The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific identifies eight major characteristics of ‘Good Governance’ as participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. Good governance has been an agenda of policy discourse and has become a rallying point of government propaganda lately. This article will look into the tangible and creditable attempts made by the Delhi Government’s Education Ministry to achieve the ideals of good governance.
Notwithstanding the permanent state of administrative crisis and operational disorientation in the bureaucracy and officialdom, the outcomes of policy are quite visible and are receiving considerable appreciation from far and wide. The issue of administrative and infrastructural reform in India’s Public Education system has been raised by Right to Education Act, 2009 and multiple commissions including the recent TSR Subhramaniam Committee on yet to be announced New Educational Policy. However, the palpable deterioration in the state of affairs on the basis of any indicators raised the issue of effectiveness of these policy proposals.
Bridging the gap in education
The Delhi Government has stood out on this front by bridging the gap between policy documents to grassroots because of its political will for transformative reform. For instance, while other governments were caught napping when Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) surveys showed abysmal learning outcomes of government schools, the Delhi government took up the Mission Buniyaad to strengthen the fundamentals of students in reading camps as well as special bridge course study material.
The fundamental spirit of reform lies in transforming the incentive structures that drive various actors in the policy framework in order to ensure that resources are optimised and corruption is minimised. To that effect, the state government, despite several legal-bureaucratic hurdles created by an antagonistic federal political executive, ensured that it empowered the school teachers and principals. While on one hand, the school teachers that were earlier considered free labour for election management and voluntary service for governmental programmes were removed from such duty. On the other hand, the better-performing and passionate ones were selected for government-sponsored training programs in reputed universities like Cambridge, National University of Singapore, IIT- Ahmadabad etc.
The government recognised the challenges faced by duty-laden school principals who consequently fail to focus on the critically ailing educational standards. Therefore, the government appointed Estate Managers who streamlined attention on ensuring a conducive infrastructure and remarkable hygiene in government schools. While on one hand the Class XII and X board results showed the improvement in academic attainments, the tremendous infrastructural development in school improvement was credible.
In order to bridge the gap between school administration and parents, the government took the lead in implementation for the provision of School Management Committees under Right To Education (RTE) Act, 2009. This was done to ensure that an elected representative of parents would safeguard their interest, engender participatory decision making and more practical management. It is indeed an Indian standard of achievement that fulfilment of statutory obligation is so exceptional that it deserves appreciation. This wholesome implementation, however, incorporated another element of good governance: the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making.
As this study by the Centre for Civil Society shows, the system of social inequality and economic stratification in the light of rapid pace of privatisation of education sector had led meta-private school preference in the aspirational society. This has led to indigent parents sending their children to government schools as a matter of compulsion and not a choice. While the impetus given by the government on infrastructure and teacher training countered this inferiority complex, the class gap between the school administration and parents remained. The largely uneducated and poor parents felt alienated from institutions of learning controlled by middle-class teachers and principals. This led to their voice being unaccounted for and their interests unrepresented. However, in order to counter the larger class challenges and inhibitions, the government organised and publicised mega Parent Teacher Meetings wherein poor parents were sensitised about the strengthens and weaknesses of their wards and were sought to be made equal stakeholders in education.
The relationship between the government and the students
Another element of social empowerment is palpable in the relationship between the government and the students. While students feel proud about the transformation in the school environment and tend to support its initiatives, the government ensures regular outreach and involvement. The role of the Education Minister and his team becomes pertinent here as they ensure that necessary public support and social investment in their programmes is maintained. It is astonishing to see during a class seventh girls studying in government school standing up and enthusiastically demanding the state education minister to arrange a student exchange program of their school with foreign schools.
As expected, the minister told her that it was already in the pipeline. The important factor here is that the student felt that her government would be responsive to her demands. It is remarkable in the sense that the hitherto underprivileged children, who were victims of an indifferent policy approach, begin to demand a high standard of education.
Finally, the most recent initiative that has been received well is the Happiness Course for students from nursery to class 8th in all 1000 state-government schools in Delhi. This fulfils the final criteria of good governance: It is responsive to the future needs of society. In a global context when a crisis of education systems is being experienced with regard of life skills of the students, the government has taken a far-sighted approach to incorporate mindfulness exercises and life skills education in the larger citizen empowerment goal of education policy.
The education reforms being spearheaded by Delhi Government represent a new horizon of social policy-making not for the usual academic reasons of innovative ideas, but because of pragmatic policy design that reasonably accomplishes the basic objectives of education policy. The emphasis on important stakeholders like teachers, employees, administration, parents and most importantly students is responsible for tangible accomplishments of the government. Another important factor is the nature of political investment and social engagement that has become the driving force of policy initiatives in a largely tumultuous policy environment. Due to this sui generis focus on stakeholder empowerment and pragmatic implementation, the Education Taskforce of the Minister can be credited with delivering tangible good governance.