The 10th of February marked the fourth anniversary of the Aam Aadmi Party Government in Delhi which stormed to power with the largest mandate since the establishment of the Delhi legislative assembly.
Ever since they have taken over Delhi, there has been relentless propaganda across the spectrum with regard to its transformative policies in the education sector. Only recently we saw full page ads in newspapers by the state government and the Aam Aadmi Party showcasing their achievements, which included laying down sewer lines in some areas.
While an extremely rosy picture of their ‘achievements’ has been painted in the mainstream and social media about the Education sector, there is little discourse or deliberation on how the situation of primary schools leaves a lot to be desired.
I would have been happy if this was the truth. However, this is far from the truth. There are several uncomfortable facts that the common people, both in Delhi and outside the city, must know.
Money for ads, not for schools
Pre-primary and primary education in Delhi are mainly the responsibility of the local bodies and fall under the purview of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). However, due to the nature of our urban finances, the MCD is largely dependent on the Delhi state government for spend on the 1695 schools which fall under its ambit. Therefore, it is incumbent on the state government to provide as much support possible to MCD schools given its ‘self-proclaimed’ commitment towards education. Nevertheless, the current scenario is to quite contrary to what is being marketed.
At the crux of the matter is a twofold problem – the continuous decline in funding of the MCD schools by AAP Government and the delay in release of funds to MCD schools. While situation is especially grim in North and East Delhi, it is equally bad in South Delhi, the more affluent part of our national capital region.
To begin with, the budget allocated to South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) schools (581 in number) has been slashed by the state government from an expected Rs. 89 crore to nearly just half i.e. Rs. 46 crore. The second concern is that in the preceding two years, fund releases from the State Government took place between mid-February and mid-March, extremely close to the financial year end. This makes it impossible for civic bodies to spend this money, say Rs. 46 crore within the available time frame of 15-45 days, keeping in mind the strict procedures such as tendering, bidding etc; to be followed.
The ripple effect of this fund crunch and fund release delay has been wide ranging and is potently catastrophic as the mandate of civic bodies is to cater to the demands of more than nine lakh students when the MCDs themselves are in deep financial crisis.
The first impact has been felt on enrolments. The enrolment rate of students in primary classes of SDMC schools continued to decline with 17,535 fewer students being enrolled in the 2017-18 session compared to 2016-17. The number of students enrolled in 2017-18 is 2,48,297 which is lower than each of the previous six years due to the systematic decline in funding for the corporation schools.
This is despite the fact that continuous efforts have been made by the civic body to ensure better schools with limited money using initiatives like smart classrooms, better desks and benches, nursery facilities, extra classes, computer classes, English lessons and holding street plays.
The withholding of funds has not allowed any of the MCDs to fill up the over 5,000 vacant teacher positions in the schools falling under their jurisdiction. The student teacher ratios are bludgeoning to 80/90:1 which far exceeds the RTE requirement of 35:1. In addition, 120 principal posts lying vacant in SDMC schools and the fund crunch has forced the civic body to appoint senior teachers to the position of acting principals. There has also been a freeze on ability to hire specialized teachers for computer classes.
The intensity of the problem is even higher with respect to already existing teachers. The Delhi High Court had to repeatedly give a rap on the knuckles to the State government to clear the salary dues of Rs. 273 crore to nearly 13,000 North and East MCD teachers which they had kept pending for over six months.
Anguished over non-payment of salaries of municipal school teachers, a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar said this was “intolerable”, “completely improper” and an “inefficient system”. The salaries were paid only after the Bench went to the extent of threatening to attach the Delhi government’s bank accounts.
The silver lining here is that the SDMC has developed innovative financing mechanisms such as education cess on property taxes to ensure that our ‘Gurus’ are always paid their due share on time for their noble and selfless service to our kids.
With no money for such basic needs, teacher training and equipping them with the latest methods and pedagogies has become a far cry across all schools. On an average, teachers from 55% MCD schools reported to have a medium level of teaching quality based on the various parameters under School Standards and Evaluation Framework (SSEF) whereas 34% reported to have a high quality of teaching,
With schools as the temples of learning where kids spend a third of their time every day, it is imperative to provide a conducive environment for them to learn and grow. However, due to the inordinate delays in release of money for capital expenditure, the infrastructure at MCD schools is worsening at an alarming pace.
For instance, more than 5,000 students in 14 schools are forced to sit on floors, as there no desks and benches, and 44 schools do not have Jal Board water connections. Same is the plight of 40,000 students in 100 schools of North MCDA. There are 14 schools without a campus of their own.
I am reminded of a quote from Education Commission’s 1964-66 report which said – “The destiny of India is now being shaped in her classrooms.” And if classrooms remain underdeveloped and understaffed as they are today, there is very little glimmer of hope for our future.
Despite SDMC staying committed to spending a major chunk of its budget on sanitation and education, the shortfall in money released has made it impossible to construct new toilet blocks in schools or take forward its novel initiatives like e-toilets with auto-clean systems and mobile toilets for improving access and increasing conservation of water.
Furthermore, in a place like Delhi which is prone to extreme temperatures every season, there exist schools with no ceiling fans or necessary heating amenities. Lack of such basic infrastructure discourage students from being in schools and increase dropout rates. There is routine delay in giving notebooks to the students and the plans to install CCTV cameras in schools to improve safety for the girl child had to be postponed.
Consequent to the lack of facilities, shortage of teachers and massive gaps in the delivery systems of primary education in SDMC schools, there has been a major rise in the dropout rates in MCD schools as per a study conducted by the Praja Foundation. Over a lakh students have dropped out of schools from MCD schools since AAP has come to power and the estimated dropout percentage rate is 6% for SDMC. To make matters worse, as per the MCD data in 2016-17, 53,100 students enrolled with the primary schools in three municipal corporations have not attended the academic sessions for up to two years.
Petty politics of Kejriwal government
While Arvind Kejriwal keeps blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi of not allowing him to work – and yet claiming that he has worked hard and converted Delhi into some top class city – it is him who in reality is obstructing development in Delhi.
This constant step-motherly treatment of MCD schools by the AAP state government is costing our kids dearly. Most experts agree that the state government has taken a vision-less approach to reforming our primary education system. It has shied away from enhancing the quality of education in MCD schools and resorts to nip and tuck jobs such as the ‘Buniyaad’ scheme (accelerated programme to improve learning outcomes). Such grand PR exercises will continue to fail in delivering the desired results as long as the core and critical issues mentioned are not addressed.
Instead of sitting on dharna for full statehood, it will be good if the Delhi Chief Minister focuses on these issues.
(Author is an elected member and Chairman of the Education Committee of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation. Data and information cited in the article has been obtained from multiple sources by the author, including from documents submitted and available in the house and committee meetings, which she has access to owing to her position.)