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A twisted fan in a government school’s classroom | Civil Society picture/Sandeepa Veeramachaneni

AAP's volunteers figure out what's wrong at govt schools

Shayak Majumder, New Delhi

Published: Oct. 13, 2015
Updated: Apr. 26, 2024

One of the signal achievements of the  Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the short time that it has been in power has been its campaign to improve the government school system that has been lying in a shambles for years. Poor children study in these schools and successive state governments never found the time to address their needs.

AAP has used its volunteer network to get a baseline document together on what the schools need beginning with infrastructure. Manish Sisodia, as the minister for education, showed that he was a man of action.

He had 140 AAP volunteers conduct, over three days from 7 January,  a survey of about 700 government schools to assess them for availability of drinking water, clean toilets and basic infrastructure.

Officials were instructed to ensure that basic repairs were done before 16 January when the schools would reopen. Government schools haven’t received such close scrutiny in years.

When he was approached by a visitor with the problem of unavailability of water in a local school, he instructed a Delhi Jal Board official to file a report by the next day on the availability of water in all the local schools. He said, “The school term will begin within a few days. I don’t want children to stay without water in my schools.”

The survey results showed that hygiene posed a major problem in government schools. Ranju Minhas, AAP’s women’s wing coordinator and a chief coordinator of the survey, says “During the visits, our volunteers came across school toilets which were in deplorable state. Most of them were choked with sewage and there was unavailability of water.”

She says, “In some schools, we found out that there were no doors on girls’ toilets. It was absolutely shocking. Who would want to study in these schools?”

Basic amenities like drinking water, clean water tanks, blackboards, bulbs and even windows were missing in many schools. According to Minhas, the principals are to blame for this neglect. They shy away from taking responsibility.

“When we asked about the reason behind the schools’ conditions, the principals responded by saying that repair work was in progress, but we didn’t notice any,” says Minhas.

The survey yielded results. Under instructions from the ministry, schools are already undergoing basic repair. Anoop Tagore, an AAP volunteer who surveyed the schools in Chittaranjan Park, says, “When I visited the schools at first, there were no water taps and the windows were broken. After the survey, I personally revisited the schools a few days back and noted that there were new water taps. Even the windows have been fixed now.”

The volunteers had to undergo training sessions at the Delhi Secretariat before they were authorised to go for the surveys. The volunteers were from all walks of life. There were chartered accountants, businessmen, shopkeepers and housewives.

Anita Lakhra, a housewife from Malviya Nagar, was a part of the survey team. “I have been an AAP volunteer for a long time. I received a message from the education department saying that they needed people to help in the survey. I readily joined,” she says.

During the training the volunteers were specifically asked not to be intrusive but to be helpful towards the teachers and school staff in any way possible. “We didn’t want the school to think that we were barging in. We wanted to convey the message that we were here to help,” says Minhas.

The school authorities were told in advance by the ministry and given a list of the volunteers’ names. 

Each volunteer carried a letter issued by Sisodia, authorising the volunteers to ‘observe and report the state of affairs to the ministry.’ The letter also stated that the volunteers were not allowed to issue any direction to any school official or authority.

Kailash Jain, a volunteer from Kasturba Nagar, says, “We didn’t face any problems from most of the schools. In some cases the principals were happy to see that the ministry is sending help.” Jain is a chartered accountant.

The volunteers are just happy to serve. Says Jain, “It was good to see that the government itself is sitting up and taking notice of what needs to be done for children. We are happy to do our part in the mission.”

Now, monitoring teams will revisit the schools and see how much progress has been made. “Right now we are looking at rehabilitating the school infrastructure. We want to ensure a child gets proper care in school,” says Minhas.  Six volunteers will be assigned to each constituency for monitoring.

Such is the reputation of government schools that middle-class people don’t send their children to them. Commenting on this, Sisodia says, “The sad truth is that my own child studies in a private school. But, when I became the minister for education, I told my wife that I would improve government schools to the extent that we would want to send our son to one.”

Ashok Agarwal, advocate and member of the AAP National Executive, has been working for a long time on improving government and MCD schools. He worked closely with Sisodia for the survey and has also recommended volunteers from his own team for the AAP initiative.

Agarwal has proposed his own set of strategies to bring government schools on a par with the best private schools in the city. He says, “All government schools, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) schools and other schools run by local bodies should be brought under the same banner of the Delhi government. This would ensure accountability and better infrastructure.”

According to him, MCD schools only provide education till Class 5. After that students should be transferred to government schools for higher studies.

Agarwal says that most of the children in MCD schools can’t even write their names in English, even after they pass out from fifth standard. Teachers are callous and the dropout rate is high.

“Eventually, the authorities of government and MCD schools start blaming each other for non-deliverance. Bringing them all under one banner would resolve this issue.”

According to Agarwal, almost 2.5 million children are studying in government schools in Delhi. Around 1.5 million children are out of school. “In order to accommodate all the children, we need to have more schools. That can be easily resolved by putting up multistoried buildings on the grounds which are already provided to government and MCD schools.”

There is a total of 925 schools under the Delhi government. “Other than that, there are 1,700 MCD schools, 150 schools under New Delhi Municipal Council and 15 under the Cantonment board,” says Agarwal.

“It is also necessary to have skilled teachers in the schools. Delhi’s sanctioned strength of teachers in government schools is 40,000. There are 10,000 vacancies that have not been filled and absenteeism is rampant,” says Agarwal. “We need teachers who can also look at the needs of disabled students in the school. In Delhi, there are 200,000 disabled children who don’t go to school. Imagine the waste of so much human resource just because we don’t have good teachers.”

Agarwal believes that the minimum standard for any government school must be equal to or better than that of Kendriya Vidyalaya. “The day that happens, I can guarantee that within 48 hours, 50 per cent of the city’s parents will pull out their kids from private institutions and admit them to government schools.”

Sisodia agrees better teachers will make all the difference. “In February, we are planning to invite interested people from Delhi, who have good educational background and a flair for teaching. They will provide free tuition to students of government schools.” This will initially be for a month and then extended.

Sisodia believes that good schools will come out of a wider social effort. “Society has disconnected from education. Somehow, it has now become only the responsibility of the government. We need to bring the government and society together to improve the standard of education,” he says.