Susheela Kumari was a quiet, average class 5 student studying in a school run by one of Delhi’s three municipal corporations. Now, authorities in two schools are looking for her. Susheela has not violated any law. And she is not the only student for whom there is such a close — almost police-like — hunt!
This scenario playing out in the national capital could be described as bizarre — teachers in both municipal corporations schools and schools run by Delhi government are in a race to locate students like Susheela who have passed the 5th class. The reason given is that these students should have joined government schools for class 6 to resume through what the Delhi government calls “semi-online” classes. But a large number of them have not enrolled and some are even untraceable.
The municipal corporations, who are in charge of 1700 schools in the capital, are responsible for education up to class 5. In 2019 when regular admissions last happened, there were a total of 6,78,065 students in these schools, constituting 17% of the total school going students in the capital, according to an RTI-based response quoted in a white paper by Praja.org. The estimated number of students in these schools in 2020-21 is 5,89,254, and for 2021-22, it is 5,41,619.
The students who pass class 5 usually join the next class in schools run by the Department of Education under the Delhi government. (Delhi is probably the only state where children in government run schools go to those managed by the three MCDs upto class 5 and then shift to schools run by the Delhi government). When the latter started online teaching last year, teachers of Delhi government schools were out in the field and on the phone, trying to locate students who had passed the 5th class from the MCD schools but had failed to fill the admission form for class 6 in government schools.
Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who also holds the education portfolio, has now directed teachers of both types of schools to work in tandem to locate the students and get them to enrol and resume classes.
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Where are the students?
The missing students would number about 34,000 based on Sisodia’s statement that “every year about 1.7 lakh students from municipal schools join those run by the government in Class 6, but this year so far only 76% of those enrolled in class 6 could be reached”.
School staff and education department officials presume they are still in Bihar or Eastern UP or Jharkhand, the home state they returned to with their parents, who along with lakhs of other migrant labours fled NCR after the national lockdown in March 2020.
The students were simply not traceable, as the phone numbers given by their parents were not working. And though most migrant labour has returned to try and regain their livelihoods, presumably with their families and kids, the best efforts of the Delhi government and corporation school teachers to trace these students continue to be vain, despite some teachers conducting “door to door surveys” of their addresses according to the MCD records.
‘Fallen off the grid‘
The unfortunate reality of students having “fallen off the grid”, as the government describes this, dawned on the authorities only when schools in Delhi resumed online classes on June 10th after the summer vacation.
According to Sisodia, the telephone numbers of only 30-35% of the students were correct, and that remains the only contact detail the schools have. In other words, two thirds of the students could not be contacted by teachers for online classes, a number that could be higher given that most students could not collect the worksheets or join the WhatsApp classes of class 5 last year. Two government school teachers this correspondent contacted said they did not want to speak on the subject.
Last year, government school teachers in charge of admissions were responsible for contacting all those who had passed class 5. It was a difficult task given that the migrant rush out of Delhi was at its peak at that time. This year teachers of MCD and government schools were told to coordinate in the hunt for the missing students. But that has only created conflict between the two sets of school teachers with each blaming the other for failing to find the missing students.
The Delhi government had ordered that all students of class 5 in corporation schools be “transferred online” to class 6 in government schools by March 31.
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MCD schools say they gave digital and hard copy lists of students promoted to class 6 and transferred to government schools. The list has the students’ name, father’s name, mother’s name, address, bank account number, Aadhaar number and the contact number.
A teacher of class 3 in an MCD school, on condition of anonymity, said the Delhi government was being unfair to MCD school teachers as “they continue their battle against the BJP-managed MCDs by targeting us. There are teachers of class 6 in government schools in charge of admission, they should have contacted the parents of the students, and asked them to visit the school and fill the forms. They had all the details. They could even have filled the forms themselves on behalf of the parents, as the students had been transferred and were being admitted online. All they had to do was assign the sections. Instead they alleged that MCD students have gone missing”.
The teacher added that his colleague who taught class 5 was now busy with fresh admissions and that it would be too much to expect him to go looking for the missing students.
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Vibha Singh, principal of an MCD school in Gandhi Nagar, East Delhi, agrees. “Mine is a co-ed school and teachers of the girl students have reached out and admitted students, but the boys haven’t been similarly admitted,” says Vibha Singh.
According to Vibha, at a meeting on June 22nd attended by Sisodia, “we were told to go looking for the students and ask them to fill the form and get admitted to class 6. How can MCD leave its admission work and look for students who have left our schools. We raised this issue with Sisodia.”
The job of finding the missing students was then assigned to Special Training Classes teachers under the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan. “They have actually located many and sent them back to school,” says the MCD school principal. Some teachers, who have the contact details of some students who failed to apply for admission, have called up those in charge of class 6 admission, and put in a special request to include these students in the relevant WhatsApp group even if they don’t complete the form-filling exercise.
Ensuring children go to school and that they do not drop out is a matter of national concern. Before the pandemic struck, the estimated rate of drop out in class 5 in MCD schools was 3%, according to Praja.org. And this tussle to locate class 5 students only highlights the increasing numbers of drop outs.
MCD teachers insist that 80% of those who passed class 5 have been admitted to class 6. Though whether they are attending the semi-online classes or not is still unclear. But the bigger worry is about the remaining 20%, as no one knows whether they have returned to Delhi or are still in their villages.