Common School System to develop National System of Education
Understanding of the Common School System is based on the Report of the Education Commission (Kothari Commission) 1964-66. According to CSSC “A Common School System (CSS) means a system of education providing education of an equitable quality to all children irrespective of caste, creed, community, language, gender, economic condition, social status and physical and mental ability.” The application of common minimum norms of quality education by all schools in the system is the key concept for commonness of the CSS (Report of the CSSC, 2007 chapter3, p. 29). The CSSC report says that the most fundamental among the minimum norms is the principle of equality and social justice enshrined in the Indian Constitution, which the CSS in India must respect and promote (ibid, p.29).
What is the common school system?
The National Policy on Education, 1986 says:
The Constitution embodies the principles on which the National System of Education is conceived of. The concept of a National System of Education implies that, up to a given level, all students, irrespective of caste, creed, location or sex, have access to education of a comparable quality… Effective measures will be taken in the direction of the Common School System recommended in the 1968 policy (MHRD. 1998, p. 5).
The 1968 policy had envisaged that the common school system would be open to all children irrespective of social, economic and other differences; adequate standards would be maintained and average parents would not ordinarily feel the need of sending their children to expensive schools outside the system. Similar systems have developed in other democracies such as the neighbourhood school system in the USA and the comprehensive schools in the UK.
Like Kothari Commission the concept of neighbourhood schools is central to the Common School System. The Kothari Commission Report recommended that each school within the Common School System should be attended by all the children in the neighbourhood. The CSSC says that neighbourhood has to be specified and delineated by a prescribed authority. CSSC has quoted following lines from the Kothari Commission Report while making a discussion on the rationale of the CSS in chapter 3 of its report:
“In its first place, a neighbourhood school will provide good education to children because sharing life with common people is an essential ingredient of good education. Secondly, the establishment of such schools will compel rich, privileged and powerful classes to take interest in the system of public education and thereby bring about its early improvement” (para 10.18))
The 1968 policy is one of the forgotten policies of the Indian education system. No measures were announced either in the Programme of Action (POA), 1986 or the modified POA, 1992 to implement the policy on the common school system. The CABE committee had called for neighbourhood schools, qualitative
improvement of education in public sector and identification of the target areas. While reviewing the implementation of the 1986 policy the Ramamurti Committee (1990) considered the development of Common School System to be a very vital component of the overall strategy for securing equity and social justice in education.’ The Committee had made three very significant recommendations, which could address the issue of equity in the Indian education system.
1. It called for the ‘essential minimum legislation, particularly to dispense with early selection process, tuition fee, capitation fee etc’
2. It suggested, ‘Exploring ways of including the expensive private schools into the common school system through a combination of incentives, disincentives and legislation.’
3. It called for ensuring that instruction for all is given through the medium of mother tongue at the pre-primary and primary levels.
These recommendations did not find any place when the 1986 National Policy was modified in 1992.
The PROBE (1999) has reported the forms of social discrimination operating in the Indian school system. A system of multiple tracks’ has come up providing different types of schooling opportunities to different sections of population. Poor and the disadvantaged section going to government schools and the well off students go to the private schools; some go to formal schools, but those for whom the formal system is not ‘suitable’ are going to the ‘informal’ or non-formal educational centres. There is a hierarchy of schools catering to different groups. Such school groups are:
· Growing number of elite schools offering international certification
· Private fee charging schools for upper middle and rich classes
· Schools for the children of central govt., public undertakings and the defence staff (heavily subsidized) (Eg. Kendriya Vidyalayas, Army schools)
· Schools for ‘talented’ rural children (Navodaya Vidyalayas)
· Low fee private schools in rural areas
· Govt. and municipal schools for lower middle classes
· NFE, EGS, SSA, alternative schools for the poor and disadvantaged
· Schools for child labour (non-formal type)
· Schools for the scheduled tribe (residential but sub-standard)
· Special schools for children with disabilities outside the mainstream education system
Most of these systems have developed in the name of social justice, equal opportunities and deficiency in resources. Are they detrimental to the principles of equal opportunity in matters of basic education? Has the Fundamental Right now guaranteed under the Constitution changed situations and could a poor child demand a school similar to the one available for the well-to-do child?
The Education Commission (1964-66) had recommended a Common School System of Public Education (CSS) as the basis of building up the National System of Education with a view to “bring the different social classes and groups together and thus promote the emergence of an egalitarian and integrated society.” The Commission warned that “instead of doing so, education itself is tending to increase social segregation and to perpetuate and widen class distinctions.” It further noted that “this is bad not only for the children of the poor but also for the children of the rich and the privileged groups” since “by segregating their children, such privileged parents prevent them from sharing the life and experiences of the children of the poor and coming into contact with the realities of life. . . . . . also render the education of their own children anaemic and incomplete.” The Commission contended that “if these evils are to be eliminated and the education system is to become a powerful instrument of national development in general, and social and national integration in particular, we must move towards the goal of a common school system of public education” (Education Commission, 1966)
Misconceptions of Common School System (Private School Issue)
There are three widespread misconceptions about CSS, often promoted by its detractors, which we must deal with before going ahead.
First, CSS is misperceived as a uniform school system. On the contrary, the Education Commission itself advocated that each institution should be “intimately involved with the local community . . . . . . be regarded as an individuality and given academic freedom.” This guiding principle has assumed even greater significance in recent times in view of the expectation from each school or a cluster of schools to be able to respond to the local contexts and reflect the rich multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic diversity across the country. The rigidity of the present school system, imposed by the Board Examinations (from CBSE/ICSE to State Boards), will be adequately challenged when flexibility, contextuality and plurality are accepted, among others, as the defining principles of CSS.
Second, it is wrongly claimed that CSS will not permit a privately managed school to retain its non-government and unaided (or aided) character. Again, on the contrary, CSS implies that all schools – irrespective of the type of their management, sources of income or affiliating Boards of examinations – will participate and fulfill their responsibility as part of the National System of Education. In no case, however, a school will be allowed to use education for profit making, increasing disparity or spreading disharmony. The only expectation from the private schools shall be to function in consonance with the Constitutional, in general, and provide free elementary education of equitable quality to the 6-14 year age group, as required under Article 21A.
Third, the private school lobby has worked overtime claiming that CSS would mean complete government control over schools. There is no reason whatsoever to assume that government grants necessarily lead to government control – the two needs to be viewed independently of each other. In developed countries like USA and Canada, the school system is entirely funded by the state governments but it is entirely managed locally in a decentralized mode. In light of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, decentralized management of schools with full accountability is now a statutory expectation. This, however, does not absolve the government from fulfilling its obligations towards financing, monitoring and making policies.
We must also note that 86th Constitutional Amendment (2002) enjoins upon the State to provide free and compulsory education at the elementary stage (class I-VIII) to all children as a Fundamental Right. This amendment in Part III of the Constitution has major implications for the national system of education that cannot continue to function as it has since independence. All schools in the country, including privately managed unaided (or aided) schools, are required to act as agencies of the State to fulfill the obligation flowing out of Article 21A regarding equality and social justice. We must note that the private unaided or aided schools have come up as a consequence of the failure of the State to provide quality education and, in this sense, they are fulfilling the function of the State. This is precisely why the private schools receive various kinds of support or subsidies (hidden or otherwise). This means that they have to act as genuine neighbourhood schools to provide free elementary education to all children residing in the neighbourhood as may be prescribed by the government from time to time. The central and state governments are hence required to take concrete time-bound measures, including policy modification, in order to meet the new Constitutional obligation.
Based upon the evolving public discourse since the Education Commission’s recommendation in 1966, the following principles have come to define the framework within which CSS is to be conceived:
- The system of school education is to be rooted in the vision of the Constitution. This implies that, while being consonant with the Preamble, it must also ensure that (a) the Fundamental Rights, especially those relating to equality and social justice, as enshrined in Part III are not violated and (b) the Directive Principles as ordained in Part IV are promoted.
- Education of equitable quality is a Constitutional imperative.
- Education is not used for profiteering, spreading disharmony or practicing subjugation.
- Schools that promote inequality, discrimination and injustice in society are not to be allowed to function.
The following may, therefore, be listed as essential features of a CSS that is to be developed as the National System of Education pertaining to school education:
- coverage from pre-elementary to Plus Two stage;
- all schools, including private unaided schools, to provide absolutely free education from pre-primary to class VIII as per Article 21A and the amended Article 45 (read with Article 21) of the Constitution; for secondary and senior education, a rational fee structure to be ensured by the state/UT governments and/or local bodies in all category of schools;
- all schools, including private unaided schools, to become neighbourhood schools; neighbourhood to be specified for each school with a view to optimize socio-cultural diversity among children in each school; necessary legislation to cover all government, local body and private schools to be enacted;
- screening, interviews or parental interaction not allowed as a valid basis for admissions;
- common minimum norms and standards for infrastructure, equipment and teacher-related aspects for both state-funded and private unaided schools (recognized and unrecognized); these may relate to school land and buildings, number, size and design of classrooms, drinking water and toilets, mid-day meals, safety measures, barrier-free access and other requirements of various categories of disabilities, facilities for girls at the age of puberty, playground and sports, performing and fine arts facilities, teaching aids, library, laboratory, information technology, number of teachers and their qualifications/specializations along with pre-service and in-service training, pupil: teacher ratio and others such requirements;
- common curriculum framework, shared features of curriculum and comparable syllabi with flexibility relating to texts, teaching aids, teaching-learning process, evaluation parameters, assessment procedures and school calendar;
- common language policy that takes into account the multi-lingual context of the majority of Indian children, pedagogic role of the mother tongue and its relationship with the state language, minority languages (Article 350A) and the increasing significance of English in providing equitable access to knowledge, careers and economic opportunities;
- decentralized school-based management that ensures the necessary degree of institutional autonomy while locating it within the broad framework of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments relating to rural and urban areas respectively; this requires the formation of school management committees, with the majority of members being parents of students and appropriate linkages with local bodies; and
- affiliation to a common Board of Examinations for all schools within a state/UT.
Common School System Commission. (2007). Report of the Common School System Commission (CSSC) Government of Bihar.
Education Commission. (1966). Education and National Development: Report of the Education Commission 1964-66, Ministry of Education, Government of India.
Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) (1990) Toward an Enlightened and Humane Society: NPE, 1986 A Review New Delhi: MHRD
_________ (1998) National Policy on Education (As modified in 1992) with National Policy on Education, 1968. New Delhi: Government of India.
PROBE (1999) Public Report on Basic Education in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press