and 12 are handled separately and HSS teachers only teach those classes. If the committee recommendations are implemented, these teachers will also have to teach classes 9 and 10. This, they probably perceive, will reduce their status to mere school teachers,” Rajan added.
The committee has demanded better qualified teachers at high school level. This, Rajan Gurukkal says, will ensure that there is very less discrepancy in the education quality when students move to higher secondary classes.
The report has also suggested that all board exam evaluations of classes 10 and 12 be under the purview of the Directorate of Public Instruction, which currently takes care of Class 10 exams.
Shifting class 12 exams to the department will further burden the body affecting its functioning, according to protesting teachers.
“Imagine having to conduct exams for 40 lakh students and then evaluating their answer sheets and releasing marks. Dumping it all on one body will affect its functioning, leading to delays in results, paper evaluation etc. It just disrupts the whole system,” Arun says.
'Politicisation of education'
The committee also recommended shifting of school administration to local bodies like gram panchayats by appointing a Panchayat Education Officer and dissolving the posts of Assistant Education and District Education Officers (AEO and DEO).
“Leaving school administration to the control of gram panchayats will inevitably lead to politicisation of school administrations. The parties may interfere in the admission process and other affairs of the school, impeding its smooth functioning,” Arun says.