Lesson for AAP: Education is NOT a Problem of Bricks & Walls

Education is not a process where one can do away with the “tranquilising the drug of gradualism”. 

4 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia gave away his government’s ‘missionary zeal’ for education in his opening letter in his department's 2017 progress report. He wrote: “We have operated on the principle of ‘No Child Left Behind’ with a focus on ensuring every single child’s interests are looked after”.

In doing so, Sisodia, the Minister of Education of the Delhi government, naively used the failed ‘No Child Left Behind Act,’ a US Act of Congress of 2011, as a phrase to explain his government’s approach to education. While the minister might not be interested in learning from the brutal public criticism of the now abandoned act, the efforts of the ignorant state government are likely to lead to a similar disaster.

Govt Shows Only Selective Data

Several of the Delhi government’s policies have been proposed to fix accountability at the school level. While on the surface, this appears to be an uncontroversial improvement in a sleeping system, it is the basis of this accountability that is troubling. Reductionist and flawed quantification measurements of learning are being dangerously exploited by the government for its own myopic advertising – a reminder of which was Sisodia’s mistaken jubilation in 2017 about government schools outperforming private schools.

In the absence of a coherent political agenda for itself, the AAP found it convenient to use health and education as its distinguishing projects. Its desperation to reap public goodwill for its efforts in capacity augmentation of public schools is easy to dodge — from its futile pursuit of draping whole metros with pictures of Sisodia’s smiling face and some children, full-page newspaper advertisements, hoardings and of course, publicity via radio ads.

The Praja Foundation put out a white paper on the state of public education in Delhi in December 2017. Nitai Mehta, the managing trustee, wrote in an introduction to the report: “It seems that the government is only showing data which makes it look good, but when you dig deeper, you can analyse that there are major issues in the education department”.

In the same report, she highlights how in a commissioned household survey done by Hansa Research in Delhi, it was revealed that an alarmingly high percentage (74 percent) households’ students who took private tuitions, went to state government schools. This, she says, could be in correlation with the 29 percent of parents who expressed unhappiness with their children’s school as the primary factor.

High Dropout Rates

Surely, a budget allocation of 24 percent is unprecedented for an Indian state. But despite shelling out almost Rs 49,740 for every student for the year 2016-17 during the same period, 50,765 students (estimated) dropped out of Delhi government schools.

The transition rate of students in state government schools from class 9 to 10 was at 56.95 percent, whereas it was 98.55 percent from class 7 to 8 for the academic year 2015-16 to 2016-17, effectively meaning that nearly half the students dropped out before senior secondary school. There have been allegations that the government’s competitive spirit for quick results may have only exacerbated this phenomenon.

With its micro-management of schools, Delhi government is essentially trying to become the ‘mother of all children’. The proactiveness of the government to improve infrastructure comes at the cost of stringent demand for quantifiable achievements. It starts to treat learning like a logistical problem, prescribing impossible targets in return for better buildings.

Teachers receive weekly targets for completing the syllabus from the Directorate of Education (DoE). There is immense pressure on them and it becomes even worse when there is an acute shortage of teachers. We can’t expect them to give their 100 percent in such a scenario.
Ajay Veer Singh, General Secretary, Government Teachers’ Association

In the short-term, the dictatorial approach of centralising everything about the process of learning may actually yield tangible results, but gradually it will destroy its democratic and personalised nature.

Kejriwal’s tweet celebrating the installation of CCTV cameras in classrooms and the broadcast of live feed accessible to all parents is only another unfortunate affirmation of how little his government really understands about learning.

It appalled many educators, researchers and intellectuals that not just would a government be willing to deprive children and teachers of their fundamental right to privacy within a classroom, but would want to celebrate and claim credit for the same.

Sanctity of Education to be Upheld

Security and surveillance are just pretexts for keeping a watch on employees in a clerical firm, but the classroom is not a company. It is trust and sanctity that ought to define our classrooms.

Other initiatives of the Delhi government have been equally muddled. More than Rs 100 crore was allocated for the training of school teachers and principals in elite institutions. However good-looking these may be, these excursions were destined to have no real impact on the quality of teaching in Delhi’s public schools.

Teachers need training in our own context. I am not sure if somebody in Cambridge can understand problems specific to our schools and society. It sounds good but will it actually help students?
Poonam Batra, Teacher, Department of Education, Delhi University

A common thread running through all grand schemes is the lack of patience. Education is not a process in which one can do away with the “tranquilising drug of gradualism”, to borrow from Martin Luther King Jr - In the euphoria of never-before-seen physical renovation, let us not let the sanctity of education be lost. Education is not a problem of bricks and walls.

(Akshat Tyagi is the author of ‘Naked Emperor of Education’. He tweets at @AshAkshat. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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