Back in the early 1990s, my state-aided missionary school had to mandatorily compete with its government counterparts in zonal competitions. I was once picked for one such recitation competition.
I chose Rudyard Kipling's 'If' because I thought I already knew a major part of the poem from the 'inspirational' quotes we girls jotted down in our personal journals. But at the competition, I found myself fumbling after the first few stanzas. I improvised and repeated a few lines before switching to the last stanza which, fortunately, I remembered.
My closest competition from a local government school was a frail, stunted-looking girl with poor eyesight. She read out her "English" poem from Devnagari script. There was no contest after that. My shoddy performance won me the first prize. I felt ashamed.
That was two decades ago. Today, education is a fundamental right. And a much bigger chunk of state funds go into education schemes. But successive surveys keep shaming us with shocking facts about our public school system.
Teaching standards are pathetic (much of the blame goes to poor teacher training). The classrooms are falling apart. The desks are broken. Books and uniforms are not delivered on time. Millions in Delhi pay education cess and yet municipal schools cannot offer even safe drinking water.
Last year, a survey of state-run primary schools in Delhi by Envision, Plan India and Alamb showed that the average score for languages for Class 2 students was 33%. For Mathematics, it was 53%. Previously, in 2010-11, Pratham set up learning centers for 6,541 MCD school students. Among the students of Class 3 to 5, before the NGO's intervention, 93% were at an elementary mathematical level while 91% could not read simple English.
Even the food provided to incentivize attendance is substandard. A recent study by the FICCI Research and Analysis Centre found that the average calorific value of rice-and-daal samples of mid-day meals being provided to almost four lakh students in the 589 schools run by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation was only 134kcal/100 grams instead of the standard requirement of 450 kcal/100 grams.
The AAP government has put public education on top of its priority list, allocating Rs. 4,570 crore to this sector which is 106% higher than the last budget. But the grants by the state government to primary schools remain more or less the same.
In Delhi, like all public facilities, the school system is also caught in multiple jurisdictions. Primary education--from Class 1 to 5--is handled by the three municipal agencies that report to the Centre. The secondary and senior schools--from Class 6 to 12--are with the state government. The funds announced by the AAP government will go there.
This is not to say that secondary schools do not need support.
In the last few months, there have been reports of falling ceiling fans, children getting electrocuted, students studying without electricity for close to three weeks. Getting trained teachers is as big a problem at the secondary as it is at the primary level.
The Union human resource development ministry in 2011 introduced the Central Teacher Eligibility Test for all B.Ed graduates before they were hired in Central government-run schools. When Delhi adopted the same exam for the first time for state schools, only 9% could pass. The figure declined to 7% in 2013.
At present, there are at least 2,800 vacancies against 10,000 sanctioned senior teaching posts.
Science education remains the most neglected. RTIs accessed by HT found that of the 866 senior secondary schools in the city, only 270 - 31.17% - offer science as a stream in class 11 and 12.
Last week, we wrote about Government Girls Senior Secondary School in Pitampura, north-west Delhi, where over 50 students enrolled in science and humanities streams had not even started with this year's syllabus because they don't have teachers. These students are supposed to write their Class XI exams next month.
While secondary education needs all the support it can get, there is no undoing the damage done during formative years of the students. Successive Delhi governments have refused to provide enough to fund the running costs of Delhi's primary schools.
For starters, the present government can be generous to the municipalities and set an example. Otherwise, it will squander the big investment in building on weak foundations.
(The writer tweets as @shivaniss62.)