Despite the best efforts of the Delhi education department, there are thousands of students in government high schools who still struggle to read.
A project taken up by the government to improve literacy among the state's children hasn't had the desired effects. Education minister Manish Sisodia had urged all teachers in government schools to take a pledge as part of the 'Every child can read' campaign. The campaign, which ended on Teachers' Day on 14 November, had come up after statistics suggested 74 percent of the state's children couldn't read. "The education minister appealed to all teachers, asking them to ensure students can read before 14 November," one teacher said.
But not everybody was happy with the campaign; teachers said it was "whimsical" to expect children to start reading in just two-and-a-half months. "It's impossible to teach reading in such a short period of time, especially to students who couldn't acquire this basic skill until Class VI," said a government school teacher on condition of anonymity, adding that students are usually expected to be fully well versed with reading and writing by Class VI, but many of the children in the capital city can't even identify alphabets by this age.
As per a study conducted by the state government, nearly 50 percent of students who appear for their board exams from government schools fail every year on account of this condition. In June this year, the education department came up with a new policy to eliminate this malady. The scheme, titled 'Chunauti 2018', involved holding separate classes for students who lag behind. It was felt that doing so would improve pass percentage and decrease dropout rates.
It has had some positive impact, however. Shashi Kant Singh, principal of a co-ed school in Dwarka, said his school has achieved over 82 percent success when it comes to making its students read. "Of the 148 students who were selected for special classes, 124 can now read paragraphs," Singh said.
However, sources in the education department said the figure is not representative of all government schools; at many other schools, students fared very badly in tests held after the drive. Only 39.43 percent of students in government schools passed the reading tests, the sources added. And considering there are more than 900 such schools, the number of students who're still unable to read — despite the much publicised drive — would run into thousands.
Dr Sunita Kaushik, additional director with the state education department, and the person who looks after the drive, was away on leave and unable to comment.
Ashok Agarwal, an activist who has been fighting for the cause of Delhi school students, told Firstpost that the lack of infrastructure is another major problem afflicting government schools. Moreover, there were 26,031 vacant posts at the state-run schools in Delhi. "The Delhi High Court just granted four weeks more time to the Delhi government to file its affidavit in response to a contempt petition filed by a social jurist, highlighting non-recruitment of teachers in the past few years," added Agarwal, who is also the advocate for the appealing party.
He further added that nearly 10 percent of teachers are always on leave, a benefit availed under service rules. He also noted that many government and municipal schools do not even have adequate space to facilitate education to all the students. "It's unrealistic to expect students will read at such short notice, given the deplorable condition of educational infrastructure," he contended.
Some teachers contend that though 'Chunauti 2018' is a scheme with a lofty goal of increasing pass percentage and decreasing dropout rates, expecting all students to read in just two-and-a-half months is uncalled for. "To achieve this goal, we need adequate educational infrastructure to back it up, and not just whims," a teacher said.