Bhanu, a class 7 student, at the Matadahalli government school in north Bangalore is very excited to speak in English. "It was difficult to say one full sentence in English before but after the spoken English classes, I am able to talk very easily. I am thinking of becoming a teacher now," she says. Bhanu is one of the 30 students benefitting from the after school programme conducted by Dream School Foundation, an NGO, as part of the School adoption programme. This school is one of the 900 schools adopted in the state of Karnataka.

After school programme in the Government Primary School, Matadahalli. (Pic: Padmalatha Ravi)

Students at the after-school programme in the Government Primary School, Matadahalli. Pic: Padmalatha Ravi.

There are 2547 schools (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan records of 2006-07) in Bangalore. Of these, 1375 are government run schools. It is here that the 90 per cent of the region's students go. Karnataka state's Department of Public Instruction (DPI) records show that "over 90 per cent of the budget for school education in Karnataka is spent on salaries of government primary and secondary school teachers and as grant-in-aid to aided institutions" which leaves just about 10 per cent for the development of infrastructure in schools.

In effect this leaves no funds for improving the quality of education, resulting in dropouts and unqualified personnel who are unemployable at a later stage.

Schools can be adopted

To overcome this problem the state government had initiated a School Adoption Programme in 2001-02. The programme invites individual donors, NGOs and the corporate sector to get involved in school development process. Under this programme the donors can select any school and prepare a ‘programme of action' for a specific period for the all round development of the school or select specific areas of intervention aimed at improving the educational system of the school. They can then enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the department for the implementation of the action plan.

The DPI has a suggested a list of activities a donor can take up under the adoption programme. This list includes infrastructure development, training the teachers in better teaching methods, conducting educational tours for students etc. However the donors can decide the activities they would take up in a particular school. Many NGOs and Corporate foundations have taken to this programme. Azim Premji Foundation, Infosys foundation, Akshara Foundation, Sikshana and Dream School Foundation are some of the organisations that have adopted schools in Bangalore and across Karnataka.

Two examples

Sikshana, is based in Uttarahalli Road in the city, and has adopted over 120 schools in both Bangalore and Kanakpura taluks. The organisation's aim is to develop a sustainable and replicable model for public education system at the primary level. Sikshana is funded by individuals and Companies based in Bangalore and USA. 60% of the funding comes from USA.

Sikshana's programmes include providing teaching aid, books for the library, providing paper for practicing writing, conduct examinations, spot prizes and scholarships for students going to high school. Among these the spot prizes and papers for practicing writing have had huge impacts. The paper is provided from class five onwards.

The reason behind this was the revelation that the students didn't do well in languages because they didn't practice it enough due to lack of paper. After the provision of papers, there is a marked difference in as little as 3 months say the teachers. In Turahalli government primary school in south Bangalore, the students from the lower classes say they too want paper. "We too want to improve our writing," they say in chorus.

The spot prizes on the other hand, are gifts worth Rs.15/- that the teachers give the students for things like, cleanliness, good score in a surprise dictation test etc. In the Kalhalli government primary school in Kanakpura taluk, Kumar a class 7 student says "I am very unhappy to be the only one in the class to not get the spot prize. So I've been working very hard and I will get one soon." Annama Devi, a teacher at the same school says "these are not expensive things, but children love the recognition they get and work harder. And when one falls behind the others encourage her to get this prize."

Teachers preparing spot prizes at Kalhalli Goverment Primary School, Kanakapura. (Pic: Padmalatha Ravi)

Teachers preparing to give away spot prizes at Kalhalli Goverment Primary School, Kanakapura. Pic: Padmalatha Ravi.

E S Ramamurthy, the founder member of Sikshana says, "These are the little things we can do to improve the system. We do not want to introduce anything new here, just help them do better in the existing conditions."

Dream School Foundation (DSF) in Yeshwanthpur is another NGO that has adopted 8 schools and working with over 15 schools in north Bangalore to improve the quality of education. DSF runs after-school programmes where they train the students in spoken English and life skills. DSF's intervention is based on baseline assessment of schools and the needs from the schools.

Like with Sikshana, Sabu Joseph, Director-Strategy and Partnerships, DSF too says that school infrastructure is not a priority. "There are a lot of organisations that are ready to donate money for infrastructure development and very few who have the expertise to make a difference in the quality of education. That is where we step in," he says.

DSF's programmes are run by teachers appointed by the organisation and not by the school teachers. Maitreyee Kumar, Executive Director, DSF says "we do not want to add burden to the teachers; we are taking care of these things so that they can do their job well without any hassles."

The Government Primary School, Matadahalli in north Bangalore is one of the schools where DSF runs its programmes. Saleema Khanum a teacher at the school says, "The spoken English classes conducted have had a huge impact. Those who attend those classes are doing better in the regular curriculum. We are unable to give individual attention, in a class full of students and so some children get left behind. Such programmes help them catch up." Around 30 students attend the English classes in this particular school.

According to the DPI's website, the School Adoption programme has raised more than Rs.200 crores so far. Over half of this was raised in Dakshina Kannada district followed by Belgaum, Bangalore, Shimoga, Gadag and Udupi districts.

Too much emphasis on ‘infrastructure', too little on quality

Sikshana's Ramamurthy feels there is too much importance given to the infrastructure development where as it is the quality of education that needs to be worked on. Large chunks of money are being spent on infrastructure development and very little on improving the quality of education. Ramamurthy has been working with government schools for the last five years and he feels that lack of accountability and motivation among the teachers and students is the reason behind this and Sikshana is working to change this.

"We don't go to a school and dictate this is what you need to do. Instead we ask the teachers what they need. They identify the problems and even come up with the solutions. We just provide them the resources to do that. This creates accountability from their side," says Ramamurthy.

Sikshana programmes are run a budget of thirty thousand rupees per school for a year, going by numbers of the past few years. This is used towards improving the quality of education in the schools they adopt. "But it is hard to raise this money, since there are no tangible results to show like in the case of infrastructure where a classroom is built or the students get new uniforms. People do not understand that these are just fringe benefits and do not mean quality education," says Ramamurthy.

Joseph of DSF agrees. He adds that there are other problems with the programme as well. For example any one can adopt the schools and hardly any checks are there from the government side to ensure the credibility of the individual or the organization that is adopting. He says "Even the MoU we sign has no binding on the donors, there are no checks on the progress, no one is held responsible for non-execution of commitments."

Despite these drawbacks the programme is a success. Many companies in Bangalore are participating in this programme through NGOs. The companies are reluctant to be named, preferring to remain anonymous. The DPI plans to extend the programme to more schools by encouraging more corporates to participate.

Citizens (who are employees of local corporates) spend their weekends teaching children subjects like mathematics and science to computers. 24-year-old, Raghunand Iyengar, is a Bangalore based IT professional volunteering with Sikshana. He says "most of these schools have basic infrastructure. They just need some extra help. Providing education is no doubt government's responsibility, but a little extra help never hurts. And we cannot sit back and blame the government for poor quality when we are not even ready to spend a couple of hours for the cause."

Saleema Khanum's words sums up the essence of the School Adoption Programme. "Everyone says government schools are bad. Instead of blaming each other, if people in the society - parents, corporates and NGOs work together we'll get there faster and our children are the ones who'll benefit from it."