Delhi election: Despite AAP's lofty claims to lifting quality of education, over a lakh students 'misled', left behind
Ashok Agarwal, who often takes up cases regarding education in Delhi, said the government is basically 'pushing out weaker students for better optics'. He added, 'Only a handful manage to get back to formal education after being pushed out. Nobody is doing anything for them.'
Several reports in recent times have emerged claiming that government schools in Delhi have 'outperformed' private schools
But that has come at the cost of jeopardising careers of thousands of students
According to the data released under RTI, 1,55,436 students failed in Classes 9 to 12 in the academic year 2017-18
Only 52,582 were readmitted in the same class in the academic year of 2018-19
Nishu, 18, is looking for work. She has been unsuccessful because one has to have passed at least Class 10 to have a shot at landing a job. "The teachers at my school misled me," she said, sitting in her one-room apartment in Delhi's Badarpur constituency. "AAP talks a lot about its education reforms. But it has wrecked my life."
The lane leading up to her home, ironically, has fliers stating, "Mera bijli ka bill zero, Arvind Kejriwal mera hero" on every door. In 2016, when Nishu was in Class 9 at the Girls Senior Secondary School Number-4, she failed in Maths and Science. "The teachers suggested I opt for a Patrachar correspondence course," she said, "They said I would not have to waste a year if I could clear my Class 10 exams as an open category student."
However, when she could not pass the exams via correspondence course, her school refused to re-admit her. "I have been at home since," she said. "It is extremely demoralising. I was not told that I would be refused admission if I failed to clear my exams as an open category student."
At the school in which Nishu studied, a teacher requesting anonymity, corroborated her version of events. "We have been told by the state government to suggest the correspondence course to students who fail in Class 9 in a manner that seems like a better option to them," the teacher confessed.
As a result, only better students end up taking the board exams, said the teacher, which means "better results" for Delhi's government schools. "Badi chaturai se inhone yeh kiya hai," the teacher added. "Under the no-detention policy, you cannot fail a student until Class 8. So a lot of students in Class 9 struggled to do basic work, and started failing. Then the state came up with the idea of recommending Patrachar correspondence course to those students."
Several reports in recent times have emerged claiming that government schools in Delhi have "outperformed" private schools. But that has come at the cost of jeopardising careers of thousands of students.
According to the data released under RTI, 1,55,436 students failed in Classes 9 to 12 in the academic year 2017-18. Only 52,582 were readmitted in the same class in the academic year of 2018-19. In other words, 66 percent of the students fell behind. "Most of the students appearing via correspondence course fall off the roster because kids in government schools mostly do not have anyone at home to regularly look after their studies or check their homework," said the teacher.
Nishu lost her father in February 2019. "Three years before that, he had been unwell, and out of work," she said, "My mother works at a sewing factory and looks after me and my two sisters. She is at work the whole day. I want to help her out, but don't know how."
Ashok Agarwal, who often takes up cases regarding education in Delhi, said the government is basically "pushing out weaker students for better optics". He added, "Only a handful manage to get back to formal education after being pushed out. Nobody is doing anything for them."
A few lanes down from Nishu's home, Sheetal too is in the same boat. She had failed at Maths in Class 9. "When you sit at home, and do nothing, people pass comments and it further takes your confidence away," she said, sitting in her one-room brick-walled home. Her parents work in sewing factory to make their ends meet. "I want to study but I have been told I 'cannot do it' on so many occasions that I don't know if I can anymore," Sheetal added.
Her mother, Basanti Devi, said the state government only pretends to care about students. "Not every student is going to be bright," she said, "But you should not discriminate against weaker students for publicity."
Agarwal, who resigned from the AAP in 2014, has mobilised such students and taken up their cases in the past as well. A 2017 report quoted him claiming that a lakh students in Class 9 in 2015-16 were pushed out of the education system, and only 62,000 opted for the correspondence course. Of that, merely 1,250 managed to pass. The government had arranged a re-exam for 25,000 students of the remaining 60,000. The rest of the 35,000 students seem to have been dumped, Agarwal had said.
The students falling behind in Delhi belong to the marginalised sections of society and come from humble backgrounds. But the AAP government's policies seem to be making life more difficult for those who need assistance the most.
In August 2018, the Directorate of Education passed a circular stating that a student who fails twice in a row "would be counselled for choosing other available options" and "will not be readmitted as a regular student". That student would be asked to take the route of a correspondence course. Ironically, Shailendra Sharma, principal advisor to the Directorate of Education, had given an interview to The Hindu, where he said, "A child does not fail. Educators and system fail to teach."
In 2019-20, citing this circular, the Government Boys Secondary School in Vivek Vihar refused to admit Sayyad Mohammad Umar's two sons to Class 9. He challenged it in court with Agarwal being his counsel. He argued that it violates their fundamental right to education, and said 400 such students were "arbitrarily" and "unjustly" refused enrolment in government schools of Delhi. Sayyad said he even wrote to the education minister and director of education before approaching the court. "I was disappointed," he said. "The school continued to convince me to send my kids to a correspondence course. They even said we will pay their fees. But why should I do it when there is a school in place?"
The High Court of Delhi issued a stay on the circular providing relief to Sayyad's kids. However, there is another government circular in play, which specifies the age criteria for class KG to Class 12. For Class 9, the student must be between 13 and 15 years of age. For Class 10, the student should be between 14 and 16 years of age, and so on. "You create so many hurdles that the kids won't be able to come back to formal education," said Agarwal, "I believe there should be no age limit to study. In a country like ours, we should be making it easier if people want to study."
"I tried to get re-admission and approached my school three or four times," said Nishu. To be able to get the admission, she would have had to be between 13 and 15 years of age, which she is not.
It raises several questions about AAP's "revolution" in the education sector, but Atishi, who oversaw their policies along with the education minister Manish Sisodia, declined to give an interview.
Shailendra Sharma had initially indicated he would respond to questions and asked this reporter to send questions via WhatsApp. To those, he replied, "Specific response to these points will require digging old data. Unfortunately, it will not be possible for me to pull it out now due to other preoccupation. On a generic note, all I can say that Delhi govt did not deliberately fail any student to boost its result in board exam."
This reporter then asked if it would be possible to do a call for follow-up questions. To which, Sharma asked, "Is your story a political piece or an academic piece?" And eventually concluded he would not be able to "engage unless I know the full story", because he has seen "biased reporting on this subject" and has been "quoted out of context".
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