Govt schools for community, not CSR

Recently, there was a news item about a corporate social responsibility (CSR) organisation adopting 16 government schools in Haryana. Adoption signifies the taking over of caregiving of a child who has no parent or guardian. It suggests inability of or abandonment by the primary caregiver.
And the popular impression of government schools is one of being abandoned; as places with non-working toilets and crumbling walls, where teachers are insensitive to students’ needs and where children may be going primarily for the free mid-day meals, uniforms and textbooks; but where no meaningful learning activity happens.
School adoption by a wealthy corporate may be seen by education bureaucrats as a means of getting funds to repair and renew infrastructure and of disciplining errant teachers with business sector methods. However, school adoption ignores a vital fact; that schools are not forsaken, they ‘belong’ to the local community in which they are located. The community is the primary custodian and the recipient of the school’s services.
Education policy in India, including the Right to Education (RTE) Act, treats School Development and Monitoring Committees (SDMCs) of parents and other community members as the primary decision-making body for the school. Hence, giving away the school for adoption, when its ‘guardians/owners’ are around, is absurd.
The term government school gives an impression of the government being the ‘owner’ of the school. Instead, it needs to be seen as the ‘trustee’ of the school, supporting school development on behalf of the local community, making decisions in consultation with them, and in their broader interests.
This requires a perspective change in government officials. As a commissioner of Public Instruction in Karnataka said, “The Samudayadatta Shaale (periodic meeting of the parents and teachers in government schools) is seen by officials as a government programme which seeks community participation, rather it needs to be seen as a community programme with government participation.”
If the community is the guardian and the government the trustee of the school, corporates, CSRs, NGOs can only be participants supporting the school’s development. In 2012, the Karnataka Knowledge Commission and the education department, launched a programme of school nurturing – Shalegagi Naavu Neevu – with this sentiment.
Any individual or institution interested in supporting a school could enter into a tripartite deal with the school (represented by the SDMC) and the education department (represented by the block education officer). The supporting entity could not arrogate any authority from ownership, or from money power.
Giving authority to a private entity to manage a government school affects the critical parameter of local accountability. Wh-ile the community can seek accountability from a government- managed school, private managements can keep them at bay.
Deficit model
Besides the philosophical challenge, such adoptions often derail the school’s functioning, taking away valuable time of teachers and students for unclear activities. In the paradigm of abandonment and adoption, the adopting institutions bring in a ‘deficit model,’ they believe that government schools are dysfun-ctional and need to be ‘set right’.
The solution could be curricular content that the initiator has, teacher training, a toilet or a laboratory that needs to be built, with the plaque of the initiating institution prominently displayed – whether the school wants any of this, or not. There is inadequate or no effort to understand the challenges and difficulties of the schools, and resp-ond with appropriate solutions.
As the headmaster of a government high school in Adugodi, Bengaluru, said, “Every one wants to build toilets in my scho-ol, I already have enough. What the school wants is maintenance support for the toilets, towards the cost of consumables and labour to keep the toilets usable”. But institutions which are willing to spend lakhs on creating unwanted infrastructure are not willing to spend thousands on consumables, there being no possibilities to embed plaques.
Yes, government schools could do with more funding. School infrastructure need renewal. Teacher training and performance management need to be considered, but these are complex processes. Community participation needs to be enhanced, but this is diametrically opposed to the adoption model.
The government high school in Domlur, Bengaluru, has been preparing its own school development plan for years now, cle-arly recording its support requ-irements. The requirements are identified by the teachers along with the SDMC, and shared in an annual meeting with parents, community members, local philanthropies and CSRs.
Any support that anyone wants to provide must respond to specific items in this plan. The school is planning its destiny, and inviting collaboration and support, not passively waiting to be adopted. As Lilla Watson, an aboriginal activist stated: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together”.