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Inclusive education


Sreelatha Menon  |  New Delhi 

Ever met a group of teachers knocking at your door, asking whether your children would like to enrol in their school? It happens in Kerala. These are teachers desperate to prevent schools from closure, for that would mean retrenchment.
The teachers offer money (one school in Irinjalakuda town offered Rs 3,000 per student this summer), uniforms, books and many other freebies for children who would agree to join their school.
This has been a trend with both government and government-aided Malayalam medium schools in the state. The reason being the tendency of children to opt out for English medium private schools.
So, while many are looking at the other extreme of encouraging private schools, there is an attempt in Bihar, or at least a promise of an attempt, to have an system in the form of a Common School System (CSS).
The CSS was proposed by the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE) in its report on secondary education to the UPA government when it sought bringing all government schools on a par with Central Schools. The government ignored this just as previous governments had ignored a similar proposal in a CABE report in 1960s.
Now, one of the CABE members, Anil Sadagopal, former bureaucrat Muchkund Dubey and Bihar Education Secretary Madan Jha have found an audience in the Bihar government to their call for a CSS.
In fact, such systems already exist in developed countries, including the US. It is all about having the same schools for all children, rather than having separate schools for the affluent and the poor. When CSS was introduced in Holland in 1983, the government there said that it would broaden the circle of citizens.
But will the Bihar dream take off? Muchkund Dubey, the chairman of Bihar's CSS Commission, is confident it will. The main objective is to provide free and compulsory education to all children till the age of 14 by 2013. The next aim is to universalise secondary education in eight years and then to facilitate transfer of students to Class XI and XII.
The CSS will totally rule out private schools at the primary level. In Bihar, which has only 4 per cent enrolment in private schools at that level, that is not seen as a problem. Dubey says the existing private schools would continue, but common norms would apply to all.
Currently, the schools in the state cater to 1.5 crore children, while another 1.5 crore are out of school. The CSS report seeks additional 26,000 schools and 11 lakh new teachers in the coming eight years to meet the goals. The additional annual cost comes to Rs 10,000 crore, apart from the present expense of Rs 6,555 crore.
The commission wants the Centre to share half the cost of the programmes as the matter is in Concurrent List, says Dubey. There is no provision for letting NGOs or corporates run these schools, though the draft Bill on CSS allows the government to seek aid from the members of the community towards capital costs of building a government school.
It could mean a renaissance for a state dumped as a dud in terms of all development indicators, far from its position as the ruler of nations in its incarnation as Magadha.
Will the land of Nalanda, Takshashila and the great Champaran movement show the way while schools and colleges elsewhere seem to have become battlegrounds for castes, sects and classes?

First Published: Sun, June 24 2007. 00:00 IST