Challenging The Elite Schools

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 Lesser-known private schools are giving competition to elite schools, not only challenging their supremacy, but also putting a question mark on their screening measures and huge fees. Aliya Bashir reports.

Off late, A-grade schools, also referred to as elite schools, are facing competition from the so-called B-grade schools, which are nowadays taking away many top positions, despite constraints of infrastructure and resources.or the last many decades, a few Christian missionary schools dominated the education scene in Kashmir by securing most of the positions and distinctions in Board examinations. The society had evolved its own ranking to the schools – A grade to the missionary schools, B grade to private non- missionary, C grade to government schools. The A-grade schools enjoyed government favours, took students of their choice, and demand huge tuition fees from students.

A look at the recent secondary and higher secondary results reveals that a good chunk of positions and distinctions have been secured by the B grade schools, many of them lesser-known.

In the secondary schools’ results announced on December 20, at least 35 students from 20 lesser-known private schools figured in the top 20 positions with each securing more than 95 per cent. The twenty positions were shared by 157 students.

Similarly, in Higher Secondary, examinations, where the overall pass percentage in private schools stood at 90 per cent (as against 52 per cent of government schools) many private schools even from smaller towns have made their presence felt.

One can find names like New convent Higher Secondary School Gogjibagh, Srinagar, Iqbal Memorial Institute Brakpora, Islamabad, New Green Land School Shopian, Muslim Educational Institute Higher Secondary School Pampore, Eve’s Garden, Linton Hall, Holy Mission, Oxford Presentation and, Hanfia Model School.

Asma Bashir of New Green Land School Shopian secured 8th position in Science stream. The Shopain alleged rape and murder victim Asiya studied in the same school.

Although the overall performance of government schools has been unsatisfactory, still they have bagged most of the top positions in Commerce, Home Science and Arts streams. Mehak Ameen of Government Girls Higher Secondary School Kothi Bagh topped the Home Science with 86.10 per cent marks while nine other top positions were also bagged by government-run schools. Binish Qadri of the same school topped in the Arts stream with 90.5 per cent. Nine other positions in the Arts stream and six out of the ten in Commerce were bagged by government-run higher secondary schools. Most of the private B grade schools teach only up to the secondary level, after which the pass-outs take admissions in the government-run higher secondary schools.

“We can’t ignore the contribution of A-grade schools, which have done an exemplary job all these years, but, we should appreciate the efforts of B-grade schools who are adding to the contribution,” said Iqbal Ahmad, Chairman, New Convent Higher Secondary School, GogjiBagh, Srinagar. Of the 177 students from the school that appeared in Board examination, two bagged positions, 86 distinctions and 89 Ist divisions.

“A-grade schools have a large infrastructure, like land which has been provided a long time back by the government. We lag far behind in those terms. Every school should be given an opportunity to make up for those short-comings and government should come forward to help them,” says Iqbal.

Sidra Shireen, a commerce student from the school was the overall topper in the stream with 98 per cent marks, while Manmeet Kour stood 6th with 93.7 per cent.

Ghulam Hassan, Chairman and Owner of HKMC Educational Institute Manigam Ganderbal says the schools like his have to work harder on students hailing from remote areas. “They don’t have better parental guidance. Under these circumstances, it is quite challenging to compete with A-grade schools.” The first matriculate batch from the institute, established as a primary school in 2001, passed out this year with 100 per cent result. There were three distinctions and seven first divisions among the 11 students.

Burn Hall High School, considered an elite one, bagged 7th position in the recent examinations. An official of the school wishing not to be named admitted that a change was underway, but maintained that the school is known for its quality of teaching and “is not under any threat”. “The overall educational system in Kashmir is becoming result-oriented. There are other schools, which are yielding good results. Yet, our school has continued to maintain the decorum for being the top priority of every parent, which will continue in future also,” he said. “This year, we had 166 students in board exams, contrary to small schools that have very less roll. But our school maintained good results with distinctions and positions.”

There is also a class of elite schools, albeit new ones, seen more as ‘corporate’ schools and run on the basis of the franchisee system. The best-known examples are the Delhi Public School and Lawrence Vidya Bhawan. These schools say they train their students for competition at national levels, besides state.

Manager, Delhi Public School, Damoder Singh says, “In today’s globalised world, results are not everything. There are other factors to systemise a student’s career, to make him ready for any kind of challenge on the global front.”

Singh agreed that the monopoly of A-grade schools is quivering. “Every A-grade school faces the threat of competitions. The monopoly is getting shot. The schools have been provided with enough land on lease, yet they are quite stubborn to improve the overall education system in Kashmir,” he says.

DPS, established in 2000 has produced three batches of secondary school level and is affiliated with the Central Board of School Education (CBSE).

“We spend hefty amounts to send our students to different competitions, be it debates, sports or education,” beams Singh.

Singh says that the school has made it to top 50 of the CBSE schools in North Zone, which includes all the schools under CBSE in the north Indian states.

However, some of the B-grade schools are consistently faring well.

Out of the 134 students of RP school Mallabagh, Srinagar nine bagged positions, a 100 distinctions and rest passed in first grade.

“Every year our school is heading towards better results. The school has maintained the expectations of both parents and students. No student has failed in our school till now. The secret lies in hard work and commitment,” says Shabir Ahmed, Chairman, RP School.

The school established in 1990 started its first batch of 10th class with 30 students in 1998. It bagged two positions with six distinctions. Over the years the school has maintained its performance. “We are overtaking the percentage of distinctions holders in missionary schools like Burn Hall and Biscoe. Our percentage of distinctions lies between 75-80 per cent and they have less than 75 per cent,” says Shabir.

Shabir says the brand image of elite and missionary schools is under threat. “The big schools cannot underestimate our results.The day is not far when we’ll top the list of positions,” he beams.

Although many private schools have come up in recent past, many are struggling for infrastructure and human resources.

Islamic Educational Trust Secondary School Budgam bagged a few distinctions in the recent secondary school examinations. Principal Mushtaq Ahmed Dar complains of lack of resources.

“Our trust has very low fee rates. But, our teachers work hard to provide quality education. Although, we don’t have the better infrastructure we try our best to yield good results,” he says.

It is a common complaint for most of the B grade schools where students mainly come from middle or low-income groups.

“We have to struggle a lot to motivate a parent for paying some extra fees in order to provide our students with better facilities,” says Dar.

Dar adds that nowadays students have a competitive spirit and teachers no longer have to use the stick.

Fayaz Educational Institute, Nowgam Srinagar, a charitable Trust, established in 1988, bagged 14th position in the recent secondary school examinations.

Supervisor, Fayaz says that for good results “big or small” school doesn’t matter. “It is all up to how strong a management body is and how much work it takes from human resource,” he says.

He also attributes the changing trend in results to parental accountability. “In a high profile school, the contribution of a parent is more than the school itself and in small schools opposite is the case,” says Fayaz.

“Accountability plays the key role. In our schools, we have more accountability for both students and teachers. I think big schools are nowadays lacking the accountability factor. The students of such schools are trained more at home, than at schools.”

Prof C L Vishen who heads the Walden and Caset schools says the selection criterion is the main reason for the lead by elite schools.

“These (A-grade) schools have screened students. We deal with the average students. We work hard to groom them which later yield us good results. For them to get good results is not a big deal. We get the rejected lot or those who are not financially capable to pursue education in those institutes,” Vishen says.

With big names and a large infrastructure the elite schools are there to play a major role. Parents queue up outside such schools overnight to fetch admission forms, and most of these schools take only the bright students with bright parents.

A majority of the students are catered to by the B grade schools, which have sprung up everywhere. Despite their constraints, mostly financial, their contribution is encouraging.

Prof. Vishen who is also the president of Kashmir Private Schools Coordination Committee, has other complaints too. “The affiliation is the biggest problem that we have to face year after year. The (affiliation) renewal procedures are frustrating,” he says.

“We are not able to take permanent teachers, even those who have been working with us for more than 10 years. If I am myself temporary how I can make my teachers permanent. This element disarrays our education system,” laments Vishen.

He says that improving the results of B-grade demands government encouragement, by eliminating the renewal procedures. “We request the government to come forward and provide us with land or financial support so that our individual efforts help in the march towards a better educational future,” he says.

Scholars High School, Budshah Nagar, Natipora, established in 2001, has boarding facilities to cater to students from as far as Kishtwar, Doda, Madva and Wardan, besides local students. Of the 43 students that sat for the recent secondary school examinations, 39 secured distinction and the rest Ist divisions. “There is always room for improvement. With our zeal and ambition we are quite optimistic to give a tough competition to the A-grade schools,” beams Dr. Ali Muhammad Bhat, the acting principal of the school.

He is also unimpressed by the elite schools because of the screening. “It is the expertise of our faculty that makes an average student secure above 70 per cent,” fumes Bhat. “We are on a mission to rekindle the faith of droppers of A-grade schools with utmost care and individual attention.”

The march of B grade schools is quite visible now. Joint Secretary, Exams, State Board of School Education (BOSE), Abdul Hameed Kanth, says, “Every school is striving hard to achieve excellence. The budding schools are superseding the elite schools on the basis of efficiency and hard work.”

He adds, “It is very inspiring to see an average school competing with A-grade schools. The credit should be given to the B-grade schools that honed the skills of an average student mostly from average background and make their presence felt in the top positions.”

By giving competition to the screened lot, the B-grade schools are already putting pressure on the elite ones. The board of school education has presented a proposal to the state government for 20 per cent Below Poverty Line (BPL) reservation, which is yet to be implemented.

“I request all the big institutions to open the doors towards yoking the BPL’s to give them a chance to get exposure in their highly equipped environ. Then only their contribution can be worth mentioning,” he says.

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