This is a guest post by Devanik Saha
The judiciary in India can be highly unpredictable. Either it is accused of not doing enough to provide justice to victims or it is hailed for giving landmark judgments. In a recent controversial decision, the Allahabad High Court ordered that all children of government servants and elected representatives in Uttar Pradesh should mandatorily send their wards to government schools. It noted that “Only then would they be serious enough to look into the requirements of these schools and ensure that they are run in good condition”.
While the decision has evoked sharp reactions from UP legislators, it has been fiercely debated in the media fraternity, with mixed responses. The wretched condition of government schools (in every state) in India isn’t a hidden fact. While India has achieved impressive rates of school enrolment – the quality of education and learning outcomes – have been extremely dismal.
An analysis by data journalism portal IndiaSpend revealed that Rs 5,86,085 crore has been spent on primary education in the past 10 years and 80% of the expenditure on education is spent on teachers, but the state of affairs continue to be dreary, which has led to the mushrooming of low income private schools. The number of students enrolled in private schools in UP has risen from 32.2% in 2006 to 52.8% in 2014, according to the Annual Survey Education Report (ASER) by Pratham, an education NGO.
Lack of accountability, rampant corruption and untrained teachers are some of the biggest issues that plague education in India. The Vyapam teacher recruitment scam which rocked the country is one example. The resignation of 3,000 teachers in Bihar who quit their jobs fearing legal action for their fake degrees is another. Furthermore, one out of every five teachers in India is untrained to teach children, according to the district information system for education (DISE). In February this year, Maharashtra conducted its annual evaluation tests for teachers of government-run schools. Only 1% of more than 245,800 primary teachers who took the test passed, while the same figure for upper-primary teachers was 4.9%
As soon as I heard about the Allahabad HC’s decision, my thoughts went back to the two years I spent as a teacher in a primary school in Sangam Vihar, Delhi, as a part of the Teach For India Fellowship which places young professionals in two-year teaching stints in government schools. The experience gave me an understanding of public education in India and how it continues to be plagued by issues. The decision rekindled my memories about some of the fiercest discussions I had during my fellowship. During one such discussion, someone shared a thought which has always stuck with me- the day we feel confident to put our own children in government schools, only then we should call ourselves as successful teachers”.
In the past few years, there has been a boom in the non-profit space in India – especially education – which has seen the advent of several big NGOs. When the court’s decision became viral, several friends on my Facebook (most of them having working with government schools) shared it with exclamatory reactions – “Yay”, “Excited”, “So happy”, “Wow”, etc., which makes one thing clear –we like to bash the government at any cost.
The Facebook walls of education sector professionals is jam-packed with articles about education inequality, dismal state of education in India, bashing the government for doing nothing, pictures of their students reading books and solving problems, etc, which clearly imply the message they want to convey – We are working in education, changing the world, and contributing to the nation, which is true to some extent, but the question arises that will any one of them enroll his/her child or their relatives’ children in the very government school they work in? Definitely not, is the answer I have got in several off the record conversations with most of them The reason is simple – the quality of education in government schools isn’t good enough. I too admit – Even I wouldn’t.
And there lies the hypocrisy. If as education sector professionals, we would hesitate to put our own children in government schools, then our exhilaration is pure hypocrisy and the propaganda of changing the world is farce. It is not to say that education professionals do not work hard. As far as TFI Fellows are concerned for example, they are one of the most hardworking and smart bunch of people I have ever worked with, however, if we aren’t ready to put our own children in the very schools we teach in, then it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that we aren’t confident about our own work.
In my opinion, the High Court’s decision lays a significant emphasis on this very hypocrisy. It doesn’t imply that bureaucrats and politicians aren’t doing their job well, but when it comes to matters concerning our own children, the sincerity and dedication reaches an entirely different level. Issues such as delayed salaries, delaying recruitment of teacher vacancies, construction of toilets, arrival of books, etc. which get dragged on for months would get resolved quickly. A BSP MLA’s response to the decision substantiates my argument and seals the debate. He said “This is playing with the future of our children. We cannot jeopardise their career. This has become a highly competitive world and a child must excel in every sphere for a secure future”.
But Sir, what about the millions of children whose only hope is their nearest government school?!
Therefore, if the government officials and politicians are forced to send their kids to government schools, the accountability and monitoring of schools will definitely increase. Already, in response to the HC decision, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has directed district education officers to inspect government schools and send progress report every month. In all probability, the decision will definitely be challenged either by the UP government or any of its legislators. But even if upheld by the Supreme Court, it will be difficult to implement as is the case with any public welfare scheme. It starts with much fanfare and excitement, but everything fizzles out soon.
An official could very well get his children enrolled in a government school for namesake whereas they actually attend a private school. In the school I taught, there were some registered students who hardly attended school (2-3 days in a year) and their parents came when the school distributed yearly grants (given by the government) for buying clothes, shoes, tiffin boxes, etc and more grants for kids from SC/STs and OBCs. Owing to the teachers’ disregard and the no detention policy till Grade 8th, the names of those students would always remain on the rolls.
Similarly, government officials’ kids can just be registered in government schools but it will be difficult to track whether or not they are attending regularly. A possible solution would be make attendance compulsory (For instance, 60% yearly) in order to be eligible for giving final exams and promotion to the next grade, but given the lawlessness in UP, it will be a cakewalk for politicians and officials to coerce teachers and principals to manipulate attendance and data.
The UP government has already sacked Umesh Kumar Singh, a teacher employed with the government, who filed the PIL in the court. It is evident that the intent of the HC decision and reasoning behind it absolutely right, given the prevailing political scenario in the state, the HC faces a mammoth task in actual implementation and monitoring of the decision. However, whatever be the outcome, the decision is a welcome start for improving education in India.
Devanik Saha is an independent journalist and researcher based in Delhi. He mainly writes on developmental and political issues and has written for Rediff, DailyO, The Quint, IndiaSpend, Newslaundry, Yahoo India, The News Minute, etc.