Capital concerns

Print edition : July 08, 2016

Schoolchildren returning home in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area. A file photograph. The Delhi government has significantly increased the budgetary allocation for education for two years in a row, but educationists want to know what the money will be spent on. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

Inadequate infrastructure, crowded classrooms, shortage of teachers and under-implementation of the RTE are just some of the problems plaguing the education system in Delhi.

Delivering a Teacher’s Day address on All India Radio in 2015, Education Minister Manish Sisodia, announced a 25 per cent reduction in the syllabus for students of Classes VI to VIII in schools run by the Delhi government to “lighten their burden”. He also said that his government was working towards a similar move for children of Classes IX to XII.

The specific chapters proposed to be removed from the syllabus were announced on the Directorate of Education (DoE) website with explanations for their removal. Functionaries of the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) hailed this as proof of the party’s “transparency”. The chapter “Jan Sangharsh vs Andolan” in the Class X civics textbook was among the chapters proposed to be removed from the syllabus. The explanation was: “After reading this lesson, students feel that agitation, anarchy and going against the government are the only means of securing social justice. This is not true in a democracy. Hence, it may be deleted.”

The irony was not lost on anybody. The AAP, which was formed on the back of a prolonged agitation led by Anna Hazare that helped Arvind Kejriwal win a massive mandate in the Delhi elections, was suggesting that political struggle against the status quo misled children. Some of the other deletions suggested were the chapters on socialism in Europe and the Russian revolution, the functioning of institutions and federalism, texts such as Gulliver’s Travels, The Diary of Anne Frank, Three Men in a Boat, and portions on Helen Keller.

They were deemed either too lengthy or difficult for learners, or confusing, or unimportant, or as providing no background information. Speaking on plans to clip the curriculum, the Minister said that the idea was to “replace outdated and obsolete syllabus by skill development, theatre, art, music and sports in the curriculum for Classes IX to XII”.

Move on hold

Opposition from teachers and subject experts forced the government to form committees to “look into the matter” and put the move on hold. Professor Anita Rampal, Faculty of Education, Delhi University, said: “Senior faculty members or those who developed the syllabus and textbooks were not consulted. The Minister went on record to say that the government did not want ‘experts’ as they came with either right- or left-wing and centrist ideologies. It is a matter of great concern that the Minister thinks so. Education is a political discourse, it needs to deal with justice, inclusion, equity and critical pedagogy; its political engagement cannot be trivialised in this way. If the Delhi government thinks its actions are free of ‘ideology’, let them think again. Partnering with NGOs [non-governmental organisations] such as Central Square Foundation or Pratham, pressing for corporate solutions and spending Rs.100 crore to send educators abroad are also dictated by an ideological position.”

In the 2016-17 Budget, the Delhi government announced a fund of Rs.102 crore (up from Rs.9.4 crore the previous year) to send teachers to Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard for training and capacity-building.

Critics have pointed out that the money might have been better used to improve the quality of education. A further Rs.100 crore has been set aside in the Budget for installing CCTV cameras in every classroom.

Anita Rampal pointed out that “CCTVs could be optimally installed to check crime in the city” and wondered whether quality could be assured by “policing teachers without building trust and confidence”.

In a positive move, however, the AAP government’s first budget in 2015 increased the allocation for education (Rs.9,836 crore) by a whopping 106 per cent over the previous government’s allocation. This year, it was increased to Rs.10,690 crore. But educationists want to know what the money will be earmarked for.

The Delhi government has selected 54 schools as pilots to be developed into “model schools”. “Why not build every school as a model school? Why can’t there be a phasewise process to put everybody on an equal footing? Instead of equal growth and opportunity, this creates another layer of hierarchy and discrimination,” said Ambarish Rai of the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, a platform of prominent educationists and teachers.

The AAP’s stand against the no-detention policy has been criticised as being backward-looking. The idea of the policy introduced under Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) was to ensure a level of minimum education among the citizenry and to reduce the number of dropouts. No child could be failed or expelled until Class VIII. The child would be graded and assessed not through exams twice a year but through a continuous evaluation process throughout the year. In November last year, the AAP government introduced the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Delhi Amendment) Bill, 2015, to amend relevant sections of the Right to Education Act, 2009, and change the policy. Critics of the no-detention clause (applicable in 18 States), blamed the mass failures in Classes IX and XI on the RTE. But mass failures happened even before the RTE came into the picture, say educationists. Ambarish Rai said: “The number of higher secondary schools is lower than the number of primary schools, which is why many children are failed, otherwise there will be a problem of overburden. There is also this mentality that because there were no exams until Class VIII, students did not study anything and therefore do not deserve to be here. What is required is extension of the RTE to the higher secondary level to ensure a sustainable and meaningful education for all. That is also one of the United Nations goals.”

Undermining EWS reservation

Under the RTE, private unaided schools are requited to reserve 25 per cent of their seats for children aged six or less from economicaly weaker sections (EWS). To meet this requirement, some private schools apparently take in children from disadvantaged sections until Class VIII but remove them from the rolls at a later stage. An educationist explained what happens after they are removed from elite schools: “Such children come from weaker backgrounds and their parents are unable to send them to good schools. The children [after being exposed to the environment of an elite school] are unable to adjust themselves in badly run government schools. So, such children end up in cheaper private or unregistered schools.” Only 18 per cent of the schools in Delhi have reported admitting 25 per cent children from disadvantaged backgrounds in their institutions.

Earlier this year, the Delhi government sent notices to two schools with regard to repeated complaints of fee hikes, capitation fees and fake admissions under the EWS quota. An inquiry set up by Sisodia under the DoE and the District Magistrate (North-West) found the schools violating the RTE. The Minister warned the schools that they would face a government takeover if they did not comply with RTE provisions.

Delhi is not behind other States in RTE compliance but has not done better than the national average of 9.5 per cent implementation. Given the complex administrative structure of the National Capital Territory (NCT) government, there is no single body responsible for ensuring RTE compliance. The Delhi government, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) under the NCT run separate groups of schools. The Delhi government has nearly 1,000 schools under it; the NDMC has 900; and the MCD has 1,750. Each set of schools has unique problems that require different solutions.

For instance, the schools under the MCD, controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have severe shortages of teachers. There are 21,000 sanctioned posts for teachers under the MCD. Against the demand for 6,500 teachers, only 3,200 new recruits have been taken. In total, there is a shortage of 4,500 teachers.

There are also teachers hired on a contract basis. Instead of a 1:30 teacher-student ratio, these schools have a 1:60 ratio, according to Ramchandra Dabas, secretary general of the Akhil Dilli Prathmik Shikshak Sangh, an association of primary school teachers in Delhi.

Teachers in MCD schools are also overburdened with all sorts of non-teaching activities. They are deployed on Census and Aadhaar card exercises, door-to-door voter verification duties, ID card distribution projects, midday meal schemes, industrial surveys, child surveys and housing surveys. All this they do mostly for free and sometimes for paltry sums of money.

On August 20, 2008, the Delhi High Court ordered that teachers should not be deployed for election duty on teaching days and during teaching hours. It also said that disabled and female teachers should have the option of declining such duties. But, according to Dabas, the order is violated routinely. By contrast, the Delhi government notified in its Budget that no teacher would be sent for Census duty. “Every school building has an estate manager so that the principal can focus on studies,” Sisodia said. However, the follow-up on the ground remains to be seen.

Privatisation by other means

Delhi is one of the States with the highest percentage of private schools (47.54 per cent), according to the Status of Implementation of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education prepared by the RTE Forum for the year 2014-15. Now the MCD schools are up for grabs by private players. This, despite a longitudinal study by one of the private players, the Azim Premji Foundation in Andhra Pradesh, concluding that “contrary to the general perception, fee-charging private schools are not able to ensure better learning for children from disadvantaged rural sections as compared to government schools”.

Close to 50 MCD schools are to be handed over to the private sector, according to Dabas. Tech Mahindra, Reliance, Azim Premji and DPS Society are some of the names in the fray for the bidding. Schools with lower enrolment (fewer than 100) will be given to private players. “The proposal was mooted during Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s time, but we sat on a boycott for 60 days, owing to which it was scrapped. Now they are again trying to make a back-door entry. The Teachers Association will protest against this move. Schools in the areas like Shalimar Bagh, Defence Colony and Yamuna Vihar, which have fewer students, are in the reckoning for this. The properties on which they stand cost billions of rupees. The proposal is to give the schools on lease for 100 years. The private owners will charge fees and have their own management and teachers. Until Class V they will take students [from disadvantaged sections] and then let them off. The corporates have to spend the money in their corporate social responsibility budget; so instead of giving it to our schools by installing necessities like water coolers or fans, they are making a back-door entry to usurp schools altogether. It is land-grab in the garb of running a school. Just see the example of Airtel Bharti, which has captured hundreds of schools in Haryana. They appoint temporary teachers on salaries of Rs. 5,000. It is a mockery,” he said.

The lack of separate and functional toilets for girls and boys, libraries and playgrounds, delays in disbursal of textbooks, delayed payment of teachers’ salaries, medical claims and leave travel allowances, unclean school premises and insufficient funds are among other problems faced by the MCD schools.

Educationists feel that the constitution of school management committees should be fast-tracked in Delhi. According to the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, the total number of out-of-school children in the country was 60.64 lakh in 2014. A sizable proportion of this group is expected to be in Delhi, where a large number of migrant labourers work in the construction sector. Their children, and the street children of Delhi, constitute a sizable chunk of out-of-school children. There is no separate provision for them. For child labourers, the employers are supposed to open schools under the RTE, but that is not happening.

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