One of the renovated government schools in Andhra Pradesh. (Express photo)
The Andhra Pradesh government, under the leadership of Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy and Education Minister Audimulapu Suresh, is undertaking sweeping school-level education reforms in the state that are set to be unveiled on March 1.
There are several pillars to the new strategy adopted by the state government. These include changing the medium of instruction from Telugu to English (and training teachers, not just students, for this purpose), significantly changing the academic curricula in consultation with several leading international universities, reducing the monetary burden of schooling by providing free school supplies (such as books and uniforms) to students, upgrading the mid-day meal menu to make it more nutritious, revamping the school-level infrastructure such as proper classroom furniture, clean running water, toilets etc, and lastly establishment of skill development centres across the states.
The breathtakingly wide scope of reforms — changes will affect over 62,000 schools across the state, impacting over 80 lakh students — is matched by the ambition that is driving the change.
“The reforms programme aims at transforming government schools into vibrant and competitive institutions. The goal is to meet the requirement of what the fast-changing technology in the world expects from youth ten years from now,” Education Minister Suresh told The Indian Express.
The biggest change by far is the change in the medium of education. That’s because it affects not just the new students but also requires helping transition existing students to the use of the English language. Moreover, any change on this count has to start with teachers who need to be equipped first.
The four pillars of change
The most important shift is the medium of instruction being changed from Telugu to English; this has meant training both the existing teachers as well as the students. The second pillar is the improvement in curricula to best equip students for the emerging realities. Then there is a massive revamp of school infrastructure. Lastly, better facilities like more nutritious mid-day meals and free school supplies.
As such, a massive exercise to train nearly 1 lakh teachers — so that they are capable of instructing in English — is already underway. Close to 2,700 instructors are undertaking the training that is set to be completed by the end of February. This training will extends all the way down to the village-level schools.
The second and equally important aspect is to prepare existing students to adjust to the English medium. To this end, starting March 1, a two-month bridge course will be held for students of classes IV and V. For students of classes I, II and III, a two-month intensive learning course will be conducted to initiate them into English medium. The training to the students will be provided in residential schools at the Mandal level and students will be provided food and lodging during this period. Moreover, the training will be provided through digital classrooms, educational movies and videos. The idea is to acclimatise students to the English medium and ensure that students who have till now studied through Telugu medium are not left at a disadvantage.
The next big reform relates to improving and updating curricula. The officials in the state’s Education Department said that they have consulted education experts in reputed international universities of Chicago, Oxford and Cambridge as well as taken assistance from educational institutions of Australia and Sri Lanka to improve the curricula and make it more suitable for the emerging realities of everyday life. As part of this change, students will be provided new textbooks and workbooks, and even parents will be involved so that they can properly guide their children.
Further, all these schools supplies (including books and uniforms) will be provided free to the students from the coming academic year. This move is not only aimed to reduce the monetary strain of education but also to transform schooling over the course of the next couple of years.
To this end, the government is also improving the existing school infrastructure. All schools will be provided with well-functioning basic amenities like furniture, clean drinking water, toilets etc. In the first phase — essentially spanning the first year — these changes will be implemented in close to 16,000 schools at the cost of Rs 3,500 crore. The next phase, spread over three years, will cover the rest of the schools in the state and it will require an expenditure of Rs 12,000 crore.
Another change, which is quite significant given India’s poor record of child health, pertains to the implementation of the mid-day meal scheme. In particular, the menu is being made more nutritious. Apart from sambhar and rice, the new menu will include egg (five days a week), and a leafy vegetable curry, dal, and various other local delicacies such as pulihora (tamarind rice), khichdi, pongali (rice mixed with milk and sugar) and chutney etc.