Eye for accountabilityhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/delhi-classrooms-cctv-kejriwal-eye-for-accountability-5824302/

Eye for accountability

CCTVs in classrooms will empower parents, improve government schools.

Andhra wants share of happiness, will adapt Delhi school curriculum
Although the infrastructure upgrade has lifted spirits of parents and teachers alike, what has truly turned schools around is the involvement of parents in the management of schools. Archive

The Arvind Kejriwal government’s CCTVs in classrooms project was the subject of two pieces published in The Indian Express on July 8, including the editorial, ‘Classroom and eye’. Both spoke of the lofty ideals of education and how live streaming of restricted CCTV footage from classrooms to parents is antithetical to them. This reflects a deep disconnect between those who hold this view and the reality of the country’s government schools.

Before the AAP government brought budgetary and administrative focus back on providing quality education in public schools, Delhi’s government schools, not unlike government schools across the country, were in disrepair. Several steps were taken to improve schools. Although the infrastructure upgrade has lifted spirits of parents and teachers alike, what has truly turned schools around is the involvement of parents in the management of schools.

Government schools are a key public good that taxpayers fund to ensure every child has access to education, financial ability notwithstanding. Like any arm of the government, these schools will decay if not made accountable to the people.

When parents leave children in the custody of government schools, the government owes a duty to parents to look after their education, safety and well-being. The world over, parental oversight has been the bedrock of effective school management. In private schools, this is often achieved smoothly because parents are empowered by their own education and economic leverage due to the fees they pay. To achieve this in state schools, extraordinary measures are needed to empower parents in order to hold schools accountable.

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In Delhi, the government has revived School Management Committees (SMCs), parent bodies mandated by the Right to Education Act. They have been empowered to monitor and supervise basic deliverables of schools, such as teacher attendance, healthy mid-day meals, clean washrooms, drinking water, etc. The AAP government has constantly encouraged parental participation in school, especially through regular parent teacher meetings, which were a rarity in government schools. The CCTV in classrooms project is the natural next step towards increasing accountability of schools.

Sanjay Srivastava calls the project “gimmicky”, but in my view the project may have been gimmicky had the government installed CCTV cameras in classrooms and left it at that. By sharing feeds with parents, it is actually ensuring that the crores of public money invested into CCTVs are not wasted. Often, CCTVs fail to serve their purpose for lack of motivated monitoring. Outsourcing of the monitoring to an invested stakeholder like parents is actually a smart innovation.

The CCTV feeds can aid parents to identify several problems their children may be facing, including bullying, corporal punishment, inadequate attention spans, teacher absenteeism and even student truancy. It will empower them to not just raise their children better but also to ask the right questions to their child’s school. This has the potential to transform the quality of education in state schools.

The insistence that such a measure is being forced on parents and that they are “agreeing” to it out of desperation is rather patronising. Delhi’s education department had several rounds of interaction with parents after a pilot programme in five schools last year where CCTVs were installed in classrooms. Children and teachers have also been consulted. None of the stakeholders expressed any discomfort. In fact, parents are enthusiastic about it. And why wouldn’t they be? A major section of the households that send children to government schools have both parents working long hours. Making it to school even for a parent-teacher meeting means relinquishing a day’s wage for many. With smartphones and internet data becoming increasingly accessible, if governments are leveraging technology towards a social good it must be welcomed.

While privacy as a fundamental right is important, where does one draw the line between private and public? Classrooms cannot be classified as private by any stretch of imagination. Moreover, the feed being provided to parents is highly restricted. Only the feed for their own children will be provided to parents, through a mobile app that can be accessed thrice a day for maximum for 15 minutes each. The feed does not include audio, and can only be accessed live. One can only confirm the physical presence of the teacher and children in this window.

The criticism that there are no studies to suggest any positive impact of CCTVs in classrooms is oblivious to the fact that this is the first such project in the world. Proactive governments take decisions based on the problems at hand and social understanding. This project was first thought of after a series of crimes were reported in school premises a few years ago. A child was raped in a private school, a young boy was allegedly murdered in another, and most shockingly, a teacher was murdered by two Class 12 students inside a government school classroom. One doesn’t need empirical data to gather that schools can be sites of crime. If CCTVs can be deterrents to crime outside schools, they can be deterrents within too. And the one flaw with CCTVs, that they are generally not well monitored has also been fixed by the AAP government.

Marathe is a member of Delhi government’s Dialogue & Development Commission (DDC) Task force on school education