Public school education in Delhi was expected to receive a huge fillip after the AAP Government stormed to power in 2015 with an unprecedented mandate. Their purported focus on education has a lot of noise about modernizing public schools, introducing ‘happiness’ in curricula and better learning outcomes.
However, they have carelessly squandered away a golden opportunity to fundamentally change the city’s human resource development scenario and serious doubts have been cast on the efficacy of their ill-implemented policies.
To begin with, there has been a huge façade of renovating 54 schools with modern amenities and infrastructure, the contract of which (worth Rs. 250 crore) was given to Delhi Tourism and Transport Development Corporation (DTTDC). Bright photographs of ‘model’ schools have been spread far and wide across social media highlighting them as the champions of AAP’s transformative policies. but according to a Financial Express report last year, the walls of recently completed schools have begun to display cracks.
The problem was highlighted on August 16, 2018 during a co-ordination committee meeting that was chaired by the director of Directorate of Education (DoE). According to the minutes of the meeting, “13 District Deputy Director Education (DDEs) have informed that there are numerous deficiencies in civil/electrical/plumbing/renovation work done by DTTDC in 54 pilot schools. In fact, big cracks have started appearing in some recently completed schools.”
The second big gap which the AAP Government has failed to address is the availability of teachers. Across the country, it is usually noticed that teachers are unwilling to work in rural areas compared to urban areas. This preference for urban spaces ideally should mean that Delhi have an excess of teachers but in reality is faced by a severe shortage, almost bordering on a crisis.
Of the 66,736 sanctioned posts, only 35,034 (52.5%) have been filled. Moreover, due to non-compliance of procedure, some 22,016 (33%) posts were filled through guest teachers who work on daily-wage contracts that must be renewed every year. Factoring in them together, there is still a shortage of 9,686 teachers (14.5%) which is unacceptable for any city, especially the national capital.
Furthermore, empirical evidence suggests that primary school teachers are often required to teach secondary level classes which has increased workload and stress for the teachers. Most regular posts are generally filled through promotions. But they have not happened since 2013 despite several reminders to the government.
Worst of all, the Delhi government decided to hire retired teachers to fill in the gaps during the last three months of the previous academic cycle by which time they could not compensate for the time lost. Even in supposedly posh areas like Jor Bagh, unavailability of physics teachers for class 12 has forced a parent to fill in and complete the syllabus.
The Delhi government should be thinking of far reaching solutions to address this appalling shortage by adopting methods recommended by experts like creating a ‘continuous substitute pool’ where in every region there is a small set of teachers who act as ‘backup’ and fill in wherever or whenever regular teachers are absent.
Adding to teacher shortage is a far simpler yet persistent problem of ‘textbooks’ shortage. In most cases, textbooks reach the children. According to two separate surveys conducted by District Information System for Education (DISE) and Delhi RTE forum respectively revealed that 27% of schools did not receive textbooks in 2013-14 and In the 2016-’17 academic year, children in Delhi’s government schools received their textbooks in phases, over months – some reaching them six to nine months into the session. For example, textbooks for mathematics and science reached schools in East and North East Delhi only by September.
This unconscionable delay is often compounded by the poor quality of printing and binding of textbooks and they do not meet norms described in procurement guidelines. This creates additional hurdles for children to access knowledge. Sometimes, textbooks have incomplete and error-riddled content (for example, textbooks with several blank pages or missing pages, repetition of chapters, misspelled words).
These delays, which repeat every year, cannot be explained by bureaucratic and logistic inefficiencies alone. The situation is clearly one of indifference and possibly, neglect and disregard for the rights of children. Despite increased allocations to education, the AAP government has failed to allocate funds where they are absolutely required – There has been virtually no change in the amount allocated for textbooks – around Rs 100 crore – since 2013.
The natural consequence of the aforementioned issues is the adverse impact on learning outcomes of the children. Despite tall claims of bettering private schools, the government school children have severely fallen behind in English learning which has become central to our education system over the years. In English Elective (class 12), the difference in average marks between private and govt. schools is a whopping 67.42% and in English Core (class 12), the difference in performance is 29.42%. In mathematics it was 21.16% and in Hindi core the gap was 13.92%.
The AAP Government however has been busy quoting pass percentages at 12th to substantiate its claims. While the pass rates for government schools in Delhi have been quite similar to those of private schools, the metric itself is quite meaningless. Most government schools in Delhi don’t offer the core and critical subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Biology in which students are more likely to under-perform or in some instances, fail thereby reducing the pass rates of private schools. Of the 866 senior secondary government schools in the city, only 270 (31.17%) offer science as a stream in Class 11 and 12. In sharp contrast, all the 866 institutions offer Arts (Humanities) as a stream.
The data points covered above show that ‘well-painted’ schools cannot be the only answer to a systemic issue. It is clear as day that whether it is schools or data about schools, the AAP government has shown a tendency of just ‘painting’ a pretty picture and brushing all the structural problems under the carpet. Such a lackadaisical and inherently deceitful attitude sugar-coated through well-painted schools and a well-oiled online propaganda machinery may yield temporary political results and brownie points at award functions, while sacrificing the future of Delhi at the same time.
In this context, let me take the opportunity to give some friendly advice and remind the AAP Government of Abraham Lincoln’s sharpest political message which goes, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
(Author is an elected member and Chairman of the Education Committee of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation)