How good is the school system in Karnataka? How much better can it become? How can we get every child in school to learn well? Questions that need answers if the state is to take its rightful place in the country. And the counteractive actions taken now within schools and the education system can reverberate for generations to come. ICT as an important initiative in education, there is little option for all concerned but to join the information technology bandwagon given the manner in which it is reshaping the world. Where does the state stand with ICT in the school education system? At present, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan of the Government of India pledges to achieve the task of universalisation of primary education by 2010. In Karnataka, the target year accepted by the Department of Public Instruction is 2007. A state that has the objective to ensure that education becomes a means of genuine empowerment of the individual to achieve his/her full potential by 2007, Karnataka has a literacy rate of 67.04%. The literacy among men is 76.29% and among women it is 57.45%. The literacy rate of the state is 1.66% more than National Literacy Rate. Now where to move from here; and how to move? L.K.Atheeq, State Project Director, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Karnataka, adds more to these facts while in conversation exclusively with Manjushree Reddy of Digital Learning.
The vision of primary education is to provide quality education useful for life to all the children of the state in the age group of 6-14 with no social group or gender differences.
What are the new strategies the state has adopted to take Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan to a new high?
Do you see any remarkable change or progress in elementary education? Karnataka state has several initiatives of its own in addition of SSA. The education department and the SSA Mission are jointly working towards consolidation of the gains of our investment in education and improve quality. Community empowerment and involvement of School Development and Management Committees (SDMC) is the key to implementation of SSA. Towards quality of education Karnataka, for the first time in the entire country, SSA has conducted complete assessment of all standard 5 and 7 students and shared the results with each school. These results are being used for working towards improving learning levels.
What are the interventions you have made so far to integrate ICTs in the educational process, elementary education in particular?
We are working towards a policy for ICT in schools and are planning to implement ICT with a strategy to cover all clusters and strengthen the clusters as resource centre for IT. We are also in the process of evaluating the software that is available in order to adopt in our schools.
How conducive is the atmosphere for ICT education in the state? What is the IT Infrastructure and power scenario in the state?
Atmosphere is very conducive and there is a lot of demand. Under SSA we are not able to cover many schools. The state will have to think of quickly up-scaling the various experiments in ICT application that are currently going on in the state. Power in villages is an issue and we are working out various alternatives including UPS that can be charged with low voltage and perhaps solar.
Is motivating the teachers for their committed performance a challenge?
Motivating teachers is a challenge. Under the Karnataka State Quality Assessment Programme we are planning to recognise and reward teachers of schools where the results of external assessment are good.
While implementing the innovative education programmes do you think your state ever needs a state specific vision other than the guidelines provided by the centre?
Definitely. States like Karnataka have their own vision and we have started schemes of our own, which now the centre is thinking of introducing in SSA. Central Government prepares guidelines which should suit all states and justifiably such guidelines prioritise the basic minimum needs firsts. Education being state subject, state governments need to take lead and provide over and above what the centre does. Karnataka provides free textbooks and uniform to all primary school children. We run the largest network of educational hostels. We have recently introduced a scheme of giving schools to all poor girls who are enrolled in 8th class.
How do you go about partnering with corporate and NGOs?
Can you put a view on education activities being carried out through the delivery capabilities of partnership programmes? How do you monitor your programmes and partners? Partnership with all stakeholders is essential for education. This gains particular significance in the field of ICT in and for education. Education department in Karnataka is working with various NGOs in different fields of education. There is an opportunity in this field and Government should use the expertise of these organisations. Pilots and experiments done with the help of NGOs should go in to policy making and should help the Government quickly upscale the good practices to all the schools.
How are you working on influencing policies at the state and central government level?
SSA carries out research and studies. As I have already pointed out, we also undertake innovative programmes with the partnership of NGOs and other organisations. For example, we learnt from the Learning Guarantee Programme of Azim Premji Foundation and incorporated the lessons in policy making. This and other inputs resulted in Karnataka Government setting up the Quality Assessment Organisation. Our practice and lessons from various efforts of SSA and NGOs goes into policy making and we give feed back to Government of India too.
What reason do you see for the focus on ICT education? What kind of competencies do you try to bring in through ICT?
Parents think that without computer education their children do not have good future. This impression has led to a demand for ICT education. In order to improve the quality of teaching, particularly of difficult concepts we think ICT in education is important. We try to introduce basic elements of ICT to students of upper primary schools. Under computer assisted learning all children are made to use educational software to learn curricular concepts.
What are the major hurdles faced while attempting to give SSA a new dimension and what are the challenges ahead?
There are several challenges. Education department is not used to working in project mode and the management capacities at the district, block and village levels are poor. SSA is often seen as a separate project and the mainstream education department sometimes likes to stay away. There is therefore the challenge of integrating SSA into the mainstream of educational management.