Delhi had a compelling reason to smile last week, after the results of the CBSE Class 12 examinations were announced. The hard work put in by children and their teachers at Delhi's government schools have paid off. Delhi government schools have outperformed India's private schools by almost 9%. The pass percentage of Delhi government schools is 88.36%, while that of private schools across the country is 79.27%
Delhi's government schools have also surpassed the national CBSE result by 6%, and that of Delhi's private schools by a little over 4%. For examinations like the CBSE's Class 12 Board exams, the extent of standardisation is not sophisticated enough to compare results year-on-year, so performance can only be observed relative to other segments. Although the pass percentages of government schools in Delhi have remained consistent for the last three years, in comparison with that of private schools in Delhi and across the country, it does reflect a significantly better showing.
The emphasis has been on ensuring that teachers make the classroom experience about learning, and not merely about memorisation.
The number of students who cleared the Indian Institute of Technology-Joint Entrance Exam (IIT-JEE) mains this year has also gone up by 700%. As many as 372 students cleared the first level of the prestigious institute's entrance test. Not only have government schools outperformed private schools in Class 12 exams, there is clearly a surge in the number of high performing students.
Delhi's Aam Aadmi Party government fundamentally rejects the idea that the success in reforming education can be captured by the metric of annual board examinations alone. This is the reason that many of the government's ambitious school interventions are focused on Classes 6 to 8, which are the most crucial years from the point of view of bridging learning deficits. Unless the student's academic foundations are strengthened, focusing only on board exams can only bring cosmetic change. The emphasis has been on ensuring that teachers make the classroom experience about learning, and not merely about memorisation.
Many in the education department were actually concerned that this year the results of Class 12 students were going to dip below last year's results. The cause for the concern was because the government had taken some strong steps to ensure that no cheating happens in exams—whether school-based exams or board exams. After receiving feedback from teachers and principals last year about the practice of cheating at exam centres, the Education Minister gave schools an unambiguous message from the beginning of the academic year (2016-17) that no cheating would be acceptable in Delhi government schools. In the half-yearly exams anti-cheating flying squads, including SDMs and regular education officers, were formed to ensure that cheating is brought to minimal levels. Principals were informed a year ago that the ministry was going to crack down heavily on cheating by stepping up inspections and monitoring.
There is awareness in the system that the Education Minister is himself keeping close watch on the state of affairs in schools.
Despite these factors, if children have performed so well, it can only be attributed to two simple but highly effective strategies to push schools operating in the inertia of a government system to do better:
- Creation of a culture of monitoring and accountability at the highest levels.
- Building of a motivated and committed cadre by incentivising sincere effort.
Since this government has started working towards reforming education in 2015, the Education Minister Manish Sisodia himself has led the charge for meticulous inspections of schools. Thus far, he has gone on surprise inspections to several schools across Delhi, from Dwarka to Kondli, and Jahangirpuri to Deoli and Tughlaqabad. Initially, some principals who were found to be lax or corrupt were suspended. Ever since, there is awareness in the system that the Education Minister is himself keeping close watch on the state of affairs in schools. This has helped beat the inertia typical of government workplaces. School administrations are more serious about their jobs, and complacency is no more the norm. School management committees—consisting of parents and members of the local community—were empowered to ensure ongoing accountability. High-performing principals were posted in difficult schools, in order to improve the performance of these schools.
The government has invested in high-quality teacher education and encouraged an environment that promotes academic discourse.
The government has also taken steps to motivate teachers and principals to work harder, as well as freeing them from multiple administrative constraints. Principals have been sent for school leadership training to the best national and international institutions, including Cambridge University and IIM Ahmedabad. This year, the government doubled the salaries of the 17,000-strong guest teacher force, which had been receiving a pittance of ₹16,000-17,000 a month. The government has also relieved teachers of many administrative duties that they were earlier required to perform. An estate manager was appointed in each school, so that principals could focus on academics, instead of worrying about getting toilets cleaned and fans repaired. Additionally, the government has invested in high-quality teacher education and encouraged an environment that promotes academic discourse. This has motivated a large section of teachers and principals, and has mobilised them to work towards the government's goals. An example of this is that for Class 12 students, teachers conducted remedial lessons in the summer as well as winter vacations this year. They personally invested in the children's education with a sense of ownership that is rarely seen in government schools.
There are no shortcuts in the process of education reform and no quick fixes either. What we have found though is that focusing on core objectives like learning always produces results. The shake-up of the system has resulted in better government school education within a short span of two years. And there is still a long way to go.