Indeed, the public schools in Delhi like elsewhere in the country are a misnomer. These are generally run and controlled by private parties. And, thus, can prove to be restrictive for public in general unlike Government-run schools built and sustained through public, or tax-payers, money. Government schools cannot bar entry to the kids of ordinary citizens except for good, or genuine, reasons though this should also not be the case under RTE (Right to Education) Act 2009.
Yet, public schools are still thriving. These are somehow like a lingering hangover ever since the colonial era when the schools on modern lines were first built to mainly cater to the educational needs of children of privileged, better off and hugely landed sections of the society under the Zamindari system by the then British government to help and assist it in future.
Freedom from the British rule, indeed, opened a new chapter and a new vista in the field of learning. Governments both Central and in States took the challenge to shape reasonably literate, if not extraordinarily educated, post-independent generations as a matter of State’s responsibility.
Delhi being the Capital city of the country has always been expected to set norms and standards in educational realm like in any other arena related to and affecting public life. Yet, until a few years ago schools in Delhi were falling short of space, infrastructure and other wherewithal like chairs, tables, benches, blackboards, drinking water, toilets for girls and lady teachers besides inadequacies vis-à-vis teaching and other support staff to take care of ever increasing numbers of learners always ready to seek admission in one school or the other.
The net result of such deficiencies was a palpable decline in the quality of education imparted by Government schools in Delhi. Thus, most well off and even not so well off middleclass families wished that their children would have never to go to a Government school. Most forward looking households looked to the comforts and quality that was on offer from privately-run public schools though mostly at an exorbitant cost, or substantial amount of fee. The Governments both at the Central and provincial levels in Delhi knew that the classrooms were getting overcrowded with the result that both teachers and students felt helpless and often indifferent to its possible fallout affecting a whole generation of learners.
It was amid such gloom that a new Government led by a new party came like a surprising burst from the blue on Delhi’s scene, courtesy the massive support from Capital’s electorate. Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of Aam Aadmi Party, or AAP, took over the reins of the National Capital Territory of Delhi a little over four years ago from now. And ever since neither the party nor its leaders have looked back. Broom that has been the party’s election symbol since its inception started to lift the fatigue that was dogging the schools of Delhi besides other institutions of mass use by public.
The Education Budget of Delhi Government was doubled and today the Kejriwal Government spends a quarter of its total budget, or 25 per cent, on education alone. This largely goes to schools since Delhi Government has very little to do with higher education that falls in the purview of its Central counterpart amid lack of Statehood for Delhi and constraints put by this.
Increased flow of funds and more so a will to change schools under Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who holds the charge of Education in Delhi, have not only given a facelift to most Government schools but also led to improvement in standards so as to bring them at par with expensive public schools. As for the results at the annual examinations some of the Government schools are doing better than many public schools. This includes improvement in overall pass percentage as well as the individual scores of many Government school students as compared to their counterparts in privately-run institutions.
This distinct change in the quality of school education in Delhi is mainly because of a change in the approach to manage schools. Sisodia formed SMEs, or school management committees, where among others parents of students were also included by electing them to these committees. This is a step far ahead of the monthly parent-teachers meeting (PTM) that schools in Delhi, including privately-run schools, have been following. Parents were made stakeholders in the running of Government schools. The committee was also entrusted with the task of spotting and enrolling poor children from the vicinity of the school in accordance with the spirit of the RTE Act.
The result of this is increased level, or numbers, of admissions in schools that were earlier reeling under overcrowding with classrooms often bursting to the seams. Thousands of new classrooms equipped with all facilities have been added in past four years or so because of the increased budgetary support given by the Delhi Government. The SMEs have brought transparency to the development work undertaken by the Delhi Government. These committees have also helped in bringing accountability at the level of teaching and day-to-day functioning of schools. The performance of teachers has come under the watch of SMEs, resulting in visible improvement.
The main difference between Government schools and privately-run public schools in Delhi is use of English as a medium of instructions in the latter. The main complaint of parents against Government schools has often been that their wards may miss out on English, particularly spoken English, by joining these schools whereas public schools though expensive ensure better standard of English. To do away with this grievance the Delhi Government recognised English language as Indian students’ virtual window to the world and Sisodia signed a memorandum with British Council to improve upon standard of spoken English in Delhi’s Government school.
To do away with the old style of teaching where instructors often walked into classrooms with shelf-worn notes and read them to students laconically a staff improvement programme has been introduced by the Delhi Government. This has taken teachers to other countries, including England and Singapore, to get a firsthand experience of school teaching in these countries. For some time Sisodia was assisted by Atishi in reforming school education. The latter was educated at Oxford besides other prestigious institutions both within the country and abroad. With her involvement a new ethos were being brought to education in Delhi. Yet, the Central Government did not like it and, thus, stepped in to cut it short.
This also points to the handicap that the Delhi Government suffers from because of the Capital not being made a full-fledged State. Now Atishi plans to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha polls from East Delhi. This among other things would decide the fate of Delhi vis-à-vis its demand for Statehood and thereby also the stakes that the future of millions of its students have in this. Nowhere is it more palpable for them than at the time of leaving school after clearing 12th class or higher secondary examination to enter college.
About a quarter-million students need college admission after clearing class 12 examinations held every summer and many of them end up without seeing a college. The reason behind this is simply Central Government’s indifference and apathy. The Centre not only controls subjects like land and services besides law and order in Delhi but also often bars Delhi Government because of this and may be otherwise too to open new colleges or augment capacity in the already existing institutions of higher learning. The result of this is that tens of thousands of student every year run from pillar to post in their bid to get purposefully engaged in something or the other.
The huge disappointment that this invariably brings to ever growing breed of learners points to the urgent need to give primacy to education that has in any case been getting a short shrift in case of Delhi. And this is mainly because of the BJP-led Central Government. The Centre under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has clearly failed to take an imaginative view of the educational needs of youth struggling to make their mark as future citizens of the Capital and also that of the country and, thus, he may have to pay dearly in the next month’s Lok Sabha polls in Delhi’s seven parliamentary constituencies.
This is more so since the AAP Government has put education on the top of the Capital city’s agenda by the sheer dint of its hard work in the field of school, or primary and secondary levels, of education.
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