Each one could teach one
Three women in <g data-gr-id="53">burkhas</g> are found taking rounds of the primary school where their children study, a school where teacher attendance has been erratic. For several days running they take photographs and short videos of the morning assembly on their mobile phones. A few days later these <g data-gr-id="54">burkha</g>-clad mothers went to various classrooms to see whether teachers were teaching in their classrooms. Within three days of this intervention, the situation in the school turns around drastically. A far higher presence of teachers was seen in the morning assembly, teacher attendance in the classroom increased and teachers stopped the incessant use of mobile phones when in their classrooms.
So how did these three uneducated women contribute to the transformation of this primary school in Zafrabad, a low-income locality in north-east Delhi? These women are members of the School Management Committee (SMC), an institution mandated in Section 21 of the Right to Education Act.
The SMC is a body consisting of all the stakeholders of the schools, with three-fourth parent members, the Principal, one teacher, as well as the elected representative of the locality. Like many legislative provisions, the SMC sounds prosaic and insignificant when read in the black and white print of the Right to Education Act. However, the creation of the SMC is a landmark step in transforming the relationship between schools and society.
Over the last two decades with the deterioration in the government school system, parents are increasingly sending their children to private schools. Increasingly we find that those who study in government schools are first-generation learners, coming from the lowest socio-economic strata of society. Therefore, there is an increasing socio-educational gap between the schools staff (teachers and principals) and parents, accompanied with a growing perception that ‘uneducated’ parents cannot contribute to the school or the education of their child.
With schools getting alienated from the community, there is a further deterioration of the public education system. There are multiple reasons for this. With parents not being aware of the issues of the school or given any inputs on how they can monitor their children’s learning, there is no support or supervision from the parents. There are several issues that can only be resolved with support from the community such as ensuring that children attend school regularly or that they do not drop out. Another dimension of this breakdown between school and community has been of reduced accountability. Over the <g data-gr-id="61">years</g> it has been seen that the top-down vertical accountability and monitoring systems of the government have been unsuccessful in ensuring the effective and efficient functioning of the public delivery systems. Parents being the most significant stakeholders in the school and being located in geographical proximity to the school can play an effective role in ensuring accountability of the schools. However, with the growing alienation of community and schools, this function has become virtually non-existent, leading to a further deterioration of government schools.
With the institutionalisation of SMCs in all government schools by the Right to Education Act, parent and community participation has been given its legitimate space in our education system. Parents are the most significant stakeholders in schools as they bear the consequences of a steadily declining education system. They bring with them the greatest motivation and incentives for <g data-gr-id="52">positive</g> transformation of the schools. However, given their socio-educational background and the gap that has been created between the school and the community, these SMCs would become effective only when the government looks to build their capacities on a war footing.
As of now capacity-building and mobilisation of SMCs is being done in small islands by civil society organisations like <g data-gr-id="57">Saajha</g> (in Delhi), Prajayatna (in Karnataka) or Naandi Foundation (in Mumbai). The school monitoring being done by <g data-gr-id="58">burqa clad</g> women of Zafrabad is an example of one such success.
There are similar success stories to be found wherever SMCs have been mobilised. One can find case studies where parents have requisitioned local governments to improve school buildings, gathered community resources to solve issues of school infrastructure, organised the community to ensure all children come to school and even marshalled community volunteers for remedial teaching. However, these will remain isolated anecdotes until the governments put their political will behind the formation and activation of community participation via School Management Committees.
While it is - and should remain – the responsibility of governments to provide <g data-gr-id="66">high quality</g> education to all children, the parents and local community need to be made an equal stakeholder in this responsibility. The education of a child happens in the home, in the school and in society. To ensure its <g data-gr-id="64">success</g> all these elements need to be made collaborative participants in this process. And like all other democratic institutions that <g data-gr-id="63">functions</g> well when citizens remain engaged with them, schools would be most effective when parents and citizens exert their collective pressure on them. The Right to Education Act has created space for this participation and engagement; it is time for society and governments to ensure that this potential translates into reality.
(Atishi Marlena is an Advisor to the Govt of NCT Delhi. The views expressed are personal)