Delhi Report Card 2: Keen focus on education, but jury still out on outcomes

SPECIAL SERIES: DELHI ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS 2020

Support Citizen Matters - independent, Reader-funded media that covers your city like no other.
Get in-depth and insightful stories on issues that affect you every day!
Atishi with school kids in Delhi. Pic: Aam Aadmi Party

This article is part of our special series on Delhi Elections 2020

Jatin Kumar, 11, a Class 6 student at Sarvodaya Vidyalaya in South Delhi’s Madangir was an introvert who was hesitant to approach the teacher. Now he is a confident young student who volunteers to take part in school activities. He credits this change to the “Happiness Curriculum”, under which 100,000 students in Delhi schools, from nursery to class 8, participate, learning through inspirational stories and meditation classes.

Advertisement

A Curriculum for Happiness for school children was the brainchild of the Dalai Lama, which he launched on July 2, 2018. The Aam Aadmi Party was quick to accept and introduce the concept in all schools run by the Delhi government, which has seen about one lakh students spending the first 45 minutes each day without opening a textbook, a concept now being tried out elsewhere—in BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh and Delhi University, for instance. During these 45 minutes, students are encouraged to talk freely and share ideas with their classmates.

The initiative has received praise both locally and internationally. Speaking on the first anniversary of the Happiness programme, former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi mooted the introduction of Happiness Classes across judicial academies in the country to address the problem of litigation.

Teachers in schools that have introduced the programme say they see less littering on school campuses, among other outcomes of this curriculum. “I like this class,” said Anshika Rawat, 13, a class 8 student at Sarvodaya Vidyalaya, Madangir. “We are not given any homework. The teacher talks to us and engages with us through activities like reading and role play”. Parents too say they have started noticing behavioural changes in their wards.

Features of the Happiness Curriculum

  • Activities such as mindful listening, mindful belly breathing, storytelling, meditation
  • Connecting with and feeling the surroundings
  • Combining theatrics with role play
  • Conscious, targeted personal connections between teachers and students
  • Discussions and exchange of ideas about anything under the sun

The outcome report

Immediately after coming to power with a thumping majority in February 2015, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal made it clear that education would be one of his top priorities. As a first step, the Delhi government allocated maximum funds for education. In 2019-20, the most recent budget presented by Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister Manish Sisodia, 26% (Rs 13,997 crore) of the total Rs 60,000 crore state budget, was allocated to education.

Not surprisingly, the Aam Aadmi Party is making its performance in providing quality education to all one of the major poll planks in the February Delhi Assembly elections. “I am not asking for votes for myself, but for Delhi and its people,” said Kejriwal in his first roadshow after filing his nomination. “This time, all two crore votes should be for schools, hospitals and for Delhi, not for any party”.

The report card tabled in the Delhi assembly by Sisodia said that the department of higher education had 86 % projects on track — highest among all the 15 government departments, with just 14 % (13 out of 93) critical projects lagging behind.

Other educational achievements highlighted in AAP Outcome Budget for 2019-20

  • Increase in number of classrooms across government schools to 45,118 in 2018-19 from 24,157 in 2015-16
  • Improvement in student-teacher ratio from 62:1 to 33:1 (According to government figures the ratio in Primary schools is 40:1, Middle Level it is 42:1 and at the Secondary and Senior level it is 48:1).
  • Nursery classes introduced in 301 schools with 95 % of seats filled till December 2018
  • Better community involvement, with parents actively involved in school management committees

The report card also claimed that the government’s Mission Buniyad campaign had led to a considerable improvement in reading and math skills in 3.3 lakh students. “The national achievement survey found that a majority of government school students in classes 3 to 8 did not perform well as per the grade-level assessment. However, the four-month campaign helped improve the percentage of students who could read textbooks from 48% to 66%. Also, the percentage of students who could solve a grade-level maths problem rose from 54% to 73%.  Also, 24,000 students were imparted training for spoken English and soft skills through specialised professional training under the programme” it said.

Controversial reforms

The opposition, expectedly, has been critical of some of the proposals. They argued that these measures would defeat the goal of providing quality education to all. But Kejriwal’s proposals found plenty of support from educationists who felt it brought education into focus and infused energy into a moribund system responsible for managing these schools. “Parents, who could not enter schools earlier, are empowered now to manage them through ­committees,” said a parent whose child is studying in a government school.

Atishi, a Rhodes scholar and former advisor to the Delhi ­education minister, who lost the East Delhi Lok Sabha elections against BJP’s cricketer turned politician Gautam Gambhir and is now contesting the assembly polls from Kalkaji constituency, is the brain behind several of these measures. “My first area of focus was infrastructure,” said Atishi. “You could smell the stench from the toilets even before you entered the school. The children felt like second-grade citizens. We ensured schools get high-quality infrastructure. It was a booster for the child’s self-worth and eventually caused a perspective shift among students and teachers.”

According to the state education department, it has, among other measures, revamped school infrastructure and remodelled teacher training to address the learning needs of students.

However, a survey released last year by a child rights group, CRY, gave the critics a handle to beat the Kejriwal government. The survey said nearly 23% of children in the age group 11-15 years in urban Delhi-NCR region are dropouts while 5% has never been enrolled in any school.

Subsequently, a government selection panel told the Delhi High Court that 77% of ad hoc teachers of Delhi government schools had failed to secure minimum qualification marks for permanent recruitment. Nearly a third of the teaching staff in government schools are on contract despite teaching in the schools for several years. It is also alleged that the government had failed to ensure 100 % implementation of admission of students under the economically weaker section (EWS) quota in private schools.

Dr Nandini Sharma, a member of the Delhi Pradesh BJP Executive Committee and Chairman of the Education Committee of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, admitted that 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. There is still a shortage of 9,686 teachers (14.5 %).

But the 2018 CBSE Class 12 results came as a boost to the Kejriwal government. The results showed a pass percentage of 90.68 in Delhi’s government schools, better than the 88.35% in private institutions and well over the national average of 83.01%. One reason for this good showing was ensuring greater participation of parents, which Atishi described as the second major reform after infrastructure improvement.

School management committees (SMCs) were revived and given more teeth. These committees now prepare the school development plan and decides how the contingency fund (Rs 5 to 7 lakh annually) is to be spent. Empowerment of parents encouraged them to take interest in the schools and get rid of the myth that parents of government school students are less concerned about their children’s education than those who send their kids to private schools. “Parents who could not even enter the schools earlier now found themselves in management roles,” says Atishi, whose tenure as Delhi education advisor ended last April.

Training teachers

Then came training of teachers. “The old ­system of training ­teachers was a box-ticking ­exercise. We changed it,” said Atishi. Besides raising the logistics standards of the training sessions, the methodology was also changed.

Shailendra Sharma, associated with educational NGO Pratham and an advisor to the Delhi government’s education director, said 200 teachers were pulled out of duty and prepared as mentor teachers. “Their ground-level knowledge was used to prepare the new training modules,” said Sharma. “They were sent to the National Institute of Education in Singapore in 2018 for training. The aim was to discard the old model where retired teachers were hired for training and replace them with mentors who would be given exposure to new and advanced education methods”.

The teachers brought back a number of innovative ideas such as ‘Flipped Classrooms’, reintroducing lesson planning, developing support material, ‘think stations’, ‘Go MAD (Make a Difference)’ project and CAL (Computer Aided Learning) labs. The teachers became ‘students’ and observed the teaching procedures at Woodgrove Secondary School in Singapore, attended sessions with school mentors and learnt about new ways of teaching with focus on student development, rather than reinforce rote learning.

“For the five-day workshop held under the National Institute of Education (NIE), a Singapore-based institution, the teachers were asked to apply from 2016 onwards,” said Deepti Chawla, a teacher who was selected for the training programme. “There were rounds of interviews to identify the teachers from close to 1,100 government schools. Out of the thousand teachers who had applied, only 200 were selected”. Another teacher Neeru Lohiya said this was the first time that teachers were sent for such programmes, and not heads of schools. “But then, no proper feedback was taken from these heads of institutions,” she added.

Segregation debate

The AAP government’s enthusiasm to turn around the educational system in the capital’s government schools caused a furore when it decided to regroup, or segregate as critics call it, students from classes 6 to 8 according to their learning abilities.

Under a programme called Chunauti 2018, students from classes 6 to 8 were divided into three sections­—Pratibha, Nishtha and Neo-Nishtha—according to their learning levels. They were tested for arithmetic, reading in the language that was the medium of instruction, and in English. The different sections also have different exams, and the Nishtha and Neo-Nishtha sections are taught with the help of special study material called Pragati Books.

Such segregation, according to experts, crushes the self-esteem of the kids. “This segregation of students is extremely detrimental to children,” said Janaki Rajan, professor of education at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi and a former director of the State Council of Educational Research and Training, Delhi. “It has not only crushed their self-esteem and exterminated peer learning but also eroded social diversity of the class. All studies show that students in mixed abilities group learn better. Why is the government then bent on doing the contrary? In addition, it is mostly students from scheduled class, scheduled tribes and the Muslim community who land up in the Nishtha and Neo-Nishtha sections.”

This view is echoed by R. Govinda, former vice chancellor at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration. “Branding of children and meddling with curriculum won’t work,” said Govinda. “Continuous professional development of teachers is the only way forward”.

Experiments that drew flak

In an experiment in 2016-17, the education department of Delhi created a group of 62,277 students who had failed to pass class 9. The group, named Vishwas, was coached separately, and made to appear for class 10 through Patrachar Vidyalaya, a CBSE open school. However, 98% of the students from the group failed. The government claims that it improved pass percentage of class 9 from 52% to 57% between the sessions 2015-16 and 2017-18, but critics say this has been achieved by pushing weak students out of the school.

The directorate of education ruled last year that if a student fails twice in a class, he or she should be counselled to opt for open schooling options. Information obtained by lawyer Ashok Agarwal, who is part of the civil rights group Social Jurist, shows that in the 2018-19 session, the Delhi government denied re-admission to 1.02 lakh students out of 1.55 lakh who failed in classes 9 to 12. The government claims that the students who fail would anyway drop out and the government was doing them a service by telling them about legitimate options and even holding classes for them.

The government has also been criticised for slashing the syllabus by 25% and in a manner that critics find ‘arbitrary’. Atishi, however argued that in this age of the Internet and Google the amount of textbook information one needs now is less. The idea found support with Union HRD minister Prakash Javadekar as well, who announced that half the syllabus in CBSE schools will be cut from 2019.

Teachers speak

There are others who are unhappy with the changes brought by the government. C.P. Singh, president of the Government School Teachers’ Association, Delhi, says it was unwise to make the school management committees all-powerful entities. “Ab anpadh aadmi aake class check karenge ke padhai ho rahi hai ke nahin? (Now even the illiterate can check whether classes are being held or not)” he seethes.

Furthermore, the Delhi government’s plan to install CCTV cameras in classrooms attracted more angry remarks from Singh. “If there is a camera in class, the natural teaching style of the teacher will be affected. And then there are lady teachers. Now, males sitting on streets will watch them on their mobile phones through apps! This is shocking.”

The claims and counterclaims continue, and will get more intense as the poll campaign picks up steam. But their efforts to improve education in government schools will remain a key AAP campaign point. Though so far, little has been said on how they will take this forward if they win.

Final picture

2015 Manifesto Promises  Status
Equal chance for children from all sections of society at getting quality education, by improving the standard of government schools in terms of infrastructure and curriculum Largely achieved
20 new degree colleges Pending
500 new government schools Work in progress at initial stages
Transparency in admissions Achieved for government schools (not so in private schools)
Higher education guarantee scheme Pending

 

Get the Citizen Matters newsletter
About Sri Krishna 9 Articles
Sri Krishna is a former Special Correspondent, PTI.