Faced with a steady exodus of students from its 1,192 schools, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) — the wealthiest local government in the country (budget: Rs.30,692.59 crore for 2019-20) — has drawn up an ambitious plan to revamp them. To attract and retain children, the budget for this fiscal is 6 percent higher at Rs.2,733 crore and promises installation of CCTV cameras, digital classrooms, e-libraries, introduction of music academies and spruced-up playgrounds in MCGM primary-secondaries.
According to a study The State of Municipal Education in Mumbai, released by the Mumbai-based NGO Praja Foundation in January, the number of students in MCGM schools declined by almost 10 percent from 3.23 million in 2016-17 to 2.97 million in 2017-18. The report says that if this trend persists, MCGM schools will empty out in ten years. Praja Foundation’s report is the outcome of a survey of 24,290 households and information obtained from the state government under the Right to Information Act, 2005. It compares the learning outcomes of MCGM school students against government-aided, private and unrecognised budget private schools (BPS) children.
By Indian standards, MCGM provides well for children from low-income households who attend its 1,192 primary-secondary schools. Unlike most state governments which insist on their dominant vernacular language being the medium of instruction in primary/elementary education, MCGM offers a host of schooling options in English as well as Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu mediums. Its per-student expenditure of Rs.65,290 per year (2018-19) is way higher than the national average (Rs.13,974) and also higher than of most budget private schools, and includes free stationery, uniforms, books, bags and even electronic tablets for children in secondary schools.
Yet despite this generous provision, enrolments in MCGM’s Hindi and Urdu-medium primaries, which host the largest number of students have steadily dropped to 85,756 and 82,349 respectively. Enrolment in schools offering Marathi — the state’s official language — as the medium of instruction has also fallen from 62,692 in 2016-17 to 56,969 students in 2017-18.
This is because the achilles heel of MCGM schools — including English-medium schools — is poor learning outcomes. In the class X school-leaving exam of the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, 73 percent of MCGM school students cleared the exam in 2018. But of them, 26.42 percent secured a rock-bottom ‘pass’. Against this, a mere 8 percent of private school students who wrote this exam were in the ‘pass’ category.
The poor learning outcomes of children in MCGM schools seldom, if at all, surprises the maximum city’s parents community. It’s an open secret that well-paid teachers jobs in MCGM schools — and government schools in general — are the preserve of kith and kin of the state’s powerful neta-babu brotherhood, and that unionised government school teachers get automatic promotions regardless of learning outcomes in their classrooms.
“Clearly, MCGM’s education department has failed the citizenry because Mumbai’s municipal school students lag behind in learning outcomes despite the corporation teachers getting far higher salaries than BPS teachers. In a city defined by huge income disparities, we need a robust public school education system. Private and not-for-profit schools cannot be the mainstay of any government welfare scheme. The systemic problems of MCGM schools cannot be wished away. There has to be political and administrative accountability for the declining popularity of government schools. Throwing money won’t make their problems go away,” says Milind Mahske, director, Praja Foundation.
The cavalier attitude of elected councillors towards MCGM’s 1,192 schools is indicated by Praja Foundation data which says that not even one of the 227 MCGM councillors raised any questions relating to the closure of municipal schools because of falling student enrolment, and only one question was asked relating to the rising number of drop-outs from MCGM schools in 2017-18.
Dipta Joshi (Mumbai)