Bottom Up Approach: Strengthening School Management Committees For Better Schools

Bottom Up Approach: Strengthening School Management Committees For Better Schools

On 15 November 2022, the Uttar Pradesh government issued a GO (Government Order) to conduct fair elections and finalise the members of School Management Committees (SMCs) in all government schools in the state. For the uninitiated, SMCs comprise parents and Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) members and are key to ensuring the proper running of the school—from the infrastructure to the actual education. The latest GO gives us the fillip to accelerate our ongoing work of forming and strengthening these committees.

The Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009 provisions for quality and free education for all children upto 14 year of age. The Act also provides for the constitution of School Management Committee (SMC) to ensure this very objective. It is the bridge between students, community and schools to ensure the holistic development of children. While Oxfam India, through its education programme, has consistently worked to strengthen the SMCs, in our latest effort we have been able to work with 120 SMCs in Fatehpur, Raebareli & Pratapgarh (Uttar Pradesh) since October 2021.

Speaking to officials the first response is often that there is no need to put effort in this community initiative  instead working with children will give better and direct results. So our starting point is often convincing them that community participation is essential for proper implementation of the RTE Act, which in turn will have a positive impact on children. And also the fact that there is a need for training of SMC. We worked with 120 SMCs in the three districts of Raebareli, Pratapgarh and Fatehpur. The ground reality most often is that either members aren’t aware that they are part of an SMC (because there has been an ad hoc formation) or have no idea what their rights and responsibilities as members are and what they are expected to do. So while the GO is essential, the pressure to form one in a pressing deadline is the fillip that is needed.

One of the major problems we observed during interactions with SMCs was that they were largely  underutilised in the proper implementation of the provisions of the RTE Act. District officers and headmasters aren’t proactive to engage communities in the proper functioning of schools as per the RTE provisions. Moreover, the Committee was only on paper and not in practice thus impacting its functionality, engagement and contribution to children education and development. It’s rather appalling to find that head masters and school staff in many communities are merely using School Management Communities as a rubber stamp.

When we did try to engage with the schools demanding the list of SMC members, we faced serious backlash. Program Team faced several backlashes when they tried to get the details of School Management Committee details from school staff — our Community Mobilisers were denied access to data and sometimes even within the school premises; the fact that our teams were advocating for fair elections and proper awareness regarding their roles and responsibilities did not go down well with the school officials.

Armed with our observations and learnings, we started conducing small meetings in schools and community with SMC members to sensitise and build their awareness and capacity on their roles and responsibilities for the proper functioning of the schools.

The SMCs have now started getting a little more structured and working on school development processes. Parents and community members have started demanding authorities for the rights of their children and for the better functioning of the schools. In Raebareli, the SMC members advocated to oppose the Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme by Uttar Pradesh Government; under the scheme Rs 1200 was to be given for students dress, sweater, shoes and bag. There were two reasons for it—1) the amount was too less to procure these things from the market and 2) it also felt like a move by the system to get rid of responsibilities by allocating a small token amount to parents to get services from elsewhere. The latter is highly debatable especially when there is a trend to shift towards privatisation of government schools in Uttar Pradesh. It was also opposed by SMCs in the neighbouring districts of Fatehpur and Pratapgarh. The SMCs also raised issues around boundary walls, drinking water availability, gender-segregated toilets, availability of teachers, mohalla classes, electrification, repair of dilapidated school structures; some of these were incorporated by SMC’s in the Gram Panchayat Development Plan.

With these ground realities and challenges, we are trying to change the mindsets of teachers and community members to boost this significant process of School Development. Oxfam India is planning to build/reinforce and  strengthen the School Management Committees to become self-reliant and responsible towards school development and child learning.

We worked with over 1000 SMC members. And will continue to do so.

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We work to achieve the goal of universal, inclusive and quality elementary education.

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