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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Classes in chaos

Delhi has the resources to have model state schools. Why are they so poor?

Written by Krishna Kumar |
October 3, 2011 3:17:49 am

Picture a congested,dingy building next to a busy market bordering an affluent colony. Place 2,000 boys in it. Now imagine that they are constantly roaming around in a narrow,bare courtyard,occasionally yelling at or hitting each other,just to get rid of some energy. Place in this picture an adult who is walking with a stick tucked under his arm — a senior teacher (I found another one sleeping in the staff room). The walls have not been whitewashed for years,and the plastic chairs are grubby. It is class time,but there is a shortage of staff,so that many boys have no one to teach them. A classroom contains more than 80 boys,mostly sitting on the bare floor,some on broken benches and many standing,free to leave when they feel like it. Both windows have smashed glass panes,and none of the three ceiling fans or the four tubelights are working. It is a double shift school; used by girls in the first part of the day,and boys in the second. In the class I am visiting,the teacher is explaining India’s diversity: he writes “samvidhan” (“constitution”) on a blackboard so whitened by years of use that only those sitting close to it can decipher the letters. Add also to this picture stinking toilets with cobwebs and leaking pipes,broken floors,and a locked iron gate. Finally,imagine yourself as a trainee teacher in this school. As you stand in a class trying to teach,a piece of sharp,pointed iron is thrown straight at you through the window. It narrowly misses your head,so you carry on. You realise that schools like this will constitute your daily life when you complete your training and get a government job.

Hundreds of schools in Delhi are like this. They attract attention only when there is a disaster,like the stampede which killed several children a short while back. A few months ago,a taxi driver told me about his first PTA meeting at the school described above. When he pointed at the puddles on the floor,the teacher said,“Why don’t you take your son to a private school?” There is a belief that the answer to poorly managed government schools is private schooling. Proponents of this solution seldom realise that private schools run for the poor are usually no different from government schools. The same brutal repression characterises low-fee private schools which have mushroomed in response to the demand from the lower middle class. The state regulates these bottom-end private schools no more effectively than it runs its own schools.

The popular idea that the state has no will to improve things is true,but only partially. Educational provision for the poor was no better two or three decades ago. The only difference was that government schools were not exclusively for the poor. Political or administrative will means a sustained desire to pursue something. The Commonwealth Games are the only recent instance Delhi has seen of how the state’s will can yield miracles,even though it was tainted by corruption.

The reality of educational institutions serving the poor in Delhi is uniformly pathetic. Some NGO activity provides a break here and there,but makes no systemic difference. After Class X,some children look for technical courses and enroll in the few Industrial Training Institutes Delhi has. Visit one of them and you will find the same story — an acute shortage of teachers,obsolete curriculum and equipment,and appalling safety standards. Higher secondary schools with a vocational stream are no better. Children work hard,but learn little . Yet,examination results are maintained at a reasonable level,and that is what the Delhi government likes to flaunt whenever criticised.

Given the academic resources available in Delhi,it could be a model state in educational planning if it cared for improving the public system. It has over a thousand graduates of the nation’s best elementary teacher-training course — potential leaders for all-round change. At present,they constitute a frustrated minority of the teaching workforce. More than a decade since its inception,these products of Delhi University’s BElEd programme (recommended in all national documents as a model) have been denied the status and scale of a trained graduate teacher.

Then,between Delhi University and Jamia,there is a vast reservoir of academic resources capable of transforming secondary education. Add JNU,IGNOU and IP University,and you are looking at a resource group consisting of hundreds of teachers and scholars who could be deployed as school advisors. The various engineering colleges have the capacity to improve the Industrial Training Institutes in terms of curriculum and pedagogy.

All this is possible and more can be imagined,if only the city-state cared for the institutions that serve the poor.

The writer is a former director of NCERT

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