A revolution in the making- The story of the turnaround of public education in Delhi
A revolution in the making- The story of the turnaround of public education in Delhi
An Insider’s (Teacher) account
Every morning, on the way to my school, I pass by a government school in the vicinity. It’s a spectacular new building which has been constructed in the old campus of the government school. It’s hard to believe that the building is a government school! A government school with such a great infrastructure is rare right? Cut to the school where I teach, the building has also started taking the final shape. We (Teachers) are very much excited about the new building. Every now and then I go to see the design and interior of the building. Often we discuss about the new technology which is being used to make these buildings earthquake-proof and attractive. It’s a state-of-the-art infrastructure I must say. We feel proud of it and I have seen that even the permanent critiques have changed their stance; they are all praises for the government for this work.
Recently, while reading an article about the intention of the government behind this infrastructure makeover, I couldn’t resist sharing a quote from the same. Atishi Marlena, one of the leaders of AAP and Advisor to Deputy CM on education had said, “The entire look-feel of the government school needs to change. When a child enters a government school, he/she has a better sense of self worth.”
There is restlessness in the government to bring a total qualitative change in the public education system. Perhaps this is the first time when a government is trying to push education in the domain of public discourse. To my limited information, I have a sense that education has remained ignored and on the least priority of the governments across the nation. The evidence is the statistics which indicate a declining expenditure on public education by both the central and state governments across the nation. In fact, in some states, governments have played a very active role in the decline of the public education system. The government schools have been replaced by the chain of private schools and a study suggests that in some states, majority of these private schools are owned by the political leaders and their families. The business opportunity has been and continues to be carved out in education at the cost of the quality decline of public education system. The biggest victim of this phenomenon has been the people belonging to downtrodden section of the society.
One must also see that perhaps, this is for the first time in the history of independent India that education has been put on the highest priority. Apart from the sprawling state-of-the-art school buildings in almost every corner of Delhi, the following development would compel you to believe that the public education in Delhi is a revolution in making:
Placing dignity of teachers on high priority: Teachers are considered the most important agent for the change in education. Keeping this in view, the government has taken several steps to ensure and enhance the dignity of teachers. Around 200 teachers have been given the opportunity to work as ‘Mentor Teachers’ to bring the change. Several other teachers are working in this mission for change.
1. High-quality teacher-training: The government is working on several models of teacher training which cover topics ranging from spirituality to classroom activities. Teachers have been encouraged and sent for Vipassana and Jivan Vidya shivir. Expertise available in the field of education has been roped in, to collaborate with the government for teachers training. Organizations such as Creatnet Education, Jodo Gyan, Pratham etc. are working with the government to provide the best support to the teachers. All the efforts are being made to ensure a good ambience at the centres for teacher-training. The provision for tea and food is the part of this effort.
The government is also serious about the professional development of the teachers and willing to develop each school as a place for learning for the teachers as well. Some pilot work has already taken place in some schools. The plan is to develop each school as independent learning unit and a system to be put in place for the continuous professional development of the teachers.
This year, the Teachers’ Day had been celebrated with great enthusiasm and the entire capital city was flooded with posters of the teachers, who won state teachers award. This was unprecedented. The hero was the teacher.
2. Respect for Guest Teachers: Several steps have been taken to ensure the job security of the guest teachers. It is ensured that they don´t lose their job in case of the vacancy filled by the appointment or promotion of regular teacher. They are placed in some other schools. Recently, the government has decided to raise the salary of the guest teachers and there is the probability that this would get implemented from the new academic session.
3. Appointment of staff for the administrative work– Every school has got an estate manager and few administrative staff to ease the teachers from the non-academic works. This has reduced the burden of non-academic work on the teachers to a significant extent and expedited the early disposal of several welfare works related to students and teachers.
Collaboration with community- The RTE Act (2009) makes it mandatory for all the schools to have SMCs (School Management Committees). In the last two years, this has been implemented in words and spirit. The member of the SMC has been elected through the democratic process. The government is also working for the capacity-building of the SMC members in association with SANJHA (A Non Governmental Organisation). SMCs are holding regular meetings in schools and various issues related to the development of the school are being discussed in those meetings. Having attended some of these meetings, I was surprised to see the quality of questions asked by the SMC members. For example, they queried about the use of audio visual aids in the classroom, the use of library, safety and security issues of the children and the sanitation.
More autonomy and capacity-building for principals: The principal is the nucleus of the school. Several studies have reported that the performance of the school most often depends on the working style of the principal. Keeping this in view, the government is working in collaboration with organisations for the capacity-building of principals. A number of principals have been sent to Cambridge and Finland to learn about the best practices in the world. Creatnet education regularly conducts a programme with principals where they primarily work on the idea of ‘working together’.
Principals have also been entrusted with more autonomy. In the chain of traditional bureaucracy, a principal was just above the bottom. Most often they would have to wait for the instructions from the above to carry on the mundane daily activities of the school. Now, the principal has been given the autonomy to spend up to a certain limit without any approval from above authorities. In the appointment of the temporary staff, the principal has been entrusted with the final word.
High quality learning material and examination reform – The focus of the education is now on meaning-making. After seeing the question paper, a teacher shared with me that she has seen such a high quality question paper for the first time in her 27 years of teaching career. These question papers are designed to challenge the thinking capacity of the students and not to check the power of memorisation.
The students studying in government schools are given a wide range of high quality learning materials. Many teams of expert are working day and night for the production of good quality learning materials. Earlier, we would complain about the lack of sufficient material to give to our students to practice. The ‘Pragati’( work book) has solved this problem. A number of other books on variety of issues are given to the students. All the schools have library with a decent number of books and magazines.
Some reflections and challenges ahead:
– Some of us (teachers) see the move of the government as politically motivated. What’s wrong even if all the reform is politically motivated? In democracy if certain things are not the matter of politics it remains neglected. If education becomes the matter of politics and this leads to a change in the status of education, we must welcome it. It’s we the teachers, who would emerge as the biggest beneficiary of a transformed public education system. In reality, an apolitical education is impossible.
– We (teachers) have another major concern about the kind of children come to our school. I often hear that ‘kuchh bhi kar lo bachche to vahi rahenge na’ (Do anything but the background of the children is going to remain the same) . I feel that this is the elitist view and based on the idea of social exclusion. When we think to make the school more sacred by removing the so-called ‘disturbing elements’, we forget that the one whom we find disturbing, would perhaps create even greater trouble for someone outside the boundary of the school.
– There are moments when we are told to compete with the private schools simply because ‘private schools have good quality students and this is why they produce good result’. Such a perception weakens our agency as a teacher. If we can only teach the so-called good students then what is worth being a teacher, I ask. We need to strengthen our belief in our own agency and the power of schooling. Together, we can create a strong learning environment within the school which would be focused on the process rather than intput.
Where is all this headed/
I say, this is a revolution in the making, in many ways. First, the above mentioned efforts in bringing a change in the public education system is taking place at a time, when governments in most part of the country and the central government have surrendered with media having propagated the perception that the public education system is down in the drains.Further, the private schools have mushroomed across the nation at such a pace. Second, the idea of quality education in our schools is based on non-screening of children. We welcome students from all sections of the society without placing any eligibility criteria. This is unparallel. The so called ‘success’ of The Navodaya Vidyalaya and Kendriye Vidyalaya are based on the idea of exclusion. They have screening process which excludes children from all sections of the society to enter into these institutions. Third, the above mentioned changes are not some pilot limited to a selected few schools; these are part of a bigger phenomenon being witnessed across the length and breadth of Delhi
The day teachers would match the efforts made by the government for the change, the revolution is bound to happen. The ice is breaking, I see a group of 50,000 most talented teachers of this country are soon going to make this a reality and perhaps this would turn the wind in favor of public education system which is so closely related to the constitutional principle of Social Justice.