A key plank of the AAP strategy in the poll-bound states of Punjab, Gujarat and Goa is to showcase its work in the education sector of Delhi. Ever since Chief Minister, Kejriwal doubled the budgetary allocation for education, there is a widespread perception that the education sector is being transformed. In fact, even the LG, Mr Jung who is perceived to be at permanent loggerheads with the AAP CM, singled out education for “extremely positive effort” while dismissing all other purported reforms. Even if one were to disregard the fact that budgetary allocation is not the same as expenditure (a point made by Mr Kejriwal himself with reference to his stupendous Rs 526 crore advertising budget used to print full-page hindi advertisements in Chennai and beyond), the basis of this perception is unclear. Is it the multiple full-page advertisements by the Delhi Government publicizing routine events like parent-teacher meetings or the glowing news reports on summer camps, held in a fraction of Delhi Government schools with mixed success? Because if one were to actually visit schools, speak with teachers and educationists, there is real concern among many on the proposed and ongoing changes in education under the Delhi Government.
The changes in education in Delhi can be roughly categorized in four areas: infrastructure; administrative reforms; curriculum; and teachers. Building new schools and classrooms is a good thing and the AAP deserves credit for whatever has been done in this area. However, the other three areas are fraught with arbitrariness and heavy-handedness. Take for instance, the much publicized “reform” of Chunauti 2016 in which students are segregated into groups based on their “basic learning skill”. One group for failed students called “vishwaas”, another for likely failures “nishtha”, and the good kids, “pratibha”. There is agreement among educationists that creating this sort of hierarchy and labelling students is discriminatory, damages student psyche and harms the collegial learning environment in schools. Sure enough if one speaks with teachers, they speak of how students even though they did not understand the purpose of this division were aware that one group is better and pleaded to be put in that section. Another teacher spoke of how some teachers interpreted this permission to segregate students by deciding to send the “naughty” ones in the failing group. One can also imagine the likely repercussions of girls being put in the failed group if their parents are already disinclined to continue their education.
Another “reform” which has been more clandestine is the supplanting of official textbooks for class VI-IX by a new set of books called “Pragati” brought out in conjunction with the NGO Pratham. These books under the guise of simplification are significantly shorn of progressive content required to shape curious young minds. While Shailendra Sharma of Pratham who is advising Delhi Government has held that these books are supplementary in nature, a circular issued by the Directorate in March makes it clear that “in place of the regular curriculum […] revision as per booklets to be provided by DoE […] will be done in the month of April and May […]. Following this directive simply did not leave adequate time to cover the regular text, and thus the Directorate despatched another circular on “focused syllabus” which handpicked a few topics in each subject from the official text to be covered in the remaining time. It is clear that the Delhi Government with schools affiliated to CBSE cannot unilaterally change the curriculum but it has de facto done so.
Teacher training too has been overhauled under the tutelage of Pratham and Creatnet. Moreover 200 mentor teachers were selected and sent for some life skills training called “Jeevan Vidya” which describes its philosophy as an “excellent combination of psychology, parapsychology and metaphysics”. The other much publicised promise by the Delhi Government was that teachers would not be tasked with administrative duties; however in the recently held municipal by-elections in Delhi, teachers were enlisted for election related work. While it is true that teachers were enlisted by the Election Commission, it does not appear that the Delhi Government either demurred or provided alternatives. The one area of reform under the “teacher” category much needed by all accounts is to fill teacher vacancies – approximately 12000 as per Shailendra Sharma – but which appears to be sputtering so far.
One hears of other initiatives such as selecting some bright students for private coaching such as “career launcher” for engineering and medical entrance examinations so as to showcase the improved standard of education in government schools. We could not verify this independently but if true, this is clearly disingenuous and in no way speaks of systemic reform. Other reforms such as putting CCTV cameras in all classrooms implicitly equate teachers with assembly line workers while strengthening the perception of an antagonistic relationship between teachers and students. A hundred odd principals have also been sent abroad to Harvard and Cambridge for leadership training indicating a disembodied conception of “leadership” in which structural issues and context are irrelevant. There are other initiatives which jar: schools have large flexes of the Delhi Chief Minister, Kejriwal and Education Minister, Sisodia smiling benignly alongside an anodyne quotation on education. The purpose of the flexes is clear and militate against critical thinking, which is the purpose of education in the first place.
It is of course possible that one may take different views on the above changes. However, many of these changes run counter to not just prevailing consensus among educationists but also legislative (RTE) and policy (NCF 2005) frameworks arrived at after protracted and widespread consultations. It was thus incumbent on the Delhi Government to at least put out a white paper on its approach to education to allow for informed and participatory public opinion. Moreover, the Delhi Government appears to have outsourced large parts of the education department to private organisations; however the terms of reference and monies paid remain unclear. Thousands of new positions have been created; yet their job description, salaries etc have not been put in the public domain. Some have conjectured that many of these positions are but an exercise in cadre creation. All of these worries can be allied with proactive transparency, a cause one presumes is dear to the Chief Minister, a former RTI activist himself. The last two years have shown that any and all changes in education – whether curriculum reform or the appointment of administrators – are highly political in nature. The rhetoric of good intentions alone cannot give any Government carte blanche to overhaul the education sector as they wish – transparency and a consultative approach remain non-negotiable.