How Kerala’s literacy beats Delhi’s

DELHI, INDIA SEPTEMBER 5: School children hearing speech of PM Narendra Modi on Teachers Day in M C Model School on September 5, 2014 in Old Delhi, India. (Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images)

The fact that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi is running schools is one of the reasons why the Capital city lags behind. This is why the Delhi government’s efforts do not lead to a better outcome

No matter how the education system may have been transformed by the Delhi government, the Union Territory still misses the coveted title of the most literate state – which has again been bagged by Kerala. The most recent report ‘Household Social Consumption: Education in India’ as part of 75th round of National Sample Survey – from July 2017 to June 2018, puts Kerala’s literacy rate at 96.2% and Delhi at a second position with 88.7%.

But even Kerala couldn’t do away completely with the ratio of difference between male and female literacy rate, although it was a fraction of the amount that Delhi has. In Kerala, the male literacy rate is 97.4% compared to 95.2% among females, while in Delhi the number is more dismal with male literacy rate at 93.7% while female literacy rate is almost 10% at 82.4%.

Speaking about Delhi’s place in the literacy rate, Ajay Veer Yadav, General Secretary of the Government Schools Teachers Association, believes that Delhi’s huge migrant labour force, means the sociological composition in its government schools are very different from Kerala’s, which impacts the learning. “During the lockdown, one heard a lot about migrant labour in Delhi (the Delhi Government says at least 4.5 lakh people had requested the state government to send them back to their home towns after lockdown was imposed), you get people from all over the country here”. He also thinks the Kerala government works “truthfully” while the Delhi government is “dramatic” and “shows off about their education (reform) but does not deal at the grass root level.”

At the same time, he believes the public schools governed by the Municipal Corporations must come under Delhi’s Directorate of Education (DOE), in effect under the Delhi government. “I keep saying this that MCD should not have education under them at all. It’s a municipality they should look at the upkeep and cleanliness, not this. This should be completely a DoE matter. But you have things like property ownership, and which party is in power affecting the matter. There are some MCD schools which don’t even have 20 kids enrolled”, he says.

In Kerala, things are different. Public schools are run either directly by the government or by private managements with government support. Director of Praja Foundation – a non-partisan organisation which undertakes data driven research of urban governance – Milind Mhaske, also points to the different agencies running public schools in Delhi which could have a negative implication.

“You have schools divided into MCD and State board in public schools (in Delhi), but in the case of Kerala it’s the same agency that takes care of it, so that could have an implication. Because there are two agencies and there is a lack of coordination that may be a problem”, Mhaske says, suggesting that if both agencies would instead come together and “create a stronger programme” then it could change things for the better, especially when looking at the Kerala model.

He does believe however, that the two regions and their difference in literacy rates must not be compared. One reason he points out is that while the North is changing, Kerala, a southern state has had more value for education. But at the same time, Delhi is a “go to place for education”, with a jump in student numbers from primary to secondary education, “no one is going to Kerala to study.”

An overhaul for both

The Delhi government pumped in money and introduced various schemes to reinvigorate the education system in its public schools, while the Kerala government launched “Public Education Protection Mission” to deal with the dwindling student numbers in public schools, and make Kerala a fully digitalised state in education sector.

The Delhi government, in 2015-16 put in Rs 6,509 crores for schools and higher education. In the next term, which was 2016-17, it increased the education sector spending to Rs 8,642 crore. In 2017-18, this went up to Rs 9,888 crore and in 2018-19 it went up to Rs 11,201 crore. Whereas in 2020-21, the budgetary allocation was significantly higher at Rs. 15, 815 crore.

The Kerala government too wanted to change things around, and develop and improve infrastructure at its public schools, especially emphasising on upgrade of technology. The government also selected one school in each Assembly constituency to be upgraded as a centre of excellence. It sanctioned Rs 5 crore to each school and asked the school’s development committee to arrange for an additional Rs 5 crore from the local development funds of members of Parliament and the Assembly.

This reportedly helped, as in 2018, for the first time in 25 years, government schools in the state saw a year-on-year increase in the number of students enrolled, with the number reaching up to 1.8 lakh, according to the website Newsclick.

Jeevan Babu, The Director of General Education, Kerala tells Patriot it was their four-pronged effort which helped increase the number of students attending government schools in the last three years. The first, improving of infrastructure, secondly the technological advancement of its institutions, thirdly improving academic aspects, and fourth, to make schools more “democratic with the help of local public”, so that the public would be more involved in the schools’ social activities.

Education slump during Covid-19

With Covid-19 effectively shutting down schools, the students of government schools would be the most affected and could see a significant rise in dropout rates.

Yadav says that Covid-19 lockdown has already shown a negative impact on education, with very low attendance of online classes. “If you look at the attendance hardly anyone is joining the online classes. We are also unable to reach out to many students, despite numerous attempts.”

In fact he believes, this year “should be counted as a zero year for education”… “Whatever is happening is for formality. Teachers are out cutting challans for those without masks, that’s what they are up to. Don’t ask what all duties we are being put on.”

Praja Foundation in its study ‘State of Public (School) Education’ in 2019 had shown that government schools were facing high dropout rates.

MCD schools showed a relatively higher dropout as compared to State schools, with SDMC showing the highest dropout at 8.2% in 2017-18 and NDMC showed a dropout of 5.3%, while state government schools had marginally lesser dropout rate at 3.1%, which was also lower than 2016-17 figure of 3.4% dropout rate, in 2014-15 it was 2.9%.

Even this number is just an estimate, it says, “because the Government under RTI has not revealed dropout information of all its schools. While, this data is maintained at each school in the ‘Prayas’ / result register. In reply to our RTIs, we received the data for only 333 schools of MCD and 916 schools of state government to compute an estimated number.”

But Delhi’s government schools are also being highlighted as an institution which is able to deliver high-scoring students. This year they had the best result in the CBSE class 12 among government schools in various states all over India. However, now that lockdown has forced classes to go online, learning has taken a backseat, according to Yadav.

How Kerala is dealing with educating with pupils in the time of the pandemic is through their education channel. Jeevan Babu says what they found was that delivering classes through television would be a better option, along with uploading the videos to their YouTube channels and other social media platforms.

It was then decided, he says, to find out how many children in the state were without any facilities for attending classes, this was done by getting the teachers involved. But just as this effort began in June 1, he points out, a young girl died by suicide allegedly as she did not have the facilities to attend classes.

The Hindu reported that the girl’s parents reportedly told the police that their daughter had been upset as they did not have a smart phone and the television set was faulty. The class 10 ended her life in Valanchery, Malappuram district, allegedly because she did not have access to online classes.

“We became more proactive. We started coming up with a mission to ensure facilities are there, (but) not just because of this incident…If a student or a group of students in a neighbourhood don’t have facilities, we promote neighbourhood education facility. So local public representatives, NGOs, religious organisation, political parties, alumni associations, youth organisation, and teacher organisations came forward to help us and ensure that all students get the facility.”

Lessons are also downloaded and then taken by teachers to localities with no facilities, he tells us.  For now, there are no plans to open schools, “since number of covid-19 positive cases are increasing we have to put that into consideration”, he adds.

With the Ministry of Health and Family welfare allowing a phased reopening of schools and colleges from September 21, it is to be seen how things move forward. With not all states leading the way to equipping the younger generation with the means to educate, it’s now not just about literacy but about progress, which a generation could lose out on due to covid-19 lockdown.

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