Systems tend to lead double lives – at a conceptual level they might be brilliant, with wonderfully competent and committed people leading them. Yet at the ground level, what is in operation may be entirely different. Thus despite terrific policy and capability at policy/decision-making levels in the health sector, what common people might be heard saying is: “It is better to pay through your nose at a private clinic, than to die for free at the government hospital.”
For the people, the ‘system’ comprises of those representatives they meet at the district, block, cluster and village level, and occasionally those at the state levels. To understand the situation, try asking a group of educational administrators about the finer aspects of TA-DA rules and how they apply them, and you will find they can animatedly discuss them for about two hours. But raise the issue of why children are not learning (which is actually their real responsibility) and you will get a different response… (It’s true, isn’t it?)
This is what tends to happen to any system (or even organization) over time – ultimately it’s own nuances, requirements, procedures, structures and powers (or power) become its main concerns, with the reason for its very existence slowly dimming in the memory of its functionaries. Thus:
- teachers/CRC-BRC must spend more time collecting data even at the cost of teaching or improving learning, or
- every school must follow the given framework for its School Development Plan (because the need to compile the plans at the block level is more important than the need for it to be appropriate for that school), or
- every HT must maintain records for the officials \’above\’ even if it means she will not have time to support her teachers in improving the classroom process.
It is as if children, teachers, HTs, SMCs all exist to feed the machinery ‘above’ which has to ‘control’ them, and ‘give’ them resources (from mid-day meals to teachers to textbooks to in-service training, from which often a ‘cut’ may be taken), ‘allow’ them to take decisions such as which would be the most convenient time for most children to attend school, ‘monitor’ the work of teachers, ‘test’ the learning of students, and ‘grant’ the privilege of education.
What the RTE implies is that it is those who get their salaries because of children who are the real ‘beneficiaries’ – which includes all the administrators, supervisors, inspectors, monitors, institutions, departments, ministries. It is they who are accountable to children and teachers, or would be if they really existed for education.
As mentioned, give them enough time and systems end up existing more to perpetuate themselves – and the status quo within – rather than the purpose for which they are created. Try making a change in the way things are organised within a system and you might find it responds with a kind of ferocious energy it fails to display when similar urgency is required in its primary objective. For instance, if it were declared that an educationist rather than an IAS officer will head the Department of Education, you will get a lot more activity in the system (to prevent that) than if you declared (as is well known) that most children are failing to attain grade level learning across the country.
Finally, systems exist to preserve the hold of the powerful. Issues that affect the middle classes or those more privileged get inordinate attention in the system. Thus nursery school admissions in private schools in Delhi are a big issue, or the allocation for poor children in elite private schools is endlessly discussed, or the class 10 board exam being needed (by children from better off families)… but the death of a 100+ children in a mid-day-meal from a poor section of society, or the low levels of service in deprived areas or chronically low learning levels despite much money being invested – fail to receive that kind of attention.
For those seeking to make a dent in the system, it would be healthier to have a more \’aware\’ notion of what the education system really exists for. The puny strategies we use to make things better are unlikely to serve as even pinpricks to the system.