AAP has gone to school, teaching Delhi an important lesson

It has decentralised power among administrators and encouraged principals to become leaders.

 |  6-minute read |   23-08-2016
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One wouldn't expect any serious dialogue around the idea of transforming government schools, but thanks to Congress's Delhi unit chief Ajay Maken's article in The Indian Express, we can start a discussion or even a heated debate around school education in the capital.

He has set the issue around four broad themes, infrastructure, administrative reforms, curriculum and teachers, and for the sake of convenience we will stick to these issues but won't limit it to just another political debate by comparing the AAP to the Congress, as apples to oranges.

The Aam Aadmi Party got more than just absolute majority to form the government in Delhi and fulfil the promises in its manifesto, which also included the promise to make government-run schools better than private schools.

At that time, the political leadership in other parties ignored it as a gimmick, considering that never before had education been made a priority by any party.

While the AAP openly made education a political issue, others had continued to ignore the need for reforms in this area for more than half a century.

Fast forward to August 2016, and we see government schools in Delhi getting better in terms of the four areas identified by Maken. One would wonder how this change never happened before.

While previous governments showed lack of commitment towards education and relied on bogus "expert committees" to formulate recipes for the transformation of schools, the AAP took a non-traditional approach.

This is one of the many reasons why former members of such committees, who are also perceived as educationists, are unhappy with the AAP's policies.

kejriwal-embed_082316015638.jpg AAP president and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

The AAP government has MLAs and ministers who used to be activists or street-fighters and they haven't changed their outlook about the state, even after becoming part of the government.

Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, who is also the education minister, doesn't play by the rules set by his predecessors; instead he has been trying to change the game itself.

Understanding the idea of educational reforms is not easy, as for the AAP there is no end to this story of four main characters - students, parents, teachers and administrators.

The previous governments in Delhi never cared for the direct stakeholders of education; rather they created a farce in the name of universalisation of education. In the AAP's efforts, while it has been only a year-and-a-half, the rate of success is much higher because of its planned but flexible approach.

Over the past one year, the AAP government has been able to change the perception about education and has made it an issue worth discussion among the masses. Some might argue that this perception is false or just an illusion, but if you ask your maid or driver about how they feel as a parent, they are going to narrate a new story of hope.

As a nation, we have always been obsessed about budgetary allocation as we use it to measure the importance of any issue. The AAP started on a positive note by increasing the allocation for education by 106 per cent in its first budget.

The party leadership could have stopped at that, telling people that by increasing the budget they have fulfilled their promise, but they wanted to show their commitment to the issue and so began the process of reform.

It started with bringing all direct stakeholders together for designing a plan. Formation of the school management committee (SMC) was the first step taken by the government to provide a common platform to parents, teachers, administrators and public representatives.

The SMC is mandated under the RTE Act 2009 but was not formed before 2015 in most schools. This was important as 16,800 parents became community observers for the government. Their inputs helped the government in identifying areas of concern and they also suggested possible solutions.

Also read: Entire political class is complicit in Centre's relentless targeting of AAP

SMC members of a school in Badarpur raised funds from the community for development of the school. The state government also started the process of strengthening infrastructure in government schools by building 8,000 classrooms. More schools would have come up by now, had the DDA provided land.

The government also started decentralising power among administrators, which empowered school principals, who earlier had to ask for permissions from the district director of education for almost everything related to the school.

Principals were encouraged to become leaders and the government, through a series of interventions, motivated them to take responsibility for their school. It started with the pilot school programme, in which 54 schools were selected from the 200 voluntary applications received from principals.

In one such pilot school in Ambedkar Nagar, the principal transformed her school with help from colleagues and parents. Principals and teachers were also sent to Jeevan Vidya workshops to change their outlook about the world. Response to the workshop was very high as teachers and principals felt motivated to do more for the society as they were no longer treated as government employees but as part of a team tasked with a major responsibility.

Among all the reforms being carried out, what we often ignore is the learning level among students. The term is not new but till today, experts have been treating it as a fancy alien term.

The Delhi government might well be the first to recognise this fact and formulate plans accordingly. The success of 54 schools in the pilot school programme was based on the new approach, where children were seated according to their learning level for 90 days.

It helped them learn better, thus reducing chances of dropping out. Some might disagree with the Delhi government's stand on the "no detention policy" (NDP), but it is widely accepted that it was one of the reasons which led to lower learning among students.

Also read: The politics of jailing: Why is AAP the main prey?

Chunauti 2016 is an extension of last year's pilot project. This is a well thoughtout policy, for which evidences were collected then analysed. This kind of programme cannot be successful within the framework of the old system and syllabus.

The government is taking help from supplementary books designed by Pratham Books, along with the prescribed syllabus of the CBSE, to improve performance in schools and reduce the dropout rate in Class 9 among NDP batches.

The teaching-learning methodology is also being improved by applying innovative practices in teacher training. Earlier, the model was similar to assembly line in which non-interactive, restrictive seminars were conducted for all teachers.

This year, during the summer vacations, teachers were given the opportunity to design training material on their own, depending upon their need. Block resource persons and 200 mentor teachers have been tasked with acting as peer support for teachers - they go to classrooms and assist teachers whenever they face any difficulty.

The Delhi government has also announced the Change-Makers in Education Fellowship, through which highly-motivated young professionals will act as a support system for the education department of the state.

All effective reforms introduced by the Delhi government may not change the perception of schools among all sections of society, as we are not used to rapid changes for good, that too in case of government schools.

It is not enough to formulate laws and policy guidelines in flowery language; it takes real effort to be able to ensure a brighter future for the nation.

This might be an opportune moment to ask for an apology from previous ruling parties for failing government schools and the nation for 70 years since Independence.

Writer

Hrid Bijoy Hrid Bijoy @bijoyhrid

The writer is part of the Education Governance Task Force, Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi.

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