Press Release

CSES study on Decentralisation in Kerala’s Education System Calls for Major Changes

Published on 21.03.2023

CSES study on decentralisation in Kerala’s school education calls for major changes in the system to improve standards of school education.  The study finds that the students in private aided schools and primary sections of government secondary and higher secondary schools managed by the district panchayat receive lesser support compared to those in government primary schools managed by grama panchayats. The district panchayats give less priority to primary sections compared to secondary and higher secondary sections of schools managed by them.  One of the reasons for the undesirable prioritisation is the societal perception that student performance in board examinations is the yardstick of school quality. In a system where all students are given promotion up to Class IX, only the Class X (SSLC) examination receives public attention. The study, conducted a quarter century after the launch of the People’s Plan Campaign, was led by Dr.N.Ajith Kumar, Aswathi Rebecca Asok, Bibin Thambi, Marina M Neerakkal and Ramshad M, researchers at CSES.

The study recommends that some of the grama panchayat led initiatives for students in government primary schools could be extended to students in primary sections of government secondary and higher secondary schools, with the financial support of the district panchayats.  The study calls for making amendments to the guidelines. The study also points out that the organic connection between grama panchayats and government primary schools is generally missing between district panchayats and government secondary schools.  One option is to bring government high schools and higher secondary schools under grama panchayats and developing these schools as knowledge hubs of a locality. However, in order to consider this possibility, the financial resources of grama panchayats need to be enhanced through reallocation of funds.

More than half of the schools (54%) and student enrolment (58%) in the state are in the aided sector. Even though the state government meets the entire salary and maintenance expenditure of aided schools, local governments do not have any legal authority over these institutions under the scheme of decentralisation. As a result, some of the opportunities and facilities enjoyed by students in government schools are not available to students in aided schools. For instance, the breakfast offered to students in government schools by some grama panchayats is not available to students in aided schools. The study recommends that goals set by local governments for school education should include students in aided schools as well. This is important as majority of students in both the government and aided schools belong to poor and low-income households. The local governments may extend some of the schemes/educational incentives to students in aided schools, provided the aided school management is willing to share the cost.  However, this has to be based on clearly spelt-out norms.

The study finds that Kerala has made significant strides in school education sector during the last quarter century of decentralisation.  Several initiatives in school education succeeded only because of the decentralised governance mechanism and the processes developed under it to facilitate community participation. But, available data shows that much needs to be done to improve the quality of school education in the state. According to the 2022 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), only 62 per cent of fifth-standard students in government schools in rural Kerala can read a second-standard textbook. However, Kerala fares much better than the national average of 39%.  Similarly, less than half (40%) of students in class VIII know how to do division correctly. Similarly, a study conducted by CSES in 2017 found that marks received by children in annual examinations decrease as they progress from first to seventh standard.

The study notes that the multiplicity of school-level committees with overlapping roles and responsibilities is a major concern. Due to the lack of clarity in the roles and responsibilities of these committees, role conflicts often occur. Often, the same persons are nominated to different committees. In most of these committees, the head teacher of the school is the ex-officio convener, chairperson or secretary. The existence of more than half a dozen committees, even in schools with less than 100 students, only increases the administrative responsibilities of the head teacher without adding value to the quality of education. Some of these committees might have been relevant when it was created. However, the multiplicity of committees is now making the system less efficient. There is an urgent need to reduce the number of school-level committees.. The responsibilities of School Management Committee (SMC) overlaps with those of School Development Committee (SDC) and School Support Group (SSG). Since it is mandatory to have SMC in all schools as per the RTE Act, any residual responsibility of SDC can be vested with SMC. It can also be renamed as School Development and Management Committee (SDMC). The SSG can be discontinued as its functions can be undertaken by SDMC. 

The study calls for regular monitoring of the learning achievements of students from the primary level by the local governments. This will enable the local governments to identify schools with low academic standards and make timely interventions. The possibility of preparing school education report cards at the local government level based on the academic achievements and infrastructural facilities of schools including aided schools may be explored. These report cards can be reviewed at the state level. The study points out that the current system of measuring educational quality solely based on pass percentages can obscure academic disparities that exist within classrooms. Therefore, performance assessment of schools shall take into account the achievements of children from socially, economically and educationally backward communities. For instance, the performance of the lowest 25 per cent of students in a class in terms of academic performance may be used as an indicator.

The budget analysis of sample local governments for the period 2018-19 to 2021-22 reveals that local governments have to improve the efficiency of utilising funds allocated for education. Only two-thirds of the funds earmarked for education by the sample grama panchayats and half of those allocated for education by the sample block panchayats and district panchayat were used. The budget analysis also brings out a major constraint in utilising local government funds for addressing the needs identified at the local level. More than half of the funds earmarked for education sector by the sample grama panchayats is spent as state share of the centrally sponsored scheme of Samagra Shiksha and the state level scheme for providing educational scholarships to students with disabilities.  Local governments are instructed to compulsorily allocate funds for these schemes.  The role of grama panchayats in the implementation of Samagra Shiksha interventions is very limited. The study calls for more involvement of Samagra Shiksha interventions.

BUDS school is a promising initiative of LGs, which fills a critical gap in educational facilities available for mentally challenged children from poor households. However, due to a lack of funds at the disposal of LGs, these institutions are unable to meet the envisioned objectives. It is evident that LGs alone cannot shoulder the substantial cost involved in running BUDS schools as per the norms. Given the significance of BUDS schools, the state government may share at least half of the operating costs to improve the care and education of children in these schools. While the state government pays for the salary component of government schools and even aided schools under private management where children without disabilities are enrolled, the absence of such support for schools specifically functioning for mentally challenged children is not justifiable.

PTA, particularly its executive committee, is the most active school-level committee. Providing training to the PTA leadership and bringing out guidelines on the roles and responsibilities of PTAs will be necessary to strengthen PTAs. The initiative of Muthedam grama panchayat in Malappuram district to convene corner PTAs outside the school campus is an initiative worth replication. These meetings, organised at the neighbourhood level, could provide a platform for parents to raise even minor issues related to their children’s education, which are often not discussed in the school PTA. Similarly, the PTA forum in Tirur Municipality, which comprises PTA representatives from every school in the municipality, is a noteworthy initiative that demonstrates how collaboration between PTAs in different schools can effectively intervene in school education.

The study points out that, even though there is token representation of students in some of the school-level committees, they usually remain silent in the committees dominated by adults. The institutional mechanism of children’s gramasabha is an effective platform to identify children’s felt needs with respect to their education. This platform shall be strengthened to ensure the participation of children in the decision-making process related to school education. Similarly, the special gramasabha for children with disabilities, organised in Vazhayur GP, is an initiative that has immense potential to bring the needs of children with disabilities to public attention and local-level planning. It helps in sensitising the local level functionaries and decision makers to the diverse needs of children with various types of disabilities.

The study points out that the system of dual control in government schools by the Department of General Education and LGs creates some issues in school governance. It has been noticed that government school teachers seldom accept them as employees of local government as their salary is being paid directly by the state government. While it may not be advisable for local governments to interfere in the day-to-day functioning of schools, they do play a major role in quality improvement initiatives in schools under their control. Due to the confusion regarding the roles and responsibilities, school functionaries and local governments functionaries opt for ‘safer’ interventions. To address the issue, the General Education Department and Local Self Government Department shall work together to decide the scope of local government interventions in government schools. 

In some local bodies, school teachers participate in the gramasabhas of wards where their schools are located. This practice of school teachers attending gramasabha meetings in the wards where the school is located is worth replication as the chances of gramasabha recommending school related projects is higher in such cases. Necessary directions shall be issued by the Planning Board/Local Self Government Department.

The study identified other interventions across Kerala which are worth replication by other local governments. The network of pre-primary schools started in Mararikulam grama panchayat in Alappuzha district, the Teachers’ Bank set up by Vembayam GP of Thiruvananthapuram district to facilitate the availability of teachers when regular teachers take leave and specially designed parks for children with disabilities developed by Karuvarakkund GP of Malappuram district are some among them. There are many other such local-level initiatives in Kerala’s school education sector. The study suggests that strengthening platforms for sharing education-related initiatives and accomplishments would encourage schools, local governments and the local community to make more active interventions in school education.

For more details, contact: Aswathi Rebecca Asok; Mob- +919959525385 (Research Associate, CSES)