- Sowmiya Ashok
- Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar
The Hindu Students at a government school in the Capital. Photo: V. Sudershan
It had been two years since the Right to Education Act was enacted, and at a public meeting in March 2012 organised by the non-government organisation JOSH or Joint Operation for Social Change in Delhi’s Trilokpuri, parents voiced their concerns about the quality of education their children received. Teachers are not paying attention to children, they said, nor are facilities for drinking water made available in schools. There were no fans in the classrooms, the school’s library could not be accessed and in many places basic infrastructure such as desks were not provided.
A year later on March 14 this year, JOSH released a report coinciding with the completion of three years of implementation of RTE Act. The study, conducted in seven areas covering six districts of Delhi, engaged student volunteers from different premier colleges and institutes who covered a total of 1,425 households and 29 schools. The study found that the National Capital “seems to be severely lagging behind in fulfilling its promise to provide quality education to its most marginalised citizens.”
The study flagged off several concerns, among them a complete lack of awareness among children, parents and the larger community about the provisions of the RTE Act. School infrastructure is one such provision in the Act with dictates that every school should have all-weather buildings, a library, toilets, drinking water, barrier-free access and playgrounds among other things. “While the data points to problems in terms of quality teaching, other aspects such as infrastructure facilities were also found to be in poor state,” noted the study.
Aheli Chowdhury of JOSH said a major reason for the added stress on schools run by Delhi’s Municipal Corporations is the fact that they operate two shifts – for girls in the morning and boys in the afternoon. “The maintenance fund goes to one shift every alternate year and there is passing of blame on destruction and damage to property and the lack of upkeep between the administrations of the two shifts.”
Yet, checks and balances in place keep municipal schools functioning, said noted activist Thomas Antony. “They have a monthly meeting where principals discuss their problems with the [Education] Department and school inspectors pay regular visits,” he said, adding the Delhi Government schools do not function in an open environment. “The school administrations are even known to file police complaints against parents who complain about an issue. Even NGOs are discouraged from intervening and often MLAs are called in to hush up matter. That is not the case with the Corporation schools,” said Mr. Thomas.
There are others such as senior advocate Ashok Agarwal, whose NGO Social Jurist has been fighting cases related to the education field, who are equally perturbed by the lackadaisical approach of the administration in providing the infrastructure for proper school education. In 2011 he had petitioned the then Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court A.K. Sikri with postcards sent by school students from Narela in which they had demanded they be provided basic things such as desks.
“Nothing came of it. There has been no improvement. There are Class VIII girls in Kirby Place jhuggis which I recently visited who cannot read. In some classes, there are up to 100 children and desks are not brought in because it will leave little space for so many children,” he said, adding though the situation has improved since, a lot still remains to be desired. “We often hear announcements that children would be provided with Ritu Beri designed uniforms and the like, but when it comes to the basics, the situation is pathetic. There are no desks and no proper drinking water facility in many of the schools.’’
Representatives of both the Delhi Government and the Municipal Corporations claim that the problem of shortage of desks will be solved by the end of the year. “With carpentry unit of Tihar Jail almost doubling their supply of desks to the schools we are sure that by the end of the year we would have completely addressed the problem,” said a senior government official.
Tihar Jail spokesperson Sunil Gupta said the jail factory has been regularly providing desks to the government schools. “We have been providing between 60,000 and 70,000 desks per annum for several years now. In fact, that number has been rising and last year it crossed 90,000. That is a major reason why our revenue rose from around Rs 12 crore in 2011 to nearly Rs 32 crore during the year.’’ So, it is the convicts in the jail who are actually scripting a better life for the citizens of the future.