The state of K-12 education – a case study by a parent

 

My daughter is a bright student she generally stands in the top 3 of her class. But I haven’t really stressed her out when it has come to achieving results. She is competitive and a hard worker. She is currently in Class 7 but the case I refer to is of her final results in Class 6. It was thus a surprise that from a 10.0 CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average) in Class 5 she dropped to a 9.7 CGPA (in her final report card). This is after she has been a 9.9 CGPA performer until the Final Exams. And one would infer that she did badly in her finals and hence the CGPA dropped. The truth is she actually performed best in her final exams. The school in question is the K R Mangalam World School, GK 2.

Here are some statistics.

Prior to her final exams she had an average of 93.4% and she had a CGPA of 9.9. At the end of her final exams her average for the year actually increased to 94.86% and her CGPA drops to 9.70. I first ignored the score until my daughter asked me a simple question

“Papa, if I did better in the finals and my average marks have increased, how come my results don’t show this?”

I had no answer to her question. I redid the maths and I visited CBSE’s website. I pulled out all her marks and all her assignments and plotted them in an Excel sheet. I contacted her class teacher who remained befuddled. I also got to know that following:

The topper in the class has marks totalling an average of 97% and that kid has a CGPA of 10.0

The student who got the second highest has an average 95.63% for the year and has a CGPA of 10.0

My daughter is the third highest and she has an average of 94.86% but has a CGPA of 9.7

The most glaring fact to me is that the difference between the 2nd and 3rd highest is 0.77% and the CGPA changes dramatically. Whereas the difference between the 1st and the 2nd is 1.37% (almost twice the difference between 2nd and 3rd) and there is no change in the CGPA. As a person who follows due process, I contacted the class teacher and sought an explanation. She in turn directed me to the “middle school in-charge”. I arrived at the K R Mangalam World School dropping all my appointments since the ‘in-charge’ could only see me that day between noon and 2 pm. I was there a little past noon. I sat in the waiting area ready with my statistics and the entire year’s worth of test papers assignments etc. The ‘in-charge’ walked there to greet me. She was in her late 20s or early 30s. She sat down politely and indicated that I may begin.

I began with my concern that an error had been committed and presented the evidence methodically. She listened with patronising patience and asked me if I had finished. I was taken aback. It was like she was on autopilot while I spoke. She replied by dismissing the evidence, ignoring the CBSE guidelines and gave me what was perhaps the standard pitch. I am listing them in random order.

  1. Marks for tests are only a section of the evaluation
  2. The teacher of each subject has access to a portion of the website where she stores marks for class work. Parents don’t get to see this
  3. The two types of marks (tests and teacher’s assessment) are then fed into a complex sheet received from the CBSE board.
  4. The sheet produces the end result.

I sat mesmerised at the speed with which this information flowed. It reminded of regurgitation.

She went on to elaborate that the report card reflected the academic marks but DID NOT reflect the marks the teacher has given. The final CGPA however, takes both marks into account.

I presented my interpretation of the information. In theory then, the marks my daughter got, while warranting a CGPA of 10.0 on their own, translated into 9.7 because the teacher added marks for classwork?

She vigorously nodded in agreement.

I then inferred that my daughter who was very good in answering tests was poor in classwork?

She agreed.

I stated that in all the parent teacher meetings and in all the assignments this was never discussed with us. I also have a few of the assignments and she has scored a 100% in each of them. I remained perplexed at the argument presented.

She stated that there was information about class activities that were with the subject teacher and the class teacher.

I inquired if I could get this so that I understand it?

She said it was confidential.

I said the future of my child is confidential from me?

She said it was a CBSE directive.

I had to add my CEO hat to the parent one I was wearing and I asked if she would like me to get this checked out with the board? As a publisher, I am sure I can speak to someone who knows about the issue.

She looked at me with a look that was a combination of disdain and concern. The concern was if I would actually do this and the disdain was probably a combination of “it’s not really my problem even if this is wrong.”

But the parent in me sensed that the child is at risk. Any action against the school would not be viewed kindly and my child might face the brunt of it. I had enough circumstantial evidence gathered over the years to feel this.

I thanked her for her time and left the school completely perplexed. Even a CEO who is supposed to be all-powerful is relatively helpless when it comes to his own child.

I spent the day in exploring options in my head. Later that evening I got a call from a parent. The parent wanted to understand the grade the ward had achieved. In a particular subject the grade entered was C. The parent told me the ward had a perfect score (close to 100% in all tests and exams) in that subject so the C wasn’t making sense. I asked for the CGPA and I was told it was 9.7.

My mind was whirring. My daughter had straight ‘A’s and ‘A+’ and not even a B. She gets 9.7. Here is a child with at least one C and it gets a 9.7 too. I asked for all the grades and marks. They were shared with me. I did my own calculation and the child had an average of 91.4%. This just didn’t make sense! How can 91.4% and 94.86% have the same 9.7 CGPA?

I asked the parent to meet the teacher and or the ‘in-charge’. The parent ended up meeting a different ‘in-charge’ since the two children study in different sections. I got the details about the meeting and it shook me to the core.

The in-charge was adamant that the grade was correct.

The same routine was followed but with one critical difference. The C, the ‘in-charge’ said was a result of academic marks + class work.

I was stunned.

I explained to the parent that this is NOT what I was told. I was told the grade in the report card reflected the marks achieved in the respective tests/exams. The CGPA was arrived at AFTER (mysteriously) adding marks for classwork in some mysterious Excel sheet. The parent was as aghast as I was.

How could the same school give two different stories to two parents? I think the only plausible answer is that they don’t think parents will compare notes.

How could they blatantly lie? I think because they know they can get away with it.

What is the worst that could happen? There were two options:

  1. The first is to stay in the school and fight the system. I firmly believe in this and I had put this to the test earlier. The test happened when my daughter informed me that this year the school is taking a bunch of kids to the USA. I looked at the proposal and said “Yes” in-principle. But I had questions about the trip and the disclaimers I was being made to sign. I did the correct thing. I typed up the concerns and sent them to the class teacher requesting for an appointment to discuss the issues. I didn’t receive a response. At the PTM where we were to deposit the first part of the payment, I again raised the issue. The teacher sent me to the ‘in-charge’ (Yes she was the same one that I was to meet for the CGPA issue a couple of months later). She feigned complete ignorance of my email and this is after 2 weeks of having sent it. She promised to ‘look into the matter’ and get ‘an appropriate person to talk to me.’ No one ever called and my email till this day remains unanswered. So do they care that I didn’t send my daughter? Not at all! Most parents are not even aware of the illegal clauses that they have signed up for and in the event of any mishap, the school or the tour operator is completely absolved of any responsibility. In the case of the CGPA issue, I knew it was futile to go to the principal or worse the chairman of the board. There is also the collateral damage that I am aware of as a parent. The wrath of a teacher/principal/chairman could fall on my daughter.
  2. The second is to find a different school for my daughter. Eventually I did change her school. But do you think it made an iota of a difference to the principal or anyone in the administrative board? To be fair, I got a lot of support from some teachers and parents. They urged me to talk to the principal. But I guess it was too much to expect a principal or the ‘in-charge’ or even someone in the administration department at least asking me why I wanted to change the school. I am sure that there is a mandate not to do this. The mandate is clearly a profit motive. My daughter got into K R Mangalam World School with hardly any donation and at a time when the school wasn’t as well-known as it is today. I am sure when word gets out that there is a vacancy many takers for the seat arrive. I am equally sure the donation has been severely hiked today and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other channels through which parents are made to pay extra for getting their child in.

 

That is the state of our education today. There is a paucity of schools and parents don’t want to fight the system. The only ones who fight the system are the ones who don’t have the ability to pay their way through. The rest sadly think giving money solves the problem. There are just too few seats for the number of aspirants in the country. There was a time schools were run for philanthropic reasons. Our laws still prohibit ‘for profit’ in education but it is this very law that yields the highest profits to those who know how to abuse it. Take a look at the balance sheet or net worth of founders of most private institutions. The net worth pre and post entering the education sector is staggering. Yes clever accounting hides the path and the Income Tax department is only concerned about the extra tax they are collecting. In the end it’s the children and the parents that silently suffer.

 

My daughter wasn’t even in Delhi when I made up my mind to change her school. I know that in the past she had resisted changing since she was very popular with her teachers and fellow students. I spoke to her on the phone and told her that I didn’t want her to feel bad and I would abide by her decision (if she didn’t want to change the school). It was her reply that gave me hope.

She said, “ Daddy, I worked very hard for my exams and I loved representing the school in all the competitions. I did everything I was asked for and I even took the blame for things I didn’t do. I don’t want to be in a school that lies.” I knew she had a rough year adjusting to the gruelling schedule of representing the school and having to perform in her studies. I am blessed that my daughter understood me and I was able to take an informed decision for her. But it left me reeling and thinking of all the parents who don’t have options or are too scared to raise their concerns. Don’t their children have a right to being treated fairly? I also wonder if the day will arrive when schools will be equally accountable to parents and to themselves.

My daughter is in a new school and she is happy. I am glad I could handle this effectively. This post is about sharing my experience. I leave it to the reader to draw their own inferences one way or another.

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About Vivek Mehra

I am currently the MD & CEO of SAGE Publications India. But I wear many hats that make me the person I am. Between the (public) professional life and the very deep and private recesses of my brain lies a universe of thoughts, actions and beliefs. These have been shaped by events, people and perhaps Karma. It's this universe I seek to put in words. When everything else failed me professionally, it was the power of my words that not just resurrected a career but brought back life to life. It is with these words that I continue to make a difference with those whose karma connects mine. Sometimes it's direct and most times it's not. But the essence of who I am never changes and I remain a person searching for himself. Update: In 2014 I published my first book on Kindle. It was written in 1999 and it never saw the light of day. Reader input welcome... http://tinyurl.com/7shadesofgrey
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