All eyes are on the big bang education reforms in Delhi

Mukta Naik, Delhi Community Manager
Delhi, 22 September 2016

Of all the megacities in the world, Delhi is the most unusual in terms of its governance framework. In addition to being the national capital, Delhi is also a State, with an elected Chief Minister; yet, key functions like land use planning and policing and even bureaucratic appointments remain with the Centre. Of late, the tensions between the Chief Minister and the Lieutenant Governor, who represents the Union government, have flared considerably in Delhi and a recent High Court judgement that favoured the Centre has only added fuel to the raging fire.

Despite the battles, the Delhi government has made valiant efforts to focus on improving the public education system in the State, beginning boldly with allocating nearly 23 per cent of its budget to education in March this year. With an initial focus on infrastructure improvements like maintenance and construction of additional classrooms, the focus has now shifted to education quality.

In a landmark move, the government organised a parent-teacher meeting (PTM) on 30th of July in over 1000 government schools across the city. Besides giving an opportunity for parents to interact with those who teach their children, something that who send their children to private schools take for granted, the PTM was also a golden opportunity to create a buy-in among parents for the new model of education that the government is hoping to take forward. While critics dismiss it as hype, the PTM’s inordinate success can at least partially be attributed to the activation of defunct school management committees (SMCs) that are mandated by India’s Right to Education Act.

More substantive reforms that speak to education quality are also underway, sources in the government say. Chunauti 2018 (translation: Challenge 2018), an initiative to bring academically deficient students up to speed through additional support mechanisms, replaces the no detention policy widely criticized by educationists nationwide. Summer camps were held in 550 schools across the city this year, for instance. The aim is to equip students to take the Grade 10 school-leaving examination with some level of confidence. A number of organisations including Pratham, Jodo Gyan, Central Square Foundation and Creatnet Education have been roped in to improve learning outcomes and teaching quality in 54 ‘Model Schools’ and plans to train teachers and principals are also afoot.

Despite the commendable energy that the government has brought into education, turning the tide after decades of disrepair and neglect will be a gargantuan task. Experts on education are ambivalent about what these measures will yield and some steps are being viewed with skepticism. “Filling vacancies so that there are enough teachers in schools should be the top priority,” a senior researcher shared, adding that finding trained teachers to fill the 10,000 slots announced by the government will remain a serious challenge. Segregating children by ability under Chunauti 2018 has also been controversial, with child psychologists pointing to the possible adverse impacts of such a move on self-esteem. Curriculum reforms made unilaterally by the government have also not been well received by educationists and by the central examination board.

Overall, while the intent to improve education seems clear, the strategy appears piecemeal. Meanwhile, education has not been spared from the blows in the ongoing pow-wows between the two loci of power. The Lt. Governor took a dig at Delhi’s Education Minister and Deputy CM Manish Sisodia a few days ago, calling his foreign trip to study Finland’s education interventions a ‘vacation’, even as Sisodia tweeted about his meetings and site visits abroad. Amid the scuffle between those in power, hangs in balance the future of thousands of young people.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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