Today if one talks of a government school and latest fancy gadgets in the same breath, s/he is best greeted with a scoff, for when one thinks of a typical state-run school, especially in a shanty town or a remote village, s/he does not fail to see the vivid picture of a compound wall shorn of paint, with pigs, dogs and cattle whining their way amidst the scattered garbage to the classrooms, while a bunch of barefoot children squat and slog on the floor, with their bony ankles painfully rubbing against the coarse floor, and pretend to be attentive amidst crumbling buildings with impalpable roofs, windows and blackboards. So who is to blame if  "cutting-edge-technology"  in schools that even lack basic amenities seems satirical so say the least?

While the deplorable state of state-run schools is not to change in the foreseeable future, one must be warned that a hi-tech gadget attached to the school buildings is not a pipe dream. Could you have imagined that under a pilot initiative 680 primary schools in Gujarat and 400 schools in Punjab are today equipped with fingerprint biometric systems for registering attendance? While Gujarat plans to scale it up to 40,000 schools, Rajasthan is floating tenders for the biometrics. At the outset this may seem either nonsensical or a potential massive scam. One might ponder as to what on earth prompted such a move when the best of the private schools in the country don't have such latest systems and still rely on age-old attendance being marked in a registry. But hold on, for this seems to be no short of a well thought out plan to deal with the vexatious school students and teachers.

The potential of a machine that can read finger impressions for not only monitoring but managing school and teacher data seems to have been finally realized. The need for monitoring enrollment, retention and dropout data at school level cannot be emphasized enough in the context of universalization of primary education. Even the seemingly small aberrations in these indicators at a school level has serious repercussions at the national aggregate level given the mandate to meet the MDG goals. So, the pressure at a school administration level to maintain a close to average academic credentials is reasonable. But more often than not this burden and worry obligates one to resort to unwelcome practices. 

Recently, a news daily reported instances of school administration fudging attendance registries to cover up falling attendance rate. When the school knows that the statistics, such as enrollment and attendance rates, have implications on the amount of resources allocated - whether money, infrastructure, teachers or mid-day meals - the administrators crumbling under pressure resort to fudging a few numbers to maximize the share. This cannot be dismissed as a one-off situation. 

Worrying trends show that teachers in state-run schools allow children to come to schools only at meal time, after which they are let off from attending classes, just to show higher authorities that they are handling big classes. While there are cases where the same child appears as a student in more than one school and sometimes in more than in one class in the same school, there are also reported cases where the poor battles with bureaucracy seeking a certificate of non-attendance just so that the child can seek admission to a Bridge Course camp. In fact, it has been found that names of girls who have attained puberty, are found neither in attendance registers nor on the out-of-school children list.

In the wake of such citing, one wonders whether the resources allocated to schools, especially for mid-deal meal schemes, are misappropriated. A rough, back of the envelope calculation gives a glimpse of the potential quantum of misappropriation. Today the estimated expenditure on mid-deal meal scheme, which includes the conversion cost, is Rs. 3 per child per day. So, for the estimated 150 million children enrolled in government primary and secondary schools across the country, even if just 1% attendance is distorted, then over 200 days, the misappropriation would aggregate to a whooping Rs. 90 crores annually!

There is no question that such falsifying of data at school level is a gross violation that has serious consequences at the national level. The absolutely necessity to create structures and processes that encourage the teachers and ensure the school administrators to give correct information cannot be emphasized enough. But, the question is whether hi-tech solutions such as the proposed "Fingerprint Biometric School Attendance System" the holy-grail?

~ Santosh

12/28/2007 02:02

Hey Mr. Sansri.. OHHHHH! exhaustive research going into this one for sure..!
You could start of a political party... and implement some of these initiatives..!!

12/28/2007 02:16

If only I had the guts! As of now, I can only muster courage to blog.

12/28/2007 19:55

and you missed the opportunity to do it at the cost of others when you kicked UNICEF offer for supply chain mgt. :) :)

12/29/2007 06:35

While I learnt the concept of "opportunity cost" in ISB, I didn't exactly get hold of "opportunity lost" :)

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