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Monday, April 29, 2019

Quality School Education does not matter for India's leading political parties

WHEN the Bharatiya Janata Party rolled out its manifesto for the 2014 general election, revitalising India’s education sector was one of its core commitments. It promised to make India a “knowledge superpower” and announced the redrafting of the National Education Policy (NEP) with emphasis on quality, innovation, outcome and industry linkage. However, there has been no forward movement in terms of delivering on these promises. The committee entrusted with drafting the new NEP missed its fourth deadline, and overhauling the education sector, battered by a shortage of trained staff and missing infrastructure, remains a distant dream.

India’s rank in education dipped from 92 in 2015 to 104 in 2018 amongst 140 plus countries.

Experts see this deterioration in India’s performance as an inevitable consequence of reduced spending. In its first year, 2014-15, the Modi government reduced the allocation for education, from 4.77 per cent to 4.61 per cent of the Budget. This downward trend continued in the next three years, when the spending on education was further squeezed to 3.89 per cent, 3.66 per cent and 3.17 per cent, respectively (incidentally, Modi did the same in Gujarat as CM,  resulting in a state where enrolment of students, especially those from SC or ST backgrounds, dropped over the years).

Minister of State for Human Resource Development Satya Pal Singh said in a statement in the Lok Sabha on January 1, 2019, that 92,275 government schools were run with only one teacher for all the subjects. Over 10 lakh teachers’ posts in schools are lying vacant. One in every four schools in rural India did not have an electricity connection.

The proportion of Class 8 students who could not even read a Class 2 level text was 25.3 per cent in 2014. This increased to 27 per cent in 2018.

Notwithstanding all this, the Centre has continued to reduce budgetary allocation for education; it fell from 0.64 per cent of the gross domestic product in 2014-15 to 0.45 per cent in 2019-20.

The Centre’s focus has remained on promoting itself rather than on delivering tangible results. This was evident from the fact that 56 per cent of the funds allotted for the flagship Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao programme were spent in advertisement of the scheme.

When the AAP ascended to power in Delhi in 2015 and presented its first Budget, it allocated 10,000 crores for education, double that of the previous government’s Budget. Even in the 2018-’19 fiscal year, 26 per cent of Delhi’s Budget was allocated for education.

The changes were visible. The Delhi government was not only successful in constructing over 8,000 classrooms in government schools and kick-starting construction of 12,000 more, but also in upgrading existing classrooms with modern amenities such as projectors, besides setting up laboratories and conference halls for extracurricular activities.

Building so many new classrooms as additions to existing schools was the equivalent of 300-350 new schools, Kejriwal said recently. For perspective, the Congress government constructed only 800 classrooms in 15 years.

A total of 25 new schools were set up; 31 more are under construction. In contrast, the Congress government built 33 schools in 15 years.

Atishi, advisor on Education to Delhi Govt. for 3 years, said recently : ‘Earlier, the quality of government schools was poor and the schools were dirty and badly maintained. Every school has an estate manager who is responsible for ensuring cleanliness.

Improved infrastructure also creates a greater sense of dignity and pride – for students as well as teachers. For the first time, they felt that someone cared about their schools. And so the effort and self-belief of both students and teachers has shot up.’

Atishi went on to add : ‘Next, we improved accountability. Earlier, there was virtually none. No one ever asked whether teachers were coming to class or not, taking up lessons or not. For the first time, we improved accountability by making parents part of the governance. School management committees, which exist under the Right to Education Act, are virtually defunct in all parts of the country. Those have been improved. We have been having regular parent-teacher meetings so that there is greater local accountability.

The third factor has been the improvement in the quality of teacher training. We have invested heavily in this area. Earlier, the budget for teacher training was Rs 10 crore. We have increased it by ten times to Rs 100 crore. Our principals and teachers have been sent to some of the best organisations in the country and the world. They have been to IIM (Ahmedabad), Harvard University, Cambridge University, National Institute of Education.

So far, at least 500 to 600 principals and teachers have been sent abroad on training programmes. We have also got a cadre of 200 mentor-teachers’ who were trained at the National Institute of Education in Singapore. The objective was to leverage their newly gained expertise and upgrade the pedagogic abilities of Delhi’s 45,000 plus community of government schoolteachers. Each mentor-teacher takes on the responsibility for five schools, in terms of improving classroom practices. Every school has someone called a teacher development coordinator, who plays a key role in improving process and practice.

The AAP Government’s array of innovative programmes in government schools, more notably Chunauti 2018 that supports the last child in the class to learn, Kala Utsav to promote artistic talent, online capacity building programmes for teachers, and a happiness curriculum to stimulate good mental health and resilience, have delivered results. 

The testimony to that came last year, when the results of the Central Board of Secondary Education examination for Class 12 were declared. The pass percentage of Delhi government schools increased from 88.36 per cent in the previous year to 90.68 per cent. The overall performance of Delhi government schools was the second best in the country, after Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala). Delhi class XII Govt. school performance was 7.6 percent higher than the national CBSE average, showing the best results in 20 years. 

The Delhi government asserts that it is working towards making government schools on a par with private and public schools so that more and more students are willing to enrol in government schools and secure quality education that is also affordable. According to media reports, in 2017, Sarvodaya Co-Ed Secondary School in Delhi’s Rohini locality saw some 900 students from private schools joining it.

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