Restructuring the public school system

The state governments should act as facilitators to the process of school rationalization. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

The state governments should act as facilitators to the process of school rationalization. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Indian public schools are seeing a systemic decline in enrolment, resulting in the massive growth of small and tiny government schools. According to a recent article by economist Geeta Kingdon, 419,000 (40%) of government schools had total enrolment less than 50, and 108,000 schools (10.3%) were “tiny” schools with enrolment of less than 20. Although the Indian public school system has addressed the problem of access, it has failed to withstand competition from private schools. These failures of the public school system call for an overhaul of the structure of schooling in India, especially at a time when the new education policy (NEP) is being drafted by the Kasturirangan committee.

Physical access to neighbourhood schools is now a reality, with 96% of the villages having an elementary school within a radius of 3km. However, physical access does not ensure adequate learning. Ten years of annual survey of education report (Aser) surveys and national achievement surveys by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) have revealed a nationwide learning crisis. The first to exit dysfunctional public schools are those from better socio-economic classes, and the disadvantaged suffer. Studies have revealed that students drop out mainly because schools are not attractive physically and pedagogically. Better learning outcomes need functional schools—not just mere physical access.

The right to education (RTE) Act has defined norms for providing functional access such as pupil-teacher ratio, teacher qualification and infrastructure facilities such as availability of toilets, drinking water, library and playgrounds. However, in addition, we need enough teachers and staff per school, subject teachers in the higher grades, and pedagogical support for the teaching-learning process to make the schools functional.

The complex school organization structure across different levels, such as primary, upper primary and secondary schools, and multiple managements (within government and private) break the continuity in schooling, leading to higher dropout rates. There is no need to have separate primary-only schools when the constitutional mandate is completion of primary and upper-primary classes up to class VIII. With universalization of secondary education on the table, schools from primary to secondary should be integrated and secondary education should integrate vocational education to provide gainful employment.

Composite schools can be created through vertical integration across levels and a consolidation of neighbourhood schools to increase school size, ensure better rationalization of teachers and avoid multi-grade teaching. Consolidation brings efficiency, provides better facilities, trained teachers, more comprehensive curriculum, broader extracurricular activities and diverse social experience.

Many states such, as Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra, have attempted to consolidate the schools (under names such as school rationalization, mainstreaming, amalgamation and integration) at the primary and upper-primary levels. Rajasthan has undertaken school mergers on the largest scale. About 17,000 schools were ordered to be merged, out of which 12,944 primary and 1,728 upper-primary ones had been merged as of 2016. However, these attempts have been made without adequate study of the need for consolidation and its impact on children in local communities.

School location decisions have to consider the optimal match of schooling demand with supply in the neighbourhood without compromising functional access. The following guiding principles could be followed for consolidation and restructuring: 1. Create before you destroy—construct a functional school infrastructure and appoint teachers in the consolidated school prior to shutting down schools; 2. No child left behind—school consolidation should not result in denial of access to any child; all possible transportation options should be explored, in case consolidation leads to difficulty in physical access; 3. Consult before consolidation—consolidation must be done with the consent of the community through consultations, and the alternative must include consensus on school location, transportation, etc.; 4. Vertical integration—school consolidation should ensure vertical integration across different levels.

Current norms for neighbourhood limits for schools are at different levels: primary schools within 1km, upper-primary schools within 3km and secondary schools within 5km. A common norm for all levels of schooling, with adequate flexibility to suit local conditions, could ensure vertical integration. Administratively, this requires the merger of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) at the Centre (which the ministry of human resource development is contemplating), and primary and secondary education bodies under the departments of education in states.

The Central and state governments should act as facilitators for consolidation and desist from taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Consolidation should be a local exercise—best decided by local authorities. The state governments should act as facilitators to the process of school rationalization by providing technical and financial support and capacity-building of local authorities.

[“Source-livemint”]

Charter Schools Are Reshaping America’s Education System for the Worse

Buttons opposing charter schools

A protester wears buttons opposing charter schools during a protest in Bellevue, Washington, on October 13, 2017. (AP Photo / Ted S. Warren)

Charter schools have been hailed as the antidote to public-school dysfunction by everyone from tech entrepreneurs to Wall Street philanthropists. But a critical autopsy by the advocacy group Network for Public Education (NPE) reveals just how disruptive the charter industry has become—for both students and their communities.

Charter schools are technically considered public schools but are run by private companies or organizations, and can receive private financing—as such, they are generally able to circumvent standard public-school regulations, including unions. This funding system enables maximum deregulation, operating like private businesses and free of the constraints of public oversight, while also ensuring maximum public funding.

According to Carol Burris of NPE, charter schools “want the funding and the privilege of public schools but they don’t want the rules that go along with them.” She cites charter initiatives’ having developed their own certification policies, as well as disciplinary codes and academic standards—a tendency toward “wanting the best of both worlds” among both non- and for-profit charter organizations.

In California, a nonprofit charter industrial model has flourished. The California Virtual Academy (CAVA) network runs hundreds of schools, delivering online-based programs through “cyber” outlets, often concentrated on students in low-income communities of color. CAVA’s political influence has expanded along with its brand.

California’s 2016 primary elections saw fierce battles funded through charter-school industry groups, particularly the Parent Teacher Alliance, which spent several million dollars on races for local superintendents and legislators. Reflecting the ambitions of charter proponents to aggressively expand the sector statewide, the charter boosters pushed candidates who favored lifting district limits on opening new charters. Such policies have sparked controversy, since charter growth is associated with budget erosion for public schools and resistance to staff unionization in the host district. Another measure opposed by the charter sector would “make charter board meetings public, allow the public to inspect charter school records, and prohibit charter school officials from having a financial interest in contracts that they enter into in their official capacity.”

The Los Angeles Unified School District has seen dramatic effects from the expansion of charter schools as it wrestles with budget crises. The teachers’ union recently estimated that charter funding imposes costs on the district of about $590 million annually (the figure is disputed by charter proponents), which to critics affirms that charters receive a growing share of taxpayer funds while leaving regular schools to struggle with chronic funding shortfalls.

The “flexibility” granted to charter schools also drives questionable academic trends. One online charter chain, managed by the Learn4Life network, serves 2,000 students in 15 schools through distance-learning-based programs. But its modular “storefront” teaching system has been accompanied by a churning enrollment with huge attrition rates. According to NPE, in 2015, four-year graduation rates ranged from zero percent in two of its schools, to 19 percent, with an overall average of less than 14 percent making it through all four years.

NPE’s investigation found a similar pattern at a BASIS charter school in Arizona, part of a nationwide charter network. Drawing on an earlier report by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, and reflecting the findings of an ACLU investigation into de facto segregation at Arizona charters, NPE argues that, despite heavy private financing, the school falls short in equity. The predominantly white and Asian-American student body of the BASIS Phoenix school contrasts with the high-poverty, mostly Latino surrounding district. With about 200 students total, BASIS Phoenix ultimately graduated just 24 students in 2016, after shedding 44 percent of the graduating grade’s students over the previous four years. The statistics, which matched similar trends across Arizona’s charter sector, suggest charters may actually be perpetuating the discrimination and exclusionary practices that they claim to help remedy.

In response, several school administrators claimed to be striving to address racial disparities. BASIS has forcefully denied that it is abetting inequality in Arizona’s schools, stating that it is “incredibly proud of the diverse nature” of its schools. BASIS.ed also issued a public rebuttal to NPE contending that its chain of schools, overall, maintained high retention rates, did not discriminate by background or ethnicity, and attracted a diverse range of families, as well as donations from them.

But the values of the BASIS network don’t necessarily reflect community diversity. The NPE report cites a third-party analysis of BASIS in a high-profile ranking of schools, America’s Most Challenging High Schools: BASIS Phoenix earned a top rating, according to publisher Jay Mathews, based on standards focused on performance scores. BASIS denies that it unfairly screens out children, citing overall high retention rates across the network for most K–12 classes. But the company, which admits it is “not for everyone” and that students do leave, also promotes a structure that prioritizes retaining high-scoring students, while lower performers realize eventually they can’t meet the standards.

This approach may boost the schools’ business competitiveness, but education advocates who focus on the social goal of providing equitable education for all see it differently. As NPE argues, “there must be a balance between reasonable challenge and inclusivity.” The demographic polarization linked to charter-school expansion, critics warn, exposes the harmful impact of exclusion on diversity: Charters claim to serve diverse populations, but may actually just be segregating the system further.

Examining the broader social impact of charters, NPE tracked financial manipulation and fraud at various schools. In Pennsylvania, lax financial regulations have allowed charters in some districts to absorb extra funding with little oversight. In the New Hope–Solebury School District, for example, the government contributes $19,000 per pupil attending a charter school, even if they are only learning through a screen, since “Those costs must even be paid to cyber charters that have no facilities costs at all.” Another financial question surrounds lopsided pay structures with much higher salaries for charter principals.

Another subsurface problem at many schools is harder to measure: Charters are known for high faculty-turnover rates. Although turnover is a problem in both charter and non-charter schools, NPE’s Burris notes that chaotic management and unregulated expansion, combined with intense academic pressures and high student attrition, can destabilize the whole institution. Traditionally, however, public schools have served as social pillars for the surrounding community. In stable schools, teachers and families grow up together. “Community schools are family schools in many, many ways,” Burris says. “And when they become businesses all of that is destroyed…those relationships are just not there, the way they are in the neighborhood community school.”

Charters may offer a different relationship to communities, but their brand of “free market” schooling carries costs. Who accounts for the lost social opportunities when education becomes just another market investment?

[“Source-thenation”]

Japanese education system

Japanese education system

The Japanese education system is unique and education is the foundation of Japanese society. The Japanese school system has exclusive and special features and is neither influenced by the American or British educational system. It is also different from the other Asian systems. It is purely Japanese in essence and nature and philosophy. The basic purpose is to spread of education so that an educational-based and knowledge society emerges. Competition comes much later.

We can learn a great deal from the Japanese educational system to transform our grueling and ever-problematic education system from the bottom to top. We remained unable to transmit universal education far and wide and we miserably failed in our experiments. The Japanese educational system could be the final resort to introduce a universal education in our country without looting parents and creating segregated schools systems.

Japan introduced universal education for all by 1868. All parents were ordered to send their school age children to schools. This age group cannot be seen roaming around in streets, markets, parks, and work places. Police was deployed to arrest any such children along with their parents and send them to prisons.

Even after 70 years of our independence, we can often see school age children in streets, markets, parks, and work places. Majority of them are begging. We have not developed a system to take care of them. Should we follow the Japanese policing system of arresting all beggars and school age children? Or should we continue with our own lose system.

Japanese school children lead the world in numerical and literacy skills. What mattered was the quality of lessons given to Japanese children instead of quantity of lessons. The Japanese alphabetic has 46 characters each of Hiragana and Katagana, making them a total 92 characters. These characters are pictographic and children need to learn them by heart. School children also learn around 1006 Chinese language characters known as Kanji. The learning of these characters is the essence of school children’s intelligence.

Japanese school children do not take any examination until they reach grade 4 at the age of ten. Just small tests are given to them. This is done to develop their characters, manners, and behaviors to interact with society. Students study quietly and independently in class rooms. Class room decorum is always maintained. See what happens in our school when a teacher is absent or late for few minutes. The whole order is turned upside down.

For the Japanese educational system, elementary school (Shogakko) is more important where they get education up to six class. Elementary education is compulsory and started in 1886 during the Meiji Era. This education is totally free of cost. Children take public transport such as trains and busses to reach school and go back home. Each class has 5-10 minutes break.

In Japan all junior school children wear a uniform. They never come late or skip from schools. A standardised healthy meal is provided to all of them in the classroom, which they pick up from the kitchen at 12:00 noon. Teachers and students eat together and forge strong bonds of friendship and strong belonging. They eat the same food. They also clean up the service portions by their own. They have a strong sense of belonging with their school. They clean up their class room, sweeping, mopping the floors and cleaning other portions of the schools, clapping erasers, and scrubbing the toilets, and grounds. They paint the walls and gate where necessary. They do not feel shy or feel hesitant in doing so because they love their schools.

They feel comfortable and happy at school. They have a sense of security there. They carefully listen to teachers and maintain high respect of their teachers. A high percentage of students attends after-school workshops and programs of different interests and they remain busy with their practical learning until evening.

Unlike American schools, violence is not a characteristic of Japanese school. Schools function peacefully. Parents are not on strike against raise of fee or and other issue. The Ministry of Education in Japan takes care of all such issues instead of cracking them on streets and questioning the sanctity of education.

There are around 3.5 million primary schools in Japan, while its population in 127 million. According to the Educational Planning and Management Report, Government of Pakistan, there are only a total of 145,829 primary schools, out of these 125,573 (86%) are in the public sector, whereas, 20,256 (14%) are in the private sector. Pakistan’s population exceeds 200 million, adding 73 million people to that of Japan.

With an already low level of primary schools and with a mushroom growth of private and expensive education, it is difficult for Pakistan to achieve universal primary education and to get out of the poverty trap. The Japanese educational system opens our eyes and demands a revolutionary primary education policy.

[“Source-nation”]

Top 10 Benefits of Switching to a Cloud-Based Phone System

As small businesses change and grow, the ability to quickly scale up — or down — becomes a necessity. Adding new employees, for example, requires the company to adapt its phone system to accommodate the need for more lines.

That is harder to accomplish using traditional on-premise telephony systems due to higher setup and maintenance costs, the need for hardware on-site and reliance on IT support. A cloud-based phone system, on the other hand, would enable small businesses to manage communication services in a less costly, more streamlined and agile manner.

The following points, gleaned from an email exchange between Small Business Trends and Aaron Charlesworth, VP of product marketing at Vonage, outline the benefits that small businesses can accrue by switching from traditional PBX systems to cloud-based VoIP technology.

Benefits of a Cloud-Based Phone System

1. Fully-Integrated Communications System

A report from the research firm Gartner points out that integrating a company’s communications with its everyday applications for business processes and workflows helps increase efficiency.

Business tools that operate in the cloud are easy to deploy, enabling employees to stay connected whether they are in the office or on the go. In this way, the cloud provides a consistent business presence and helps to increase productivity with seamless access to CRM tools, email, instant messaging, voice and videoconferencing.

2. Control Over Modes of Communication

A cloud-operated system puts businesses in the driver’s seat, allowing them to pick and choose what features they need, with access to turn them on or off easily.

Also, cloud solutions give employees anytime, anywhere access via a smartphone, desk phone or softphone to all their calling features. Even better, they can have real-time access to their critical business software.

3. Top Line Business Features

A cloud-based phone system would give small businesses access to the types of network applications that one would typically find at larger corporations. These include features such as a Virtual Assistant, Auto Attendant, Never Miss a Call or Call Center solutions.

4. Mobility and Ease of Use

Today’s workplace is increasingly mobile, and small businesses especially need to be able to operate from multiple locations.

With a cloud-based system, small business employees have access to features that allow them to log in from anywhere so that they can be reached while on the go, giving customer-facing and revenue-producing employees greater control over their productivity.

5. Time Management and Efficiency

Web-based customer portals enable IT staff to manage their system more efficiently. With insight into the installation, service configuration, trouble tickets, training, billing and call analytics, this full access to a customer’s system and account allows them to spend fewer resources on project management and focus more on work that adds to the bottom line.

Also, cloud solutions can easily integrate with other cloud-based applications, providing mobile employees access to all the features and functionality they need to work just as efficiently as if they were in the office.

6. Flexibility to Scale Up (and Down)

As a business grows, so does the need to hire new employees, open new offices and onboard new customers. This requires a communications system that can scale up — or down — as the need arises.

With a cloud-based phone system, businesses can add as many extensions as they need to accommodate heightened call volume, or, if necessary, simply call in to deactivate these extra extensions. Unlike traditional systems, businesses only pay for the extensions they need for as long as they need them.

7. Business Continuity

Working with a phone system “in the cloud” allows businesses to remain connected to their customers no matter the environment. A cloud-based communications system is likely to be unaffected by outside factors such as severe weather or other issues that may keep employees from getting to the office.

With a cloud-based system, businesses can maintain a consistent presence — and access the tools needed — to keep things running smoothly.

8. Improved Customer Service

With the Virtual Receptionist (VR) or Auto Attendant feature, businesses can easily direct calls to various departments and even create greetings unique to a given department.

For example, a business could set up a holiday greeting in advance (via the administrative portal) and pre-set it to revert to the non-holiday greeting on a specified date. It could also add an on-hold message about special promotions or commonly asked questions.

9. New Service Features Added Easily

During busy seasons, some businesses will add premium calling features to increase call-taking efficiency and maximize staffing. Call Groups, for example, allow incoming calls to ring on multiple extensions.

Call Queues provide a “dynamic waiting room” for callers that let businesses customize the on-hold experience and better manage call volume. Both help to decrease voicemails, missed calls and busy signals, enabling service to as many callers as possible.

10. Cost Savings

Cost savings are another benefit of cloud-based phone system.  Moving telecommunications off of PBX platforms and to the cloud can be less expensive relative to monthly service rates versus that of a traditional system, helping to reduce costs and, ultimately, increase profitability.

Cloud Phone Photo via Shutterstock

[“source-smallbiztrends”]