As schools in Delhi reopened this week and children take a step forward in their vast educational odyssey, perhaps it is time for policymakers in the capital to take a step back and reflect on where we stand in our quest for inclusive and quality education. Can Delhi be made a model of excellence in India’s urban education landscape?
While elementary school enrolment in Delhi has increased to almost 97% today, it is still not known how children are performing in schools. There is a severe paucity of data when it comes to learning outcomes. The Annual Status of Education Report, the largest independent survey that measures learning outcomes in the country, does not maintain data for Delhi as it only covers rural districts. Other sample surveys, such as the National Achievement Survey conducted by the National Council for Educational Research and Training and the Quality Education Study by Educational Initiatives, have begun to collect this information. However, there is no data to show us whether or not every child in schools is actually learning.
Investing in standardized assessments needs to be a priority for India’s education system if we are to know whether every child is getting adequately equipped with relevant education for the future. This will also indicate to all key stakeholders—teachers, parents, and policymakers—the schools that are showing a tangible improvement in the process of imparting education.
Additionally, there are other interventions that can help Delhi strengthen the quality of education in its schools.
Linking school recognition to learning outcomes can hold schools accountable on the basis of student achievement. Almost 2,200 private schools in Delhi, which cater to children from low-income communities, are at the risk of closing down for non-compliance with either infrastructural, teacher salary, or pupil-teacher ratio requirements under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, according to the National Independent Schools Alliance.
Studies by the Centre for Civil Society and scholar James Tooley that look at private schooling for low-income families have found that low-cost private schools are providing education that is equivalent, if not better, to government schools. This is in spite of operating at a fraction of the cost of government schools. Forty per cent of student enrolment in the city is now in private unaided schools, according to a review committee headed by former civil servant Shailaja Chandra, which published its report on Delhi School Education in 2012. Parents are clearly opting for these schools. We, therefore, need to find ways to meet parental preferences while ensuring the quality and inclusiveness of our schools.
Gujarat has addressed this situation by factoring student achievement into its criteria for school recognition. Seventy per cent weightage is given to absolute and relative levels of student learning outcomes in the formulation for school recognition, under the rules for implementation of the RTE Act, which the state government notified last year. This ensures that schools can maintain their recognition as well as impart better quality of education. Designing the capital’s rules along similar lines can help schools focus on enhancing educational standards.
School management committees (SMCs), which are now mandated under the RTE Act, can also introduce better governance practices in schools through increased parental involvement. However, only 2% of schools in Delhi were found to have formed these committees, according to a citywide survey conducted by Joint Operation for Self Help (JOSH). JOSH is now conducting SMC training for 40 East Delhi Municipal Corporation schools, to enhance capacity building of parents and community members in this respect. Scaling up such initiatives can further leverage parent participation to hold schools accountable on the basis of student performance.
Transforming our education system requires investing in standardized assessments, encouraging better governance as well as school leadership practices that are committed to providing well-rounded education. Most importantly, we need to make learning outcomes the explicit goal of our education policy. We need to focus on setting standards to measure these outcomes and take concrete action to achieve them.
Cities that stand out as pioneers in education reform began with a similar vision. Shanghai’s slogan—first class city, first class education—was supported by a strong political commitment to raise the bar for educational standards, and a vision to excel in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa). As a result, Shanghai topped the Pisa in 2009. In our aspiration to become a world-class city, can we too invest in quality education? Can Delhi aim to take the next Pisa, and lead India’s vision for achieving quality education for all?
Ashish Dhawan is the founder and CEO of Central Square Foundation.