Making Government Schools in India great again!

There is a telling scene in the recently released movie ‘Hindi Medium’ which sums up the feeling of a lot of parents in India. Mitho (Saba Qamar) panics about the fact that her daughter won’t learn anything in a government school. She is especially worried about English. And that this handicap of not knowing good English could spiral into Piya being unsuccessful in life, and going into clinical depression.

Consider this. Not too long ago, government schools were held in high regard, with many luminaries from all walks of life emerging from them. That being so, one wonders how we ended up with our current predicament. The lack of quality has caused an exodus of children from government schools — government schools have lost 6 million children in just the last two years. The daunting task that lies in fixing the issues in these schools has parents rushing to get their children admitted to private schools of good repute.

A good quality education for a child is the biggest dream of all parents. The grooming given in the best schools, and the friends you make there, increases your probability of leading a successful life. For many who haven’t tasted that success themselves, a good education is a ladder to a better life for their children. But what fraction of parents have access to the best schools in the country? The demand-supply gap keeps increasing every year, driving parents to panic. This is even more acute when one takes the quality metric into account — even though many small private schools have sprung up promising an ‘English-medium’ education, research shows that on an average, the sector delivers only as well as the government schools.

No wonder then that school admissions season means widespread panic for parents. This is the story portrayed by Saket Chaudhary in ‘Hindi Medium’, showing parents willing to do whatever it takes to secure admission for their child in a top notch school. And while the movie may exaggerate the struggle of parents to use Article 12 (1) © of the Right to Education Act to get into “Delhi Grammar School”, it also gives a common sense solution to this problem — fixing our neighbourhood government schools.

Merely allocating money for infrastructural improvements in government schools, as is alluded to in the movie, may not fully address the issues. If parents who have a voice (and those who do not) can together start demanding good quality government schools, it is an important start. In addition, ensuring the delivery of good quality education requires building accountability structures into schools, empowering the wider community of parents, and training teachers among many other initiatives. Could there perhaps be a way in which non-profit education (NGO) partners assist the government in facilitating these changes? The Education Alliance (TEA) has led a pilot programme since 2015, aimed at establishing quality driven partnerships in government schools under the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC).

Starting with one school, SDMC Lajpat Nagar-III in 2015, there have been systematic efforts by TEA in bringing in exemplary educational nonprofits to work in the primary schools of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, and support these schools to deliver at a much higher standard. The partner organisations have academic as well as administrative responsibilities and are in charge of driving enrolment, attendance and student learning in collaboration with the government principal and teachers.

TEA is working deeply with these partner organisations as well as with the government to facilitate this process. Growth in student learning is tracked through external assessments. Key metrics around attendance, enrollment, and retention are closely monitored. The strong focus on data driven decision making, through school management information systems, has allowed targeted support to be provided to children to address their variegated learning needs. Ongoing teacher training and classroom observations have enabled teachers to grow professionally and deliver their best to the students. Regular reporting and review meetings ensure greater accountability among all stakeholders. These meetings also serve as avenues for sharing of best practices seen across the schools that are part of the program.

Within just a year of launching the School Quality Enhancement Programme (SQEP), proof points of success have started pouring in. While the rest of the system lost 12,000 students last year, these schools doubled their enrolment to 1600 children.

By the end of AY 2016–17, all schools met and exceeded the ambitious student attendance target of 80%, while teacher attendance stood at an impressive 94%. The government and the partners combined deployed 77 teachers up from 40, thereby ensuring no child was left behind. A journey that began with one school in 2015, now has 29 schools with a potential to impact 6,000 children across all grades.

We are also witnessing softer, more intrinsic wins which numbers do not adequately capture. Decentralized decision making and simplified processing of school needs by the government have restored faith in the system. Teachers are taking greater interest in the newer pedagogical techniques being deployed. Punctuality amongst them has increased. Attendance and enthusiasm have not only improved in schools but also in teacher training and professional development sessions. Extensive community mobilization efforts have seen parents and community members attending parent teacher meetings in droves. Multiple anecdotes of children leaving private schools to get admitted to their neighbourhood government school are proof that a change in perception and mindset among parents has begun.

Nine year old Karan, a student of SDMC, South Extension-II demonstrated remarkable improvement in academic performance with the help of the Katha (NGO)-SDMC partnership. An average student earlier, Karan scored 94% in Hindi and 88% in Maths in the year end exams. Karan’s parents, a guard and a house-maid, who are migrants from UP and formerly farmers are proud that he has been selected for the ‘Medhavi Pariksha’ (scholarship exam) based on his meritorious performance and now envisage a bright future for him. There are many such stories emerging from these Government-Partnership Schools in SDMC.

To quote Anil Swarup, Education Secretary, MHRD, “Instead of importing solutions, we should look to Indian examples. The solutions are here.” Through structured partnerships and putting rigorous monitoring and evaluation systems in place, we can leverage the potential of our non-profit partners coupled with the resources of the government system to create meaningful, long-term, sustainable change.

Like Mitho, every parent will have ‘real choice’ again. Choice of good quality schools, including those run by government.

by Amitav Virmani

The Author is Founder & CEO of The Education Alliance a non-profit organisation that enables quality education through partnerships.

SDMC Police Colony School, Hauz Khas
SDMC Lajpat Nagar III School
SDMC Khadkhadi Jatmal School
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