Four split screens on a television at the principal’s office at Shaheed Hemu Kalani Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in Lajpat Nagar flash four different images. One shows an empty music room with a tabla at its centre. Another shows a deserted corridor, boys occasionally sauntering up and down. The third image is of a computer laboratory, where teenage boys crouch over keyboards. The fourth is of a classroom — a teacher reading out from a book and turning to the board to write as some boys look intently. A few seconds later, the four images change — four other parts of the school and another set of children are on display.
Every classroom in this school is fitted with two CCTV cameras, the images from which are not just fed to the principal’s office but can also be viewed by parents of children through an app on their phones. The school has been fitted with 210 cameras — apart from the classrooms, all common areas are also covered. It is the first pilot school where the Aam Aadmi Party government has attempted the project, with an eventual aim to replicate it in all 1,100 schools under it.
The app was introduced a little over a week ago but has not really caught on among parents so far. According to records, of the over 1,200 students, parents of only around 400 have downloaded the app and 50 have been logging in to check the feed. Parents only have access to footage from their ward’s classroom and can log in a maximum of three times a day for five minutes each.
“Abhi tak toh theek hai, our parents are not being able to check because of some technical glitches with the username and password. Once they do, we’ll have to sit and behave as if we’re in jail… you can forget about privacy,” said a class XI student. In the meantime, his classmates create a small pandemonium in their third-floor classroom. Their teacher is absent for the day.
The school itself is expansive — with a three-storey main block, a separate two-storey primary wing, a multipurpose hall and playground. The first camera greets visitors at the main gate where two security guards vet entry to the school. Inside each classroom, one camera is placed near the front door by the blackboard, facing students. Another is fixed at the rear end of the room, towards the backs of the students and facing the teacher. Parents The Indian Express spoke to said they were also keen to use the app to keep tabs on whether teachers are present in class.
On the live stream, while children could be seen checking themselves inside classrooms, they were more unrestrained during the mid-day break.
A group of class IX boys pause on their way to the playground during the mid-day break. “It is good they’ve put cameras in classrooms. Children will study better, fewer will fail, fights will reduce. Shaitaani kam ho gayi hai,” said one of them as his friends nodded.
A class XII student said: “Everyone is far more conscious, quiet and disciplined. We are at an age when we aren’t afraid of our parents; still there is a sense that someone might be watching what we’re doing at any time.” Many of them said they have been caught using mobile phones during class.
At the inauguration, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had told parents: “Children don’t come to schools to do private things, but to study, learn discipline, become good citizens and good people. Which privacy will be compromised?” However, a class XI student said they also view school as a space away from their parents, but giving them access to live feed defeats the purpose.
Principal Bijesh Sharma said he is aware of the debate around the project. “It is the duty of the head of the school to convince students and teachers that the initiative is not to trouble them or spy on them but to help them. It is true that some can use this to scare children and create an atmosphere of terror. But I have found that it’s of great help to everyone. Feedback from parents shows their greatest concern is to be able to see that their children have reached school safely — in case of older children, to make sure they are not bunking, and in case of small children, to calm anxieties about how they are being handled. Children do not have to worry about bullying and small things like their lunch, books and pens getting stolen, and can concentrate better. The burden of monitoring is lessened for teachers,” he said.
He is also conscious of not using the footage to intimidate children by saying that it will be shown to their parents. “Here, children have been entrusted to us and matters which come to light through the footage — like fights or any other misdemeanor — will be resolved internally,” he said.
While the feed from different cameras flashes on his television screen all day, Sharma said he usually keeps his eyes on sensitive areas.
“Our school has 40 visually impaired students, and a Special Training Centre where school dropouts are taught. We also have 30 Afghan refugee students and the cultural differences lead to fights sometimes. I keep an eye on sensitive classrooms, the playground during break-time, and the main gate during entry and exit time,” he said.