Compulsory passing system - a hurdle to higher education

Government initiatives of providing primary education have proved beneficial to students, but the grading and passing system affects their higher secondary education. The National Family Health Survey – 3 indicated that 22 per cent girls and 10 percent boys, aged 6 and above, in slums have no education, compared with 14 percent of girls and 4 per cent of boys in non-slums. With Tamil Nadu boasting of over 99.2 percent children in schools, and with government policies that have enhanced the functioning of corporation schools; child literacy levels have seen a marked improvement over the years.  The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan targeted the problem of access to education and has been addressed successfully. As stated by Dr Balaji Sampath, Secretary and CEO of Aid India, Chennai: “The problem in Tamil Nadu is quality, and not access of education, with the student-teacher ratio being the main issue. The average student-teacher ratio in Tamil Nadu is 1:40 which is very low.” Although conditions have improved, there are concerns that need to be addressed.

The Corporation Primary School at Giriappa Road, T.Nagar accommodates 85 students from classes one to five, and has a teacher student ratio of 1:20, with one teacher for a particular class. Majority of the students studying in the school are from the nearby slum that extends from Giriappa Road to Thyagaraya Road. Dwellers of the adjoining slum although have a positive outlook towards educating their children, many still continue to send their children to work in the nearby residential areas. Pavitra dropped out of school in 2008 after failing in her tenth standard examination, and her mother refuses to send her back to school. “What is the point in sending her back to school? She finds it tough to cope with the studies, and we cannot afford the tuition fee. As my husband refuses to work, it is better that she works for a few years until we get her married. It adds to our family income,” says her mother Nagamma who is the sole earning member of her family of five.

The problem of coping with studies at the higher secondary level for many children like Pavitra stems from a deeper issue. As per a government policy, teachers in corporation schools have to compulsorily pass students from classes’ one to eight. K.Anandhi a teacher at the Corporation School at Giriappa Road says, “We have to compulsory pass all the students from class one to eight as per the government order. We are aware it creates problems for the children in their higher secondary education, but we do not have any other option.” Teachers claim to provide special training and tuitions for weak students, but in reality this is difficult. Nagavalli, who stays in the Giriappa area slum says, “I could study only until eighth standard as my father passed away, and I had to start earning for the family. Children in higher classes find it difficult to cope with the subjects. The government teachers used to take tuitions, but they haven’t been coming for the past few years. This is why many children drop out after class eight.”

Funding however has not been an issue with the school. The Principal, T.Rama, who teaches two subjects for the third and fourth standard says, “The government supplies us with floor mats, desks, and good drinking water. After completing fifth standard girls are admitted to the Guntur Subaya Girls School, and boys to the Ramakrishna mission school, ensuring that they do not discontinue schooling. The food supplied in the noon meal scheme is good, and the parents have no complaints.”

‘Alternative schooling’, is a service offered by the school. It functions as a separate training section for children who have dropped out of school for various reasons, and presently has around 15 students. “We provide them with uniform and school bags, and have a special instructor to train them for a year. After this, we admit them in eligible classes,” adds T.Rama. The school has adopted various teaching methods, and trains students in basic computer skills as well. B.Maheshwari has been a teacher for the past ten years at the corporation school. She says: “The activity based learning method introduced five years ago has proved to be much better than the rote learning method. Children take interest in learning how to use the computer, and are regular to school.”

Parents do not seem to complain as long as their children get primary level education. Vanaja, who works as a maid says, “The school seems to be functioning pretty well, and I am happy. All my three children go to school and with the implementation of the noon meal scheme, things have become easier for us.” Many say that when compared to areas such as Kannagi Nagar and Kodungarayur, this slum has the least of problems. “We send our children at least to primary school, and our housing conditions are good. Other areas face a lot of water problems, and lack drainage facilities as they are mostly garbage dump yards. We are much better off,” says Meena, a vegetable vendor.

Access to primary education seems to be the least of worries of this slum. Unless efforts are made to provide adequate higher secondary schools the purpose of creating plans for long term and sustainable education is defeated.