Allotment of new batches to the high schools to upgrade them to higher secondary schools is the latest controversy surrounding the education sector in Kerala. Since its beginning since early 90s, higher secondary sector courted controversy in regular intervals. Prelude to the higher secondary, even pre-degree had also its share of polemics in the 80s. So what is wrong with the sector and why this high decibel every time!
Kerala is known for its efforts in universalizing school education. From the beginning of 19th century, education has taken the centre stage of the social revolution and all the communities tried their best to educate their wards by setting up schools and spreading the message of importance of education. Post independent times, the efforts were more streamlined with the support of the state government. The education bill of 1957 gave legal sanctity to the aided sector. This along with the political representation of the communities in the government eulogized this sector and the demand for the school education gave way to competition among the schools by late 90s. Opening up of many unaided private schools created spurt in the market place of school education in Kerala.
It was during this time in early 90s, Government took the decision to set up Higher Secondary courses to replace Pre-Degree (delink it from colleges) courses. While the early phase of school education (upto high school level) was demand driven which was facilitated by the Government rules, the allocation of the Higher Secondary schools was more or less based on the replacement criteria. While the universities were responsible for Pre-Degree that time, the pre degree seats were split among three main universities. These structures were replaced at the state level by a single board coming under Education Ministry of Government of Kerala. So the allotment has been based on the number game.
There were predominantly four groups under Pre- degree system catering different combinations of the subjects. In the early years of Plus Two, these were replaced by Science, Humanities and Commerce. Later, different combinations were introduced. Higher Secondary batches were allotted in the High Schools of the yesteryears. Moreover, the ‘Aided’ system in Kerala become a tool for political bargain for the different managements as it inaugurated fresh round of teacher’s appointment which yield good returns for them.
The traditional management groups in Kerala were more active and omnipresent in the school level education. The conservative administrative system and political class were averse to opening up of Arts & Science college sector. This limited the scope and scaling up of the education sector. The best practices in the school level were not graduated to the higher education level. The growth was stymied by the regulatory systems and over protection by the government. It was a very late decision to frame a policy for setting up self- financing colleges in professional courses.By that time the damage had already been occurred.
There is no doubt that the private managements contributed significantly to the school education system in Kerala. They are very powerful in Kerala for many a reasons but prominent for their educational initiatives. Talented youngsters in Kerala chose teaching as career with the spurt and legalization of the sector. With the lesser number of job opportunities and shrinking space for industries, school level education became the avenue for the job aspirants by 80s leading to the distorted demand and supply equation. This has increased the bargaining power of the managements as they become one of the chief custodians of the jobs in Kerala. While the demographic dividend of Kerala was confined to the high enrolment rate, thanks to the proliferation of schools, the state failed in building an eco-system that would carry the benefits of the school education to the higher level.
With this distorted mechanisms that we practiced over the years, it is difficult to decide on the options and choices for the number of seats to be allotted at higher secondary level. On one hand, there is an increasing tendency from the state to ensure 100 % pass at SSLC level leaving the merit in doldrums. On the other hand, there is profligacy of engineering colleges. The conventional arts & science colleges are still running the old fashioned courses or low quality content which refrain the students to join them for the fear of career options.
Added to the woes are the low fertility rates and passing of the demographic dividend from the state. There is the issue of excess teachers also at the school level. The Open School System is not so popular for the social and cultural values predominant in the system. There is also an argument in favour of allotting more number of seats in Northern Kerala since Southern Kerala is already having excess number of seats. At the same time, vacancy of seats is reported in higher secondary schools like many other self-financing engineering colleges.
There is no single solution to this vexed issue. It demands for the overhauling and innovations at every level. At the school level, innovations and new models are possible since the state has almost assured school education to every kid in the state. The presence of private unaided sector could be a balancing force at the school level to ensure quality and competition. At the higher secondary level, the state could attract the private players to set up skill development courses and certificate programs. It is upto the parents and children to decide on the career they want to choose. At the higher education level, the policy shall be to open up the sector for more autonomous colleges and private initiatives if the Government has less resource to set up new colleges. Let the autonomous colleges and the private universities decide on the content of their teaching. The role and responsibility of the government is to ensure that all students have enough options to choose from and not dilly dallying with unnecessary regulations
* Author is Chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research
** This article is a reproduction of views which appeared in Pallikkuttam, an online monthly magazine published by Rajagiri Group