The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been promoting the work done by their team in reforming the government schools in Delhi for long.
I came across this article in The Huffington Post praising the work done by Manish Sisodia, Deputy CM who also holds the Education ministry, towards reforming government schools in Delhi. The article is written by Akshay Marathe, a joint secretary of AAP. So it is hard to identify whether the article was intended to be a journalistic report or yet another advertisement by the party, for itself. One has to love the hyperbole “the Aam Aadmi Party government is rescuing an entire generation”.
One has to give credit where it is due. Manish Sisodia has indeed realised that education is something critical. He is earnest to make an impact. And he is certainly making an effort. But effort does not necessarily translate to results, and misdirected effort can exacerbate the already dismal standards of Indian schools. In the end, it is not the effort or potential which matters, it is the results that count.
When the CBSE Class 12 results were declared in May this year, the state government and party congratulated itself on how the government schools had beaten the private schools. Manish Sisodia tweeted:
Delhi govt schools performed better than private schools. Well done! Team Education of Delhi. I’m proud of my team. #DelhiEducation
— Education Minister (@Minister_Edu) May 21, 2016
Looking at this, people will believe that it is a testimony to government’s efforts translating into results. However, when one goes into details, one finds that while the claim is factually correct, it is not any miraculous turnaround.
Past records show that in the last few years, the pass percentages of the government schools have been quite similar to those of private schools in Delhi. Government schools had done marginally better than private schools this year, but this was not for the first time. In 2009 and 2010 too, government schools had done better than private schools (pdf link). As recent as in 2013, under Sheila Dixit government, government schools had done better than private schools in Class X results too.
Secondly, as this well argued blog post points out, a large number of government schools in Delhi are not offering critical subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Biology. These are core subjects that bring down the pass rates as they are considered relatively difficult. This is an extremely crucial point. Government schools cannot claim to be doing their job unless they offer the crucial science stream to those interested in it.
Thirdly, as is evident from this tabulation of school wise performance in CBSE 2016 examinations, the average score in government schools is much worse than those of private schools. Nearly all the top performing schools in Delhi are privately run.
But it’s not just about government versus private schools’ performance. This competition – which is welcome if restricted to students getting better pass percentages and grades – is now turning into a bitter battle.
It is no secret that AAP has an extremely hostile relationship with the private schools in Delhi. This is also a politically convenient position for the party. Parents are understandably stressed by expenses related to education, coaching, stationary, and other facilities charged by many schools. By painting all private schools as thieves out to fleece the masses, AAP is making a visible attempt to cash in on this angst.
As a result, schools have been left with little autonomy in their admission process. And earlier this year, in a very drastic move, the AAP government was embroiled in a legal battle to take over a private unaided school, which it accused of indulging in malpractices and corruption. A couple of months back, Delhi High Court had blasted the state government for not maintaining the same standards that they expect from the private schools.
What the Delhi government is doing is, aggressively using the Right to Education act to stifle the autonomy of private schools that have not been lucky enough to qualify as “minority institutions”. The RTE is not just a draconian set of regulations resulting in the shut down of schools, it is also a sectarian law which is applicable only to non-minority schools. A large number of schools have understandable shielded themselves from this act by registering either as religious or linguistic minority schools.
The result of this has been, that despite the crazy demand at the time of nursery or kindergarten admissions, new high-quality private schools are simply not opening up in Delhi. In fact, it is Gurgaon and Noida where much of the capacity is being created.
Let’s take a look at case of International schools which are now becoming so popular especially among the urban elite. The website of the Cambridge board lists only three CIE-affiliated schools in Delhi, whereas the corresponding number is 22 for Harayana (out of which most are in Gurgaon). There are 21 in Telangana, mostly in and around Hyderabad. And there are 108 such institutions in Maharashtra, mostly in Mumbai and Pune. The shockingly low number of CIE affiliated schools in Delhi should be a sobering indicator that the hostile regime in the capital has removed any incentive for quality private players to enter the education space.
Perhaps it has to do with the kind of politics AAP engages in. It likes to be confrontational and aggressive. Whether it is about attacking the Modi government or attacking people who don’t agree with the party’s stand, this belligerent attitude seems to be percolating to forming educational policies too by its state government. But education is too important a sector to be treated like just another political battle. Hope the government realises that.