Fix the poor showing of Delhi’s municipal schools

North Delhi corporation didn’t distribute textbooks despite getting funds; NCT govt warns of take-over of schools

The Delhi government has warned the national capital’s municipal bodies that it will take over the primary schools the latter run if they keep failing in “basic duties” such as distribution of text-books. The warning comes against the backdrop of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation having failed to distribute textbooks in 714 schools despite getting the largest share of the Rs 853 crore transferred by the NCT government to the North, South and East Delhi municipal corporations.

Given how the municipal schools act as feeders for the schools run by the state government—since they only have primary classes (upto Standard V)—the state government’s stand would seem justifiable, even though it is not quite clear how the ‘take over’ can happen.

This, however, is not the first time the issue of take-over has risen in the context of the poor state of affairs at the municipal schools. Last year, the Delhi government told the Delhi High Court that it was ready to take over the municipal schools to “avert an education crisis”, if legal provisions allow and the state government receives funding for this. Indeed, several expert panels, including the NCERT one from 2010, have recommended bringing all public-funded schools in the national capital under the Delhi government. The state education department had even told the HC that education did not seem to be a priority for the municipal corporations, and, consequently, their schools suffered much neglect—the East Delhi Municipal Corporation, for instance, spent less than half of what it allocated per child in 2017-18, while the North Delhi and South Delhi corporations’ spending for that year also fell short of the budgeted amounts. Given getting foundational learning right is key to overall academic development of a child, the neglect of primary education in the national capital is a likely reason why the state government schools have been reporting poor board-exam performance.

Praja Foundation’s The State of Public (School) Education in Delhi 2019 report shows that, within the overall enrollment pool, the share of both state and municipal schools in Delhi shrank noticeably between 2014 and 2018, while that of private schools rose. It is likely that private school enrollment would have been buoyed by the RTE’s EWS provision as it got progressively enforced over the years. But, it will be hard to discount the poor state of learning in the government schools adding to the allure of private school education.

The Praja Foundation report also spoke of a sharp decline in Standard X pass percentages of Delhi government schools—while these were doing better than private schools in 2011 (at over 99% vis-a-vis private schools’ 98%), by 2018, they were recording just 69%. Some of this can be attributed to the RTE’s no-detention (till class VIII) policy that was junked only last year, but poor foundational education and the shadow it casts on later learning could be responsible, too—nearly 75% of Standard III and 64% of Standard V students in MCD schools were graded C & D under the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation system, indicating poor levels of learning. There are a host of factors that influence learning outcomes in the early years—parents’ educational levels, the atmosphere at home, etc—but if MCD schools have failed, then an “educational crisis” does stare the national capital in the face. More so, with the pandemic. To that end, if the Delhi government, which would like to see more bang per buck given the significant expansion of its education budget, does take over the MCD schools, the corporations would only have themselves to blame.

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