The fact that achievements of Kerala state in education and health sectors are comparable with the developed countries is widely known. The recognition for the value and the role of education in social development came as early as in 1817 in the form of a royal declaration in the princely state of Travancore, which stated “universal education, paid for by the state, was an objective of state policy”. The role played by religious organizations and progressive movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries  supported by the rulers of that time to establish schools  set a new era in education sector of Keralaby the time India attained independence in 1947 unlike other parts of the country. Education bill of 1957 was another milestone in the history to universalize education in Kerala at the school level. Schools owned by private management were given incentives in the form of Aid and Recognition which eventually lead to the proliferation of schools in the Aided Sector by 70’s and 80’s. Gender discrimination in school education was unheard of in this part of the world by 80’s and the respect and professionalism in the sector (guaranteed by 1957 Education Act) attracted the toppers in the university education to the teaching job. With the onset of liberalization, job opportunities mushroomed in other sectors (even though it was not in Kerala as such). There were two immediate impacts on education sector due to this development; first,talented and able graduates started looking for other professions than teaching unlike in 80’s. and second,quality of school education deteriorated and resulted in subsequent deterioration of the quality of the higher education in the increased number of professional colleges which depended on the feed from the schools.

With the job market revolving around sprucing up of overall talent and soft skills, realignment of thought process among the parents did take place during this time. They started believing that English medium education will do tricks for their wards in their careers later on. Many started questioning the quality of the education in many Government and Aided schools which led to the revision of syllabus and introduction of new tools and techniques in pedagogy. With the lack of transparency and inability of the policy makers to communicate effectively with the affected parties (parents and kids), parents started opting for CBSE schools in turn. Increased demand for private education (this was natural since private became buzz word of 90’s) and liberal stand taken by the State Government of that times, augmented thesetting up of more and more privately managed recognized (by CBSE) schools in Kerala. Along with this, the change in the demographic level (with the low fertility rates)increased the competition among the schools in Kerala, (as the number of children started declining).

In the past ten years, private school managements and school teachers had to push their maneuverings in the art of sales by offering freebies such as free bus services to attract the kids to their schools. Naturally, this would have raised the competition among the schools and raised the quality of the standards of education in Kerala. But the evaluation of the sector poses many doubts about how this market principle has been practiced in Kerala and raises many questions that remain unanswered.

. The evolved practice of the Ministry of Education becoming the regulator and sole authority for issuing licenses in the education sector(remember, party in the power holds the key which does not have any independent outlook), it has become a political tool for any party in the power to boast their prowess by declaring the SSLC results by the Education Minister himself. One is forced to wonder,why is the Minister required to declare results while the examination is conducted by Board of Secondary Education, which retains independency and accountability. The trend has become obviously churlish in the last couple of years with every Government started influencing the valuation settings by making it more and more liberal. This has led to quantum jumps in examination results of Kerala in the last decade. This year, the pass per centage  is 95.47 per cent which is the highest in the history. It means ‘it is difficult to fail in SSLC exams in Kerala’. Going by the political overtures, it is very difficult for any Government (as long as Education Minister declares the results, at least) to give attention to the merit and quality while evaluating the answer papers. Some may argue that the quality of the education has improved over the years and this is being reflected in the SSLC results. But one can evaluate these students performance in the higher education level and their standing in the job market years later. As of now, it is not so rosy as we expect based on the higher results in SSLC. Per centage of pass in higher education has not raised or reflected quid pro quo to SSLC. Since the limited number of seats in Higher education would have brought the cream out of the best in this scenario but it never happened. Interaction with the college teachers and management points to the situation that many students are not able to communicate effectively even after graduation level. Companies have opted out of Kerala market for recruitment by stating that majority of them is not suitable for their work place for lack of understanding of concepts and soft skills. Many of the professional education institutions are stressed out as a result of poor quality feed which in a sense contradicts the quality based at the SSLC level.

The decision of the state government to give weightage to the marks scored in the higher secondary examination in the entrance examinations for professional courses has changed the preferences of the parents again.With the increase in pass per centage and the higher marks given to those students passing the SSLC examination, most of the parents are bringing their kids back to Kerala syllabus.

In a way, this saves many Government and Aided schools from being closed down otherwise. This would havealso helped the uneconomic schools and protected teachers over all. Pressure is also on CBSE schools to be more liberal in their evaluation process. Government has also taken a position not to issue NoC to any more private schools.

The debate in this article is not whetherthe quality is better in CBSE or State schools but the choices and options given to the parents and kids. If there is a demand in the market, it reflects the state of affairs in the sector. If the investment is of the private parties, they would have done due diligence in this effect. It should not be the sole decision of the Government of the day to finalize the matters in the education sector in their favor. It distorts a competitive market which in effect would have improved the quality of the education in Kerala. The participatory nature of the institutions in Kerala has the in-built mechanisms to correct and set the level playing field if the system had flawed in the due course.

What we require is ranking system for schools in a more efficient and transparent manner similar towhat Pratham does with AISER every year.With the high density of schools in Kerala, the market offers opportunities for the survey for ranking of schools. Though it may sound very difficult in the school education field unlike the ones among in higher education, surveys are very much possible in Kerala. Not only the pass per centages and enrollment, but the indicators like location, infrastructure includingthe condition of the school building, toilets, drinking water facility, play grounds, qualification of the teachers, pupil-teacher ratio etc could be incorporated in the survey for ranking of schools. In addition, number of students enrolled for higher education and their pass per centge etc could be tracked in the longer period. This information available in the open domain could be a more balanced approach to improve the quality of the school education and not by mere pass per centage.

Dr D Dhanuraj

Chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research

Article published in Pallikkutam May 2014 edition

Dr D Dhanuraj
Dr D Dhanuraj
Dr D Dhanuraj is the Chairman and Managing Trustee of CPPR. He holds a PhD in Science & Humanities from Anna University. He works in the areas of urbanisation, education, health, livelihood and law. He can be contacted by email at dhanu@cppr.in or on Twitter @dhanuraj