Autar Nehru (Delhi)
The resignation of manish Sisodia, deputy chief minister and education minister of the Delhi state government, on February 28 following his arrest by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the Delhi Excise Policy (2021-22) liquor licensing ‘scam’, is unlikely to prove a set-back to the Delhi school education model that has played a major role in transforming the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) into a force to reckon with in Indian politics. The first political party in the history of post-independence India to make education a major plank in its election campaign, AAP, founded by Arvind Kejriwal, a former bureaucrat and RTI activist, and Sisodia in 2013, is the only political formation to have trounced the high-riding BJP in the Delhi state legislative election of 2015 and 2020, and in the Punjab state election of 2022.
Sisodia is succeeded by Atishi Marlena — an alumna of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi and Oxford University, UK — his former advisor from July 2015 to April 2018, with a reputation for spearheading AAP’s education policy and upgrading the profile of Delhi’s government schools. Therefore, there isn’t any likelihood of a let up in the AAP government’s emphasis on K-12 education. Ads on television highlight government schools with excellent labs, libraries and neat classrooms with children in smart uniforms — unprecedented in Indian history.
The AAP government accords high importance to consistently upgrading its 1,047 state schools. In the government’s budget presented to the legislative assembly on March 22, the allocation for education is Rs.16,575 crore (21 percent of the total budget of Rs.78,800 crore) with a marginal increase of Rs.200 crore over the previous year. This percentage is the highest of any state government countrywide, claim AAP spokespersons.
The highlight of this year’s education budget is that new digital tablets will be provided to all teachers — regular, guest and contractual, vice principals and principals. Moreover, the government will provide at least 20 new computers to every school in a phased manner. In 2023-24, these devices will be made available in 350 of the state’s 1,047 schools.
Under the Constitution, the Delhi state government has a complex relationship with the Union government which also has jurisdiction over Delhi. For instance, maintenance of law and order in Delhi is a Central government subject. Therefore, trounced in two consecutive state elections, the BJP leadership is making life difficult for the AAP state government on several fronts. In the confrontation between state and Centre, principal and teacher recruitments have been stalled and risen to 24,000 in government schools. The response of AAP has been to recruit contract teachers whose number rose to 24,003 last year.
However, the Government School Teachers’ Association (GSTA), Delhi, is not impressed. “I can tell you that no more than 125 out of the 1,047 government schools offer STEM/science after class X. In other words, government schools where the children are from poor families, don’t provide the education the public wants,” says Ajay Veer Yadav, general secretary, GSTA.
Nevertheless, there’s widespread acknowledgement within educators and society that the Delhi education model has changed the political narrative around education, and ignited hope within public schools countrywide. According to UDISE+, an estimated 400,000 children from private — mainly budget private — schools have “reverse migrated” into Delhi state government schools in the past two years. “My two children go to a government school and I can clearly see their enthusiasm, interest and change. My elder son just finished his class X board exam in the science stream. I had never imagined he could even complete class VIII,” says Rampal, a daily wage migrant worker settled in Delhi.
Atishi, who will with time emergeout of Sisodia’s shadow, will be the person to watch as her educational background and sharp political acumen, will add further momentum to education reforms especially aimed at restoring trust in government schools. Also, after the administrative control of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi passed into AAP’s hands following its electoral win in the December 2022 elections, all eyes are on the AAP government whether it can also improve the nearly 1,650 MCD schools which are in a shambles.
According to Francis Joseph, the well-known Mumbai-based education policy expert credited with helping the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation establish several schools affiliated with CBSE/ICSE/Cambridge exam boards, Sisodia’s resignation is unlikely to upturn the AAP story in public education reformation. “AAP has changed the political discourse of the country. From now on, all political parties will pay greater attention to school education reform. AAP has shown it’s an election winning issue in Delhi, and recently in Punjab,” says Joseph.