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Battle between Schools & Mandir

Friday, February 7, 2020

/ by Satyagrahi
Thanks to the achievements and experiments of the Arvind Kejriwal government, the central issue in the upcoming Delhi elections is the quality of schools in the state. The AAP government has revamped government schools and wants to be judged for its work and results in education India's populist politicians don't care much about education reform because results take time and voters are easily swayed by what Kejriwal calls 'Hindu-Muslim'. So it's a welcome relief that they are debating schools.

What is the core issue in Delhi election?
Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a regional start-up in the world of politics, is seeking a second successive term in power in Delhi. And Kejriwal wants to be judged for his government’s performance in education.
His government's performance in education - along with healthcare - is an unusual campaign plank, and a consistent headline maker. AAP swept 67 of Delhi's 70 assembly seats five years ago, and hopes to repeat this performance on 8 February, largely on the back of its performance in education.

The AAP government runs 1,000 schools, attended by more than 1.5 million students. Education is free. In five years, he claims his government has succeeded in a way none of his predecessors had. The AAP government under the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia, who holds the education portfolio, has allotted the highest funds to education, introduced new teacher training courses for students, and have infused money to improve ailing schooling infrastructure.
Overall outcomes of these efforts are visible. For instance, a Delhi government school Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya (RPVV) in Dwarka was ranked number one among all government-run day schools in India, while two others made it to the top ten in 2019. Investing heavily in education has helped change the gloomy image - messy and badly-run - of state-run schools in a teeming city of nearly 20 million people. "The assumption was only poor children go to these schools. The rich and middle class prefer to send their children to private schools," says Shailendra Sharma, an education advisor to Kejriwal's government. “Anything free in India is perceived to be substandard.”
But in 2019, Kejriwal's schools, mainly attended by the city's underclass and children of poorer migrants, have outperformed their more expensive and posh counterparts. Some 96% of the 12th class students from state-run schools passed the school-leaving exam, compared to 93% from private schools. Such results have received estimable praise, most recently from Nobel-prize winning economist Abhijit Banerjee. Education outcomes in state-run schools can be better than the private ones, Banerjee said on Jan. 11 as he lauded Delhi government schools for "outperforming" their private peers. He said state agencies have been "generous" with resource allocation for education, which is visible in aspects such as teacher salaries and student results. Education is a state subject under the federal structure of India.

“Personally, I feel the people of Delhi are very happy with our work. Delhi people have thrown up many unexpected results in the past. In 2015, no one imagined that AAP, a new party, will bag 67 out of 70 seats. When we had no real heft, when people were saying our candidates will lose deposits, the people of Delhi had given an opportunity to a new party. This time, the question is whether the voting would be on work or Hindu-Muslim. I believe the people of Delhi are smart and they will reward work,” Kejriwal said in an interview with Indian Express recently. The ‘Hindu-Muslim’ reference was a jibe on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the ruling party at the centre and is accused by Kejriwal of playing divisive politics out of desperation.

Why have students returned to Delhi’s public schools?

Here is yet another proof that the best way for the government to show its commitment and achieve better results is to invest more.
From 2015 onwards, the AAP government has allocated a major amount of budget for introducing remarkable education sector amendments. In 2015-16, it allotted Rs 6,208 crore for the school and higher education sector. In the 2016-17 annual budget, the state government further increased education sector spending to Rs 8,642 crore (budgeted). In 2017-18, the Kejriwal government spent as much as Rs 9,888 crore and in 2018-19, it went up to Rs 11,201 crore (revised). In 2019-20, the budgetary allocation is a significant Rs 15,133 crore (budgeted).
Kejriwal has ploughed nearly a quarter of his government's budget into education - the highest in India - and appears to have spent the money wisely. (His predecessors in Delhi spent up to 16% of the budget on education; and India's states, on average, spend 14.8% of their budgets on education). "Government schools," says M Shariq Ahmed, principal of a "model" government school, "have now become a very liberating experience for students, who come from stressed backgrounds."

Education reforms are usually messy and controversial, but Kejriwal's government appears to have chosen simple initiatives to achieve a significant turnaround. Classrooms have been renovated, toilets are scrubbed regularly, and playgrounds cleaned. Students and parents alike have welcomed a controversial decision to put CCTV cameras in classrooms to monitor children. Smart-looking desks, digital learning, well-stocked libraries, functioning science labs, and special theme-oriented classrooms have helped make the once-dowdy schools attractive places of learning.

Furthermore, the AAP government took the crucial initiative of creating a three–tier library structure in the schools. In addition, all government schools have now functional drinking water and separate girls’ and boys’ toilets, electricity connection and 88.82% schools had computer facilities by the end of 2019.
If you build good schools and offer education free, you get more enrolments. There's also been a substantial expansion of capacity to cater to a growing number of students - 34% of Delhi's 4.4 million school-going children attend government schools, and their numbers are increasing. By the end of 2020, Delhi should have 55 new schools and 20,000 additional classrooms.
But building good infrastructure alone is never enough. It’s the teachers who will build the future of India.

When was the quality of teachers improved?
Delhi government in 2017 started a one-of-a-kind teacher training exercise across the city. The State Council for Education Research & Training (SCERT) undertook an extensive capacity building exercise for more than 36,000 teachers — 26,000 Trained Graduate Teachers (TGTs) and 10,000 Post Graduate Teachers (PGTs), who were teaching in schools run by the Delhi government. Keeping in mind the latest innovation in classroom learning, the concept of group-based learning has been introduced in teacher training so that the technique percolates to classrooms of Delhi government schools as well.
To further improve the quality of education in Delhi government schools and to enhance teacher’s instructive capabilities, the AAP government initiated a Teacher’s Training Program. The motive behind the program was to keep the teachers abreast with the contemporary knowledge of their subject. In 2018, 200 teachers received training by world’s top educators at Singapore’s National Institute of Education (NIE). These 200 teachers, after the completion of the course, were regarded as ‘mentor teachers.’ The trained teachers were assigned around five to six schools, which they visit regularly to observe classroom practices and provide on-site learning support to other teachers.

Other teachers have travelled to Finland and Cambridge in the UK to study school systems. The curriculum has also been tweaked imaginatively - classes on "happiness" and business motivation have been introduced. Mega parent-teacher meetings are held in all schools several times a year, encouraging interaction between illiterate parents, first generation learners and teachers.
With surveys indicating a record number of students unable to read and comprehend basic concepts at various classes and age groups, the AAP government launched an ambitious project named ‘Chunauti’ (‘Challenge’) in 2016 with the aim of seeking to check student dropout rates and improve the quality of education with special focus on the weakest students. The aim was to have all students in upper primary classes be able to read, write and do basic mathematics. It has been reported that Chunauti has brought visible improvement in the pass percentage of class IX.
But Chunauti hasn’t been without its share of controversy.

Where did the biggest controversy come from?
There's been criticism about some of the teaching methods in Delhi's government schools. The most contentious is "separating" - critics call it segregation - performing and non-performing students by putting them in different classrooms.
Last year, education activist Kusum Jain went to a Delhi court challenging Kejriwal's government to explain why students were "segregated". She says: "Segregation on the basis of intelligence is wrong at a time when we should all believe in inclusive education." Manish Chand, who worked as an intern teacher in a government school, says the ability-based "segregation" of students has "led to more divisions" among students. He found some teachers in his school calling students by the names given to the groups, and sometimes the "better performing students" refused to study or play with their more non-performing peers.

In its revolutionary zeal, the AAP government may have floundered on a basic principle when it decided to regroup students from class 6 to class 8 according to their learning abilities. Under a program called Chunauti 2018students from classes 6 to 8 were divided into three sections -Pratibha, Nishtha and Neo-Nishtha - according to their learning levels. They were tested for arithmetic, reading in language that was the medium of instruction, and in English.

Janaki Rajan, professor of education at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, says this segregation of students is extremely detrimental to children and has not only crushed their self-esteem and exterminated peer learning in class, but also eroded social diversity of the class. “All studies show us that students in mixed abilities group learn better. Why is the government then bent on doing the contrary? In addition, it is mostly the students from scheduled class, scheduled tribes and the Muslim community who land up in the Nishtha and Neo-Nishtha sections,”says Rajan, who was a former director of the State Council of Educational Research and Training, Delhi.

Another educationist, R. Govinda, who was vice chancellor at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration, says segregation of students does permanent damage to the self-esteem of students. “Branding of children and meddling with curriculum won’t work. Continuous professional development of teachers is the only way forward,” he says. The different sections also have different exams, and the Nishtha and Neo-Nishtha sections are taught with the help of special study material called Pragati Books.
But some teachers defend the system, and say it has actually helped improve results.
Students, they say, are separated in different sections on the basis of their reading and numeracy skills. Several independent surveys have found that Indian school children's reading and writing skills don't match the class they are in - a 2018 study by NGO Pratham found that nearly 73% of children in class three could not read class two lessons. "By separating the students, we are trying to get the teachers to give special attention to the ones who get left behind and often end up dropping out," says Shailendra Sharma, Kejriwal's adviser.

The government argues that this is the best way forward. A majority of the students who enter class 6 are from municipal corporation schools and already have a major learning lag. Except the 200-odd Sarvodaya schools out of 1,028, most of the Delhi government schools have classes from the sixth standard onwards. Sharma says some students were so weak that they did not understand a thing in the classroom“The teacher was rushing to complete the syllabus and only the front benchers were abreast with what was being taught. Those at the back had no idea what was going on,” he says, adding that the chasm in learning levels was so massive that peer learning was actually not happening in class.

Other controversies

The directorate of education ruled last year that if a student fails twice in a class he or she should be counseled to opt for open schooling options. Information obtained by lawyer Ashok Agarwal shows that in the 2018-19 session, the Delhi government denied readmission to 1.02 lakh students out of 1.55 lakh who failed in classes 9 to 12. The government, however, claims that the students who fail would anyway drop out and the government was doing them a service by telling them about other options and even holding classes for them.

The government has also been cornered for slashing down the syllabus by 25 per cent in a manner that the critics find ‘arbitrary’. The government argues that it’s the age of the Internet and Google and the amount of textbook information one needs now is less. The idea seems to have caught on with Union Human Resource Development (HRD) minister Prakash Javadekar as well, and he announced that half of the syllabus in CBSE schools will be cut from 2019.

In addition, there is the accusation on Delhi government of collecting voter ID details of students and their family members. The president of the Delhi Parents’ Association said parents are receiving calls asking them if they are happy with the work done by Delhi government and argues it is a breach of privacy.

Some statistics are, however, undeniable. The 2018 CBSE class 12 results showed a pass percentage of 90.68 in government schools, better than the 88.35 per cent of private institutions and even the national average of 83.01 per cent. It’s working. But will it work with the voters?

Who is Kejriwal up against?
When the people of Delhi vote on Feb. 8, they will have to decide what exactly they want in the next five years. More temples of learning or more learning about temples?
A few weeks ago, Kejriwal made an impassioned plea to voters in an election campaign. “We've worked hard to improve our schools, the education system. Who will take care of the education of your children if you vote for any other party? Just give it a thought,” he said. Kejriwal wants to prove populist politicians wrong: he's made education the centre-piece of his campaign.

India's populist politicians don't usually talk about schools and colleges and hospitals in campaign speeches - education reform, they know, doesn't fetch votes, because results take time, and voters appear to be keener on more immediate outcomes. "Today's politics wants instant results," says Delhi's education minister Manish Sisodia.

The other side is focusing on Politics 101. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party, the BJP, this weekend face their first electoral test since deadly anti-government protests erupted nearly two months ago, with the divisive turmoil likely to win them votes at polls in the capital. The BJP won a bigger majority in a general election in May, but it has lost a string of state elections since then. The protests, in which at least 25 people have been killed, erupted across the country in mid-December, after the BJP passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, which critics say violates India’s secular constitution and discriminates against minority Muslims.
Without a well-known leader in the capital, analysts say the BJP has intensified a policy of campaigning on Modi’s personal appeal, rather than on development issues. At the same time, the protests have highlighted the communal fault line, which could help his party secure the Hindu vote in the capital and elsewhere, analysts say. “Rightly or wrongly, they are largely seen as Muslim protesters. There is a polarisation between Hindus and Muslims that suits the BJP,” said Harsh Pant, a fellow at New Delhi-based think-tank the Observer Research Foundation.

The BJP has highlighted the work of Modi’s central government since its re-election last May, in particular changes that have appealed to the party’s Hindu base such as abrogation of the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and a court ruling, backed by the government, clearing the way for the construction of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya. “What they seem to be doing is fighting state elections on Modi’s popularity,” Pant told Reuters.
The Prime Minister, addressing a well-attended rally at Karkardooma on February 3, took the lead in attacking the BJP’s opponents in the strongest possible words. A number of BJP candidates also addressed the crowd and raised slogans like 

“Rasthravaad Jeethega aur Shaheen Bagh haarega” (nationalism will win and Shaheen Bagh will lose) and “Modi hai toh mumkin hai” (If it’s Modi, it’s possible).

The Prime Minister reminded the crowd that this election would decide the future course of Delhi in this decade and take it to new heights of prosperity. He made the promise of Jahaan jhuggi waheen makaan (where there is slum, there will be houses) and held the Aam Aadmi Party-led State government responsible for not implementing the Pradhaan Mantri Awas Yojana (a central-government sponsored housing construction scheme for the poor) in Delhi. Towards the end of his speech, he spoke about the protests at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh, underlining them as staged protests to meet political ends patronised by the Congress and the AAP.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also addressed a few rallies. He praised the government of Uttar Pradesh and the Central government for fulfilling the long-standing promise of building a Ram temple in Ayodhya. He said “the Kejriwal government that was not able to give the people of Delhi decent water to drink was busy serving Biryani to those who were protesting at Shaheen Bagh”. He emphasised that the BJP would not withdraw the CAA as this would be against the interest of “Akhand Bharat” (the undivided India). He alleged that those who were supporting terrorists in Kashmir were coming to Shaheen Bagh and raising slogans of Azadi (independence). He added that those who spoke in favour of Pakistan should be prepared to take bullets. Adityanath established a political record of sorts by mentioning Pakistan eight times in 48 seconds in a speech in Delhi this week.

Polling data for Delhi shows the BJP narrowing the gap with - but still trailing - the Aam Aadmi Party over the past week. If it’s Modi, is it still possible?

How can Delhi’s education outcomes improve even more?
Regardless of who wins, it is hoped that the good work in the field of education will continue. From 2015 onwards, the AAP government has not just allocated a major amount of budget for introducing education sector amendments – it has also increased the amount consistently in the past four years. However, there are many challenges yet to be addressed. While the government has brought visible improvement in many spheres related to state run schools, the battle is only half won.

While the AAP government has done well to change the perception on government run schools by infusing more funds and plucking low hanging fruits, many long standing problems remain to be addressed. For instance, despite all the efforts, the enrolment rate in Delhi state schools has fallen. According to a Praja Foundation report, ‘State of Public School Education in Delhi’, published in March 2019, enrolment rate in Delhi government schools has fallen by 8% from 2013-14 to 2017-18. In government schools, enrolment rate for Class I saw a dip of 4.8% in 2017-18.

Another survey by Praja Foundation shows that of the 2,59,705 students who got enrolled for class IX in Delhi government schools in 2014-15, 56% students did not reach class XII in 2017-18. This shows very poor retention in the state-run schools. Data available on the state government site ‘edudel’ indicates that a mammoth 55% of students did not go to the Class X in the academic year 2017-18 from Class IX (academic year 2016-17). This suggests a large number of students failed in Class IX.
Similarly, another report suggests that Delhi government schools are operating with only 57% regular teachers while the rest of the responsibility is with guest teachers. A huge gap persists in the sanctioned and filled positions, both among the teaching and non-teaching staff in Delhi government schools. According to information made available to the public through RTI applications, it can be said that out of 1,029 schools only 301 schools across Delhi have science as a subject.

So, while the government revamped the infrastructure, it failed to recruit permanent teachers. It introduced new programs, but enrolment rate witnessed a fall. Notwithstanding these limitations, the AAP government in its first full tenure brought a visible transformation in public education system in the national capital. The education system of Delhi is being adopted by other states as well. The government managed to bring major changes in the education system and was able to overcome the first set of major challenges they faced.

The greatest challenge to India is unemployment. Much of that problem is linked to the lack of skills in India’s educated youth. And much of that is linked to the state of India’s education infrastructure and curriculum. It’s heartening to finally find a politician in India who dares to put his future at stake by asking voters to judge him on his commitment to schools and hospitals. It’s a risky strategy but Kejriwal has been risking a lot all his life.

An IIT Kharagpur graduate, Arvind Kejriwal joined as an Indian Revenue Service officer in 1995 but quit his high profile job in 2012 to form the Aam Admi Party (AAP) after leading an anti-corruption movement in 2012 with social activist Anna Hazare. He has learnt one vital political lesson after his party’s poor performance in the General Elections of 2014 and 2019: show them what you can do as a state leader and then seek a national mandate.

Modi should know this strategy well. After all, the country voted him to power in the hope that he will implement the ‘Gujarat model’ of governance.


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