Strengthening SMC to make SDP– Should be an Empowering Process
I had recently attended two training programmes on Strengthening the School Management Committee (SMC) to make an effective School Development Plan. One of it was at the state level, wherein all the District Education Officers of the state attended and the other was at block level, where in block level extension officers for education including some head masters and cluster coordinators were present. The major objective of this program was to train the officers to support SMC members with respect to access, equity, quality and community participation, while SMCs develop the School Development Plan (SDP). All of them are directed towards empowering individuals in the management of school related activities.
The aim of this blog is to unravel whether state mechanisms are serious in moving towards empowering SMC members, or whether it is merely a box-checking endeavor to gather numbers, using experiences and reflections from this training programme.
At the outset, I was really impressed with the detailed module on how to prepare School Development Plan (SDP) the state has prepared. The module for the training programme had a detailed schedule, with the exact time the trainer required for each topic. In both the training programme that I attended, I found that the trainers have followed the module fully. However, while they were instructing the officers on what they need to do, they failed to share or explain, how to do it – the process/methodology of doing it. In other words, the trainer did not focus on the information which could potentially be the vehicle to empower and conscientize the SMC members and the community at large. This is the concern that I want to raise among the policy makers for critical debate on the process of strengthening SMC at the community level.
The process of training, that I witnessed, was like the "banking" approach to education — a metaphor used by Paulo Freire that suggests trainees are considered empty bank accounts that should remain open to deposits made by the trainers. This "banking" approach will result in the dehumanization of both the trainees and the trainers. In addition, it will stimulate oppressive attitudes and practices in society. Hence the SMC members will never take the role as envisaged in RTE Act.
As per the module, the SMC members need to map down the history of the school, make a social and resource mapping, as well as draw out different types of Venn diagram for mapping out the distance of different villages from where the children come to that particular school, etc. I feel that this process, is actually a Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) methodology. These tools allow parents to know more about the school and can be an empowering process for the community members. They can really own the school and feel for it. It can be the vehicle that helps the SMC members by allowing them to be aware of the strengths as well as the areas of improvements in their school while also mapping out different ways to make it more resourceful.
For example, if during SMC meetings, while documenting the history of the school, the people will come to know that actually this school was made due to someone’s contribution. This could motivate someone else in the village or the whole village to ponder over these things and also follow the same benevolent act in another way for the school. Thus, this method of collecting information through stories can lead to a domino effect of motivating other community members to not just start a thought-process on how to improve the schooling system in their community, but also try to emulate others who have made an impact.
The whole process of training the SMC members should be a means of consciously shaping them and the society for making a SMART SDP. This particular philosophy, I feel, is missing from the whole process of training of the officers and thus, is not seen in the training of the SMC members.. I am really skeptical of the ability of such a training process to empower the community and SMC members.
The above reflection also helps us to look into two key areas for critical discussion:
a) The process of making the SDP using participatory techniques will ‘break the silence’ of the poor and disadvantaged sections, recognize the value of popular collective knowledge and wisdom as well as legitimize the production of knowledge by the people themselves.
b) The process of strengthening SMC training might fail to highlight the key techniques in adult training for learning such as linking learning to problems, linking learning to people’s goals and visions, and giving SMC members control over decisions on training.
The government officials need to understand that the School Management Committee (SMC) is another community based institutions (CBO) which, if strengthened and empowered well, with conscious effort, can really make many of their interventions effective at the grassroots level. The whole initiative of decentralization of power at the school level can be really strengthened. Above all the SMCs have a legal validity through the RTE Act 2009. It can be another marvelous initiative to move a step forward in terms of delegation of power and resources from the upper level to the lowest level.
The government officials are currently looking at the process of formation and strengthening of SMC as a task, like any other task, and leaving a trail of data, without really looking at the human aspect of it.
The envisaged dream of the RTE Act with regard to SMC’s functioning can only be achieved, if and only if the “Community” is conscientised. The active participation of its members in planning of SDP formation and quality monitoring is a great challenge which can be treated as an opportunity also. The RTE Act in a specific way wants to make the parents an important stakeholder in the decision-making process with an objective to make teachers and the principal more accountable for education delivery. This is envisaged for better learning outcomes of students. Thus the effort of integrating teacher and community through SMC can lead to better education system with decentralized planning and management.
The PAISA report has shown us that planning and allocation of funds as well as the timing of releasing funds and their actual receipts in schools are so problematic that whether the SDP will get the required funds at the right time is a big question. This is a persistent problem which needs a lot of bureaucratic support along with legislative advocacy for mending this problem. This process is continuous and taking place slowly but steadily. If the SDP does not get implemented due to delay of funds, then people could get de-motivated and slowly withdraw from the whole process. It is very important that SMC members are empowered to understand the constraints and take steps accordingly. Thus the whole training process should be liberating process to view things critically for better Redressal. Otherwise, I fear that with the existing training process, the SDP formation and implementation will be rhetoric bureaucratic exercise of just filling data and fulfilling the required norms without bringing any change in the community managed decision making process in education.
Through this blog, I would like my readers think about the following questions and initiate a discussion, “Whether the present Government policy and administrative structure/s provide a favorable environment for SMC to be conscientious and function effectively to achieve the goal as penned down in RTE Act?”
At the end, I feel that the soft component (Capacity Building) of the implementation of RTE cannot be ignored or taken for granted if we really want to see RTE Act moving out from the framework of implementation of schemes to enforcement of rights.
 To make the education system more effective and to encourage participation of parents in the decision process, a School Management Committee (SMC) will be formed in every school under the Right to Education (RTE) Act. As per the RTE Act, School Management Committee (SMC) should perform the following functions like, Monitor the working of the school; prepare and recommend school development plan, monitor the utilization of the grants received from the appropriate government or local authority or any other source, perform such functions as may be prescribed.
 SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound