For the first time in the electoral history of India, a ruling party will be fighting elections with children's education at the top of its agenda.
When the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) released the report card of its Government in Delhi, it restated that education will lead the bid for the renewal of its mandate in the city-state. In its 10-point report card of performance, education features at the top with four key indicators: Threefold increase in budget, construction of 20,000 classrooms, Class 12 results surpassing the performance of private schools and containment of the often exorbitant fee hike by private schools of Delhi.
When we read our child's report card, we mainly think about three things " the efforts put in, the results and the direction in which our child is headed. A similar look at AAP's report card signifies much more than a mere statement of facts.
Let us begin by studying the first indicator: >Delhi's budget allocation. The threefold increase in the education budget was in the same period when the total budget of the state doubled. As per 'RBI's State Budget Analyses Report 2017-18', Delhi spent 23.8 percent of its budget on education. This is the highest in a country where the average expenditure by states is 14.8 percent. The highest allocation to education among different sectors and threefold allocation increase symbolise two things " top priority to education and intent of the government to go much beyond routine expenses. What followed thereafter is the story of Delhi's education revolution.
The enhanced budget provided much needed resources to >revamp school infrastructure. More than 8,000 classrooms in 141 buildings, including 25 new buildings were constructed within the first three years. An additional 12,000 classrooms in 243 buildings " including 30 new buildings " will be ready within the next six months. In Delhi's education story, these buildings are not just civil work, but much more than that.
Government buildings across the country, whether in schools or hospitals, built for the common citizen (except those that are likely to be used by privileged classes as well) gave a very dull look, a look that says, "Come here only if you cannot go anywhere else." But in Delhi, for the first time, the aesthetics and design of school building received careful attention. As a result, all new buildings of Delhi's government schools look like the sort that any parents can send their child as a first option and every child in those schools has the confidence that s/he has an equal opportunity to excel.
The third indicator was >Class 12 results. In 2015-16, for the first time, government schools performed better than private schools in Delhi. In that year, the pass percentage of private schools was 86.7 percent while that of government schools was 88.9 percent. Since then, government schools have performed consistently better than private schools. In 2017-18, government schools crossed the 90 percent pass mark and the next year, they reached 96.5 percent. It must be noted that the improvement in 2019 was recorded despite the fact that 15 percent more children appeared in Class 12 examinations compared to 2018. The number of students securing more than 90 percent marks also increased from 563 in 2018 to 1,089 in 2019. Thus, for the first time in the history of Delhi government schools, more than 1,000 students secured more than 90 percent marks.
The last indicator in the report card is on private school fees. 364 private schools in Delhi were built on land allotted by Delhi Development Authority on the condition that they will not increase the fee without the approval of the Directorate of Education, Government of Delhi. This condition was put in the allotment letter itself so that the management did not use the school for profiteering. However, between 2011-12 and 2015-16, almost all these schools increased the fee between eight and 15 percent annually.
This practice by the schools was challenged by parents in the Delhi High Court, which set up a committee headed by Justice Anil Deo Singh to examine the records of the schools to see if their fee hikes were justified. The Delhi government ensured that the recommendation of the committee was implemented and monitored the refund of around Rs 32 crore to the parents by 198 private schools so far.
Now, any fee hike proposal is examined by a government panel of reputed charted accountants. As a result, in 2016-17, only 30 schools were allowed fee hikes in the range of five to 10 percent, while in 2017-18 and 2018-19, not a single school was allowed to raise fees.
In the past five years, the Delhi government raised the bar on what to expect and ignited hope that governments can ensure quality and equity in education for >all children if it has political will. Thus, while the 2015 election was about promises, the 2020 is about performance and possibilities.
The author is principal advisor to Director of Education, Government of Delhi. Views are personal