Debunking AAP's propaganda on education reforms in Delhi

The Arvind Kejriwal government has failed to ensure transparency.

 |  7-minute read |   29-08-2016
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An article by Congress Delhi president, Ajay Maken, earlier this week published in the Indian Express constructively critiquing the AAP government's education reforms has rattled the AAP so much so that they've replied with not just one but two articles (on DailyO); both of which unfortunately fail to address the primary issue raised by Maken.

Education policies cannot be a knee-jerk reaction, as they affect young impressionable minds. Therefore, the need for an informed and participatory public opinion.

Both the replies from the members of the Delhi government's Education Task Force are just vague rhetoric reflecting partisanship, and have conveniently sidestepped Maken’s central point - the need for transparency surrounding AAP's policies and processes, and a white paper inviting widespread public consultation.

Instead of going down the same road of finger pointing reflected in these responses, I would rather like to present friendly insights into the issues elucidated by Maken so that real progress can be achieved in the field of education.

Hrid Bijoy, in his reply, has labelled earlier expert committees - comprising of individuals who have worked for years in the field of education with massive teaching experience and PhDs - as "bogus". He also goes on to question the credentials of these experts saying they're "perceived as educationists".

I can't help but wonder about the credentials of the "real" educationists who are behind the "non-traditional approach" of the AAP government and their experience in the field of education. While I am all for path-breaking fresh ideas, but when these ideas are going to leave an indelible mark upon the lives of our young children in the long run, these need to be implemented only after due discussion and deliberation.

studentsbd_082916054151.jpg Education policies cannot be a knee-jerk reaction, as they affects young impressionable minds.

While the AAP government’s MLAs and ministers could be activists or street fighters, as claimed, it doesn't mean that they can make education policies without even consulting experts.

Bijoy also accuses the previous governments of "a farce in the name of universalisation of education". Perhaps, he isn't aware of the fact that Education For All (EFA) was a global movement led by UNESCO. Amongst the EFA goals, universal primary education was one of the main global Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved by 2015.

At the 1990 World Conference on Education held in Jomtein, Thailand, all the delegates adopted the World Declaration on Education for All, inspiring initiatives like the District Primary Education Program (DPEP), which further led to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

Although, there have been critiques of this global strategy, it must also be acknowledged that it is only due to the enormous progress of this strategy in achieving near-universal primary enrollment, that quality education has been adopted as one of the major education goals for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. On the matter of spending in education, the years 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, under the Congress government, saw the education budget increased by 48.9 per cent and 29.2 per cent respectively. Interestingly, despite these massive allocation, shortfall of Rs 463.2 and 170.8 crores respectively occurred in these years.

As for the AAP government, though they claimed to have doubled the education budget, but in reality, it was increased by just 17.9 per cent, out of which, Rs 1,000.74 crore lapsed due to non-utilisation, as per the data drawn from Detailed Demand For Grants in Budget. Honestly, I fail to see a point in AAP’s mere symbolic increase in budget if it was not meant to be utilised.

Curiously, the articles do their best in sidestepping the issue when it comes to Chunauti. It appears that the government did not prepare for the various "chunautis" that would naturally arise, while it was hurriedly planning "Chunauti 2018".

As Maken had highlighted, Chunauti is seen by many activists and educationists as discrimination of young children which will damage their psyche. People who are working in the field of education were baffled by the manner in which the government directly implemented it, by foregoing the crucial steps of proper diagnosis of the root causes, strategy, and planning.

Ambarish Rai, national convenor, RTE Forum, is of the opinion that "children will lose their self esteem due to this compartmentalisation. It is like dividing children into AC 2-tier, AC 3-tier and General compartment. The school is duty-bound to explore the child's ability, some can be good in science, some in language, some in arts; every child has his/her own potential. Real reforms will happen only when all children are kept in the same class and their abilities nurtured, maybe by adding additional teachers in the classroom or holding remedial/extra classes after school hours or on holidays. Compartmentalisation will have an adverse effect upon the psyche of these young children."

Teachers are also speaking of how students were seeing the difference and pleading to be changed groups. Principals, who Hrid Bijoy has projected as empowered leaders, were not given the option to opt out of this compartmentalisation; instead, they were asked to "convince all the stakeholders, namely the students, the parents and the teachers that this concept of regrouping is in the long term interest of the children," according to a circular dated June 29, 2016 issued by the Directorate of Education (DoE).

Also, according to the same circular, the teachers were given "the precious time between June 29, 2016 and June 30, 2016 to study the results of last year and re-group the children of classes 7, 8 and 9," which is less than 24 hours to decide the direction of learning for more than hundreds of students.

This is just one example that shows the lack of planning that went into the implementation of Chunauti 2018, and therefore, I hope Anurag Kundu would understand why people who are interested in education aren't welcoming it. When it comes to curriculum reforms, Kundu claims that they've "cut down the parts of syllabus that are outdated". But Ajay Maken has pointed out that Delhi government schools are affiliated to CBSE, and therefore, they cannot unilaterally change the syllabus. It is also to be noted that the Yashpal Committee Report of 1993, Learning without Burden, was the basis of the National Curriculum Framework, and hence, the NCERT books taught in Delhi schools.

Has the DoE taken this curricular policy into account and consulted the curriculum framers before amending the syllabus?

While it is definitely admirable that external evaluators have been brought in to evaluate the effect of CCTVs in classrooms, it must be noted that such practise is common for government programs like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan with their regularly conducted Joint Review Missions (JRMs).

Rather, in a spirit of constructive criticism, the government would do well to sample a wide range of evidences before making decisions on scaling of interventions, that are as widely contested as CCTVs in classrooms.

There is a real risk of using only one method of evaluation, especially when the method being used, that is, Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT), has received a lot of flak. Scottish-American economist and Nobel laureate Angus Deaton has strongly criticised RCTs saying that randomised trials do not help us in any systematic way to gain an understanding of why interventions work.

This pattern of hurried reforms and high-handedness that emerges from the actions of the AAP government in its implementation of Chunauti and curricular reforms reaches a definite peak with the introduction of CCTVs in classrooms. Indeed, it begs the question on whether AAP's philosophy of reform is one of using punitive measures to drive accountability, or is it by inviting teachers as equal stakeholders in the process of strengthening accountability in the system.

One is further perplexed by the juxtaposition of this seemingly inclusive tone around empowerment and decentralisation, including through allowing teachers to use summer holidays constructively, with a rather undemocratic mode of actual governance, as evidenced in Chunauti and curricular reforms.

One wonders if these two discordant tones are originating from different regions of the government, and by extension, the AAP.

Since the AAP government has failed to ensure transparency, it is the right of every citizen to demand and urge the government to put up decisions, strategies, etc in the public domain, so that they can be reviewed and consulted in order to turn them into sustainable reforms.

However, I agree with Kundu’s statement that it is too early to assess the AAP government in terms of outcomes, but it is a point that needs to be hammered into the heads of the AAP leadership who are projecting these initiatives as already successful.

Writer

Angellica Aribam Angellica Aribam @angellicaribam

Angellica Aribam is a political activist who frequently writes on issues of race, gender, student welfare, and politics. She is also a former National General Secretary of NSUI and a Forbes India 30 Under 30 honoree. She holds a master's degree in public policy from Peking University, China.

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