The Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi is on its way to becoming a role model for other state governments with its commitment to school education. It has diligently diagnosed and addressed maladies of the government school system, from poor infrastructure to the lack of support for students preparing for examinations. But its obsession with digital technology has now done it a disservice, for it is headed towards turning schools into panopticons, and students into compliant inmates. Classroom cameras will be made directly accessible to parents through a smartphone app, allowing them to track behaviour and milestones in real time. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has brushed aside concerns about the privacy of children while inaugurating saturation CCTV coverage in the first of over 1,000 Delhi schools, arguing that they are sent to school to gain an education, learn discipline and become good citizens, and not for private goals.
It is a matter of concern that a chief minister heading a “progressive” government seems to have so little idea of the value of privacy and the objectives of education. People are not educated in order to become well-programmed automata, fungible drones who can be plugged and played anywhere with equal facility. That was true only of the colonial era, when the three Rs were taught to children destined to become administrators and clerks, who could be sent anywhere in the world, from Bombay to Boston, and function equally well. Apart from this colonial interregnum, the objective of education has always been to nurture creative, sceptical minds which add to the sum of human knowledge by questioning received wisdom. The identification of discipline with education is therefore counterproductive, and it would be impossible for children to be creative and individualistic in a classroom where they are constantly aware of the eye of the camera, through which a parent may be watching. Besides, classrooms do not only contain students. Teachers are, unsurprisingly, essential components of the teaching environment, and no one appears to have sought their consent to pervasive surveillance. The camera would discourage their creativity, too, and turn the classroom into a process-driven workshop.
Much of what is learned in school is off the curriculum. Values are not picked up only from textbooks, but from role models like teachers, and classroom friendships teach the child how to navigate the world. How to be a good citizen, or to use the scientific method, are not curricular subjects, but are learned by usage, which calls for experimentation in a reasonably free atmosphere. Surveillance for security is useful in monitoring access, but to let it dominate the classroom is to open the door to a dystopia of compliance.