One of the serious challenges of the Indian school education system and that of Telangana is of dwindling number of government schools. The number of schools with enrolment as low as 50 or lesser than that have been on the rise in Telangana. These ‘small schools’ are characterised by low enrolment, often a single-teacher looking after all matters of the school, and teachers involved in multi-grade and/or multi-subject teaching. These schools are mostly primary and middle and spread across the State.
The overall objective of education is holistic development of children involving core-curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Moreover, the education policy since 1988 is committed to implementing vocational education at the secondary school level. But the situation on the ground is that most of the schools in the State do not have sufficient resources, human or financial, to carry out even core-curricular activities, leave alone co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Many schools lack teachers for curricular subjects or for co-curricular activities like arts, music, sports, vocational subjects and crafts.
The required physical resources for these, such as sports equipment, library, books and labs are absent in many schools. Even if some of these are available proper utilisation is lacking. All these issues have been adversely affecting the quality of education and holistic development of children.
One of the recommendations of the NEP-2020 is ‘school complex’ or ‘school cluster’ by grouping schools into a single cluster or complex. In fact, this idea can be found in the pre-independence period and was implemented by the British in India. Post-independence, the Education Commission of India (Kothari Commission) in the 1960s also recommended it. This has been widely experimented across the globe since the 1970s and is being implemented consistently in both developed and developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
UNESCO defines a ‘school cluster’ as a group of neighbouring schools around a larger ‘core’ school. It is grouping of schools which are spatially proximate or geographically nearby for the purpose of administration and pooling and sharing the resources, including teachers, learning and physical resources.
This concept has been proved useful, especially in the context of resource shortage. It allows pooling of resources like teachers, learning materials, physical and infrastructural resources and sharing them with the spatially proximate group of schools or within the designated school cluster. It s advantageous from the administration perspective as certain replications can be avoided and also from the pedagogical perspective as a broad-based cluster enables innovations specific to the location and context.
Owing to low enrolment, ‘small schools’ have time and again come up with steps like consolidation and rationalisation to address that but these helped only to a limited extent in view of the locational disadvantages in remote areas. Moreover, consolidation and rationalisation mechanism by itself does not address human or financial shortcomings. School clusters serve as an optimal solution in such contexts. They foster decentralisation of school education, resource pooling and sharing leading to resource efficiency and effectiveness.
The NEP-2020 stresses on flexibility, multi-disciplinarity and holistic development as core principles to guide the education system. It also focused on identifying and developing the unique capabilities of students. The core principles envisage nullifying the barriers between disciplines, curricular and extra-curricular activities, vocational and academic streams.
True to the objective of the child-centred and integrated school system leading to holistic development of children, schools need to be better equipped with required resources like adequate number of teachers for all the core-discipline subjects (language, math and science) as well as for arts, music, sports etc. There should also be necessary infrastructure in terms of library, science, computer, craft, skill labs, playground and so on. The NEP-2020 also recommends education institutions to be equipped with adequate number of counsellors to aid students towards holistic development.
Given the competing demands over the limited public resources, it is not always possible to equip all schools with all the required resources. Moreover, there is an imbalance in the utilisation of resources by schools due to differences in the demand for schools reflected in its enrolment and strength. Herein, the ‘school cluster’ approach fits as a cost-effective and resource-efficient and effective solution. For example, sharing of teachers from the nearby neighbouring school in the cluster is cost-effective and efficient for small schools rather than deploying the subject-wise teachers for each school.
Further, art, craft, music, vocational teachers’ services can be efficiently utilised in a cluster as individual schools do not require their services exclusively. This situation may arise in the case of some subject teachers imparting skills too. The core school or some schools in the cluster can be developed as hubs for different activities depending on their suitability by establishing all required facilities. This makes possible balanced use of the pooled resources without any under-utilisation or overutilisation. Efficacy of the school clusters shows that teachers and students function and perform better in communities over the isolated school system.
Given the constraints that school education is faced with and to advance holistic and quality education, with efficient management of human and financial resources, the ‘school cluster’ system is the solution. It is possible to form one or two clusters in each mandal and a cluster consisting of one or a few high schools and many other middle and primary schools in their neighbourhood.
School Cluster Management Committees (SCMC) consisting of various stakeholders, including principals, teachers, parents and the community, along with local management experts, shall take care of governance and management of school clusters. Countries which have been implementing the cluster system have similar Cluster Coordinating Committees. Adequate planning taking into account earlier experiences and preparation with all stakeholders on board is the first step. Decentralisation and devolution of powers to cluster management is critical for better results.
(E Revathi is Professor and Director, Centre for Economic and Social Studies [CESS], Hyderabad. Venkatanarayana Motkuri is Associate Professor, Research Cell on Education, CESS)
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