How India’s capital is repairing schools

NEW DELHI – Pradeep Paswan used to skip school for weeks, sometimes months. His tin-ceiling classrooms were hot in the summer. Dirty bathroom.

Now, he’s dressed at 7 a.m., in a blue shirt and trousers, eager to go to school, in a new building where there are clean restrooms. “I went to school because I knew I could become something,” said Paswan, 20, a 12th grader who dreams of becoming a top official in India’s elite bureaucracy.

In India, where millions of families depend on education to escape the cycle of poverty, public schools have long been known for their rundown buildings, mismanagement, poor teaching, and even lack of education. poisoned lunch. Mr. Paswan’s school, in a working-class neighborhood in Delhi, is known as the “red school”, because of the frequent scuffles on the campus and the color of the uniforms.

Today, it is a much sought-after school, one that has benefited from the broader transformation of Delhi’s education system. Last year, 100% of the school’s students taking the 10th and 12th grade standardized exams passed, compared with 89% and 82% in 2014. The red uniform has been changed to navy and lavender. smell.

The Aam Aadmi Party came to power in Delhi with the promise of improving basic services: health, electricity, water and education. The party leader, Arvind Kejriwal, who became Delhi’s chief minister in 2015, said he wanted to “reform” the system so that government ministers feel comfortable sending their children to public schools.

Mr. Kejriwal has pledged billions of dollars more to overhaul schools, some of which until recently had not had drinking water or been infested with snakes. The school system partners with leading experts and universities to design new curricula, and works with parents, students and teachers to improve day-to-day operations.

“The first strong thing Delhi has signaled is that our children are worthwhile, our schools are worthwhile and our teachers are worthwhile,” said Padma Sarangapani, a professor of education at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. We’re worth it too.”

The school system is still a work in progress, with a high student-to-teacher ratio in some schools and many buildings still in need of major upgrades. But Mr. Kejriwal is finding success when he announced in December that 250,000 students had left private schools in the past five years to attend government schools. (Some of them have moved to public schools because of pandemic-related losses in family income.)

According to data from the Delhi government, almost 100% of the students who appeared in the high school final exam last year passed, compared to 87% of the students who showed up in 2012. And other state governments, including Telangana and Tamil Nadu, which are now promoting adoption”Delhi model. “

Work on education has helped generate solid political victories for the party, which in March gained control a second state in India, Punjab. The party is taking its approach across the country, campaigning on basic education and services in this year’s state elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.

The transformation of Delhi’s schools began in 2015 with the surprise visit of Manish Sisodia, Mr. Kejriwal’s minister of education, and his chief advisor for education at the time, Atishi. Both will interrogate school officials, pointing to shabby classrooms, false records, and leaky faucets.

“You will walk into a school and you can smell the toilets from 50 meters away,” said Atishi, who clarified. “The message is if the government can’t even clean up the schools, how serious is the government about education?”

The government has enlisted private companies to clean up hundreds of schools. It hires retired defense personnel as “legacy managers” who oversee repairs. Heritage administrators have freed up school principals to focus on academic work.

Between 2015 and 2021, the Delhi government spent about $10 billion (769 billion rupees) on 1,037 schools it operates, serving around 1.8 million students. That’s more than double what previous governments, which did not consider education a winning issue, spent seven years ago, According to data from Delhi government.

The new money is used to build new classrooms, labs and running tracks, as well as to develop curricula and form a new educational board.

Officials are also trying to address a fundamental problem: a lack of trust between students, teachers, and parents.

In 2016, the Delhi government established school management committees, groups of parents, teachers and local officials to provide a platform for broadcast concerns and hold the government accountable.

In monthly meetings, principals and teachers discuss achievements and problems, and seek approval for new purchases or repairs. The government allows committees to hire teachers on a temporary basis over the long term to fill permanent posts.

It also invests in teaching staff. Some have dropped out or dropped out in the middle of the day, or even found Knit sweaters in classrooms, according to government officials.

Sisodia, Education Minister, said changing attitudes in a long stagnant system requires a different approach.

In the summer of 2016, the government organized training sessions with more than 25,000 teachers. In addition to the usual subject training, it has selected teachers from within the public school system to provide training in the basics of teaching.

Those sessions focus on building a personal connection with students. For example, teachers are encouraged to talk to students about their family circumstances to understand if it interferes with their ability to focus on class work.

“I feel empowered,” said Anita Singh, a teacher who took the course and taught herself at a public school. “There is a perception that, as a teacher, if I think hard about this and make it part of everyday learning, students will absorb real learning.”

A year later, the government sent a teacher from most schools in the city for further training at world-class institutions, including Cambridge University and the National Academy of Education in Singapore.

Atul Kumar, who attended a week-long training course in London, said: “We had contact and I was more confident.

Until six months ago, Dr. Kumar was the head of Sarvodaya Vidyalaya, the public school where Mr. Paswan attended. Dr. Kumar said the school is currently rejecting applications. Zennet Lakra, vice-chancellor, said applicants far exceeded the school’s capacity of 3,500 students.

On a recent afternoon, Indu Devi, a parent, went to Ms. Lakra’s office to pick up her 17-year-old son, Sanjay Kumar, from school after almost two years of absence. Ms Devi, who cleans the house, explained that the family needed him to work during the pandemic.

“I wanted him to go to this school because it had a name,” she said. “I want him to do better than me.”

In addition to the usual coursework, students learn how to garden and live a joyful and soulful life, part of an effort to promote “human values” and reduce the emphasis on rote learning.

Experts say Delhi’s education system appears to be working. The city’s students achieve significantly higher scores than their peers nationally in English, science, math, and social sciences in 2017 and Year 2021according to a survey by the Ministry of Education.

However, challenges remain. Teachers and staff complain about wages and benefits that haven’t been increased for years. Returning children to school after two years of the pandemic is also difficult.

At Mr. Paswan’s school, about 150 students dropped out. Many returnees have “forgotten how to write their names,” Ms. Lakra said.

Around 1:00 a.m. on a school night, Brother Paswan, who works as a part-time garbage collector to earn money for his family, drove his bicycle full of cardboard and plastic to the small tent where the family lived. he lives. He collected and sifted through trash cans at subway stations, beauty parlors and gyms for about six hours.

His body was tired and his eyes were bloodshot, but instead of crawling into his hard bed, he opened his Sanskrit notebook to start reading.

“My school is helping me,” said Mr. Paswan, who is in his 20s, older than most of his classmates because he started school late and repeats a year. “I can dream of doing something big, a respected job.”

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