With inputs from Rahul Tiwari.
The hall of the Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya, situated in the Civil Lines area of Delhi, was overflowing with people on a warm Sunday afternoon in September last year. It was packed with all stakeholders in education of the Burari constituency. There were parents who were part of School Management Committees (SMCs), social workers, heads of all Delhi government schools in the constituency, officials from various departments like the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), Public Works Department (PWD), Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and even the Delhi Police, the MLA, and senior officials of the Delhi government including the education minister Manish Sisodia. The gathering was Delhi's, and perhaps India's, first SMC Sabha—one of the many novel ideas shaping the much talked about Delhi's education system.
The School Management Committees (SMCs) in Delhi have become pivotal in driving the goals set by the state Education Department.
The Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 mandates formation of School Management Committees (SMCs) in all government schools, with 75% of its strength from among parents or guardians of children. It further includes the school principal, elected local representatives, teachers and social workers/educationists.
The idea behind institutionalising the SMC through the RTE was twofold. First, to engage the community as an ombudsman on the affairs of the school—right from its funds to its comprehensive development plan. And second, to make parents stakeholders in the teaching-learning process, thereby making a frontal attack on irregular attendance—one of the root causes of low learning levels in Indian schools. Over the years, several studies—including by Pratichi, a trust chaired by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen—have outlined the need for parents to be active participants in the school education and management system.
However, like most government policies, SMCs have largely failed to live up to their potential with the mandated monthly meetings either not taking place or becoming a routine exercise. Until recently, this situation held true for Delhi too, with members of SMCs existing only on paper and none of the committees' functions being carried out in the schools.
The last couple of years in Delhi though have witnessed a sea change in the working of SMCs. Indeed, the Delhi model is fast emerging as one for the rest of the country to emulate. From being instrumental in running the Swachh School Abhiyaan and organising mega PTMs to spearheading summer camps, reading melas and dengue awareness drives, the SMCs in Delhi have become pivotal in driving the goals set by the state Education Department.
SMCs in Delhi have come a long way from being one of the countless bodies that exist on paper, but never succeed in realising their purpose.
The fundamental shift in transforming SMCs in Delhi government schools started right from its organisation, with active campaigns held for parents' elections to the committees. A conscious effort by the Delhi government to involve SMCs in all education reforms has gone a long way in creating a sense of ownership among parents. An instance was when the government was inviting schools to organise summer camps for students of class VI. SMCs played a pivotal role in convincing the schools, teachers and even the students to participate in the summer camps. Ultimately, 45,000 students across 500 schools made attested to the success of this initiative, the credit of which should rightly go to the SMCs. Last year's success has prompted the government to scale the summer camps which are currently underway in all its 1024 schools. Clearly, SMCs in Delhi have come a long way from being one of the countless bodies that exist on paper, but never succeed in realising their purpose.
While a lot of positives can be drawn from the Delhi SMC model, it still needs to evolve to realise its full potential. To begin with, the efficiency of SMCs in Delhi is not geographically even. There are still several areas in Delhi (for instance constituencies in southeast Delhi, like Tughlaqabad), which require a lot more effort to reach the level of participation and ownership exhibited by high-performing SMCs (like in Mustafabad). Another area of improvement is SMC overreach, wherein overenthusiastic parents sometimes resort to assessing teachers in classrooms which they are neither mandated nor qualified to do. Delhi can also learn from the recent example of Jharkhand which has evolved a scale for the periodic assessment of the performance of SMCs.
This model derives its strength not just from its theoretical soundness like many policy models in India do—it draws its legitimacy from its effectiveness on the ground.
Returning to the SMC Sabha in Burari, Chanda, a confident parent and SMC member, confronted the Education Minister and the concerned officials about the low quality of the midday meal provided to children in her school. This was an empowered parent asserting her democratic rights. As a result, an immediate complaint was ordered to be filed against the midday meal contractor. Today, the quality of food given to children in the school has improved substantially and parents no longer have any complaints on this matter. Another parent, Ravikant Ravi, whose child studies in class VII, complained of the slow pace of work in the construction of new classrooms. The PWD official entrusted with the work happened to be present, and he promised to finish the construction work within a specific date in front of the Education Minister and hundreds of parents. The public nature of the assurance meant added accountability for the official as well as the minister's office to ensure timely completion of the work in question. The SMC sabha is a perfect example of what the confluence of a good law, political will and people's participation can achieve.
The true purpose of SMCs is to bridge the huge gap that exists between the state, school and society. By making parents take active ownership of education in schools, holding public servants accountable to the citizenry and by opening up the school to the community, the Delhi model of SMCs has been extremely successful. The model is not only strong in terms of its foundation being on genuine election of parent members ,but also in successfully creating a strong sense of ownership and willingness in the community to participate in the education of its children (which also makes it a difficult idea to be abandoned by any party in power). However, the best aspect of this model is that it is not one which derives its strength just from its theoretical soundness like many policy models in India do— it draws its legitimacy from its effectiveness in practice on the ground.