A tale of four schools: How institutions vary within the same system

Gurman Bhatia

The November edition of the Class of 2018 seeks to understand the wide disparities among Delhi’s 1,015 government schools that are attended by 15 lakh children every day.

HT’s data team teased out these differences, and their implications, by comparing four schools against city-wide data compiled from the Unified District Information System for Education, a national database maintained by the National University of Education Planning and Administration.

The analysis reveals how high enrolment rates and classroom sizes affect learning outcomes.

The first two schools – the Government Girls Senior Secondary School and Government Boys Senior Secondary School - are actually run out the same building, colloquially called Sangam Vihar’s Pahadi wallah school.

In the mornings, approximately 5,500 girls squeeze into the building’s 66 airless classrooms; the evening shift is for the 3,066 boys who stream in once the girls leave.

Shaheed Amir Chand Sarvodaya Vidyalaya, the third school we picked for this exercise, has only 1,839 students from nursery to Class 12. Colloquially known as Ludlow Castle Number 2, this school was established in 1970 and served as one of the city’s first model schools.

Down the road from Amir Chand is the fourth school - Ludlow Castle Number 1. With even fewer students (881), the school is a part of the Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya (RPVV) program and is regarded as one of the best government schools in the city.

Here’s what we found.

Rising school enrolments, limited resources

Delhi’s largest government school has 5,600 children, the smallest only 89.

The number of students that go to a school is determined by its surroundings. In Sangam Vihar, the high population density of the area creates one of the largest schools in the city. When children from the catchment area apply, the school is bound to enrol them under the Right to Education Act.

Source: Google, Digital Globe.

RPVV schools however, have the luxury to say no. The school is small by design, and students are enrolled through an entrance exam. The objective is to provide more attention to the city’s academically meritorious.

Both Sangam Vihar schools and Shaheed Amir Chand in Ludlow Castle are larger than the average Delhi government school. As the student strength of the schools increases, school quality tends to drop.

Vincy Davis, an education based researcher at the Centre for Policy Research, says schools across the country have struggled to cope with the spike in enrolments after the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was launched in 2001.

Total students enrolled in every Delhi government school

Each block represents a school. HoverTap over a block or select a school from the dropdown to see details.

has students enrolled in the current academic session.

Source: Enrolment on Delhi Government's Edudel attendance portal (as on November 1, 2017)

Students per teacher or per classroom?

Government databases use student-teacher ratios as a way to estimate the time a teacher can devote to each student in her class. The national average student to teacher ratio in elementary schools in India is 24 students for every teacher; and 27 for every teacher for secondary schools.

While Delhi’s average student teacher ratio in 2016-17 was in line with the national average, Sangam Vihar’s girl’s school had 45 kids for each teacher, the boys school had 36 kids per teacher.

Student to teacher ratio in every Delhi government school

Each block represents a school. HoverTap over a block or select a school from the dropdown to see details.

In , there were students for every teacher in 2016-17.

Source: U-DISE 2016-17.

In practice, most schools only have one teacher in a classroom at a given time. So, measuring the number of students per classroom is a better measure of the quality of student-teacher interactions.

The Sangam Vihar school has only 66 classrooms. So the average class-size in the morning shift is actually 83 girls per classroom. The evening shift by contrast has 55 boys per classroom, while Shaheed Amir Chand has 50 students per classroom.

All these numbers are too high, says Vashishtha Prasad, Vice Principal of Sarvodaya Vidyalaya in Ludlow Castle.

Prasad says the ideal class size is 40 students.

The RPVV in Raj Niwas Marg meets that benchmark with 32 students per classroom. All schools under the program are mandated to have less than 35 students in a section.

But since other schools cannot regulate enrolment like the RPVV, for them to reduce their classroom size, building more classrooms is as urgent as hiring more teachers.

Last month, the government added 5,000 classrooms to the system. However, we will have to wait another year for the results to be reflected in the data.

The Class 9 problem

Assessing a school's performance is hard.

The government does not provide public rankings of its schools. Measuring pass percentages in Class 10 and 12 are of little use as schools devote all their energies to making these numbers look good. Looking at pass rates in junior classes doesn’t help either as all students are mandatorily promoted till Class 9 under the Right to Education act of 2009.

So looking at how many Class 9 children are promoted to Class 10 offers a good approximation of student performance, and suggests school size plays a big role in academic performance.

Most schools that have a higher than 75% pass rate in Class 9 and Class 10 have less than 2,000 students enrolled in the school. There are, of course, anomalies: Government Co-ed. Senior Secondary School in Nizampur that had only 300 students, only 17 of its 78 Class 9 students made it to Class 10 – a pass rate of 21%.

Meanwhile Government Girls Senior Secondary School in Sonia Vihar has a Class 9 pass percentage in the 90s, despite having almost 4,500 students in its rolls.

In 2016, the RPVV in Raj Niwas Marg had an 81% pass rate, the best amidst the four schools examined. The boys’ school in Sangam Vihar comes second at 63%. Amir Chand is next at 52% and the Sangam Vihar girls' school is at 43%. These numbers can often also be volatile. A year earlier, RPVV had a pass rate of 61%, while the boys’ school is Sangam Vihar had one of 40%.

Percentage of students that transition from Class 9 to 10

Each block represents a school. HoverTap over a block or select a school from the dropdown to see details.

In , % of Class 9 students made it to Class 10 in 2016-17.

Source: U-DISE 2016-17, 2015-16.

These numbers can often also be volatile, a year ago, RPVV had a pass rate of 61%, while the boys' school is Sangam Vihar had one of 40%.

A closer examination of our four schools reveals an interesting insight: While all the girls who fail Class 9 at the Pahadi school tend to stay in school and repeat the year; nearly 70% of Sangam Vihar boys who failed dropped out of the education system all together. In Shaheed Amir Chand, which is still one of the city’s better government schools, only 4% dropped out. None of the students who failed at the RPVV stayed on to repeat the year.