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Government Has To Invest More And More In The Education Sector: Manish Sisodia

In an extensive chat with BW Education’s Prerna Lamba, Sisodia outlines the policy initiatives of his government, what the reforms mean to him and his government.

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Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma,

Until a few years ago, nobody wanted to talk about government schools in Delhi. Each school had to hold classes in multiple shifts as there were far too many students and not enough classrooms for them. Besides infrastructure, teaching too was sub-standard. The pass percentage in these schools was abysmal. And above all, nobody seemed to care. Today, these government schools have become a talking point, thanks to their complete makeover by the Aam Aadmi Party government. Driving the reforms in the school system is Deputy CM and education minister Manish Sisodia. In an extensive chat with BW Education’s Prerna Lamba, Sisodia outlines the policy initiatives of his government, what the reforms mean to him and his government. Excerpts:

How would you describe your experience as Delhi’s education minister over the past four years?

My experience in the past four years has been very interesting as I have learnt a lot. We are trying to transform the entire education system. First of all, we are focusing on the government school system as it is very important for the country and government has to invest more and more because the way we are investing right now on education is very less. If we want our future to be bright, if we want our next generations to be bright and competent enough then we have to invest more in education which we are not doing. We are not using education as a tool to solve many of our problems. We are just using education to solve unemployment, at large, or say poverty but there are certainly other problems like hatred, violence, the mindset of the country, the living styles, these caste and creed issues, deep-rooted issues. To eliminate them, those problems can be dealt with education; and we mean India. We are working hard on poverty and job but not on those problems. Lastly, the private school system is giving some sort of quality, government school system is failing but on the other side government college systems are too good, be it IIT IIM or other colleges across the country, there are good government colleges but private colleges are not doing that better.

Research is another thing that in education we need to focus which we are lacking and because we are lacking on research part so ultimately, even if India is producing something we are buying and working other’s ideas. Here comes the entrepreneurship also, most of our schools and colleges, be it IIT or any other college, we are just training people to get jobs. In schools also we are training people to get an education then subsequently get a good job. We are not training them to how to become a good entrepreneur unless we make people good entrepreneurs we can’t actually work on the economy, job and education.

It’s about mindset, the typical Indian mindset that is coming out of the school system and college system is job seekers mindset, which is not good for the country. If 90% or 100% of our next generation kids or students are going to be job-seekers then who would provide them jobs, where will the job providers come from? Obviously, there are countries who are working on that line. So my people getting a good education in our schools and colleges are being employed by others. That’s the simple equation, if we also work on providing job creators from our schools then people who are coming out of the graduation or schools will definitely get jobs here. One is a skill that is the gap and the other is the mindset. My problem is, that in the education system we are not developing an entrepreneurship mindset. Entrepreneurship mindset does not mean a perfectly skilled person but a person who is ready to take risk, a person who is confident about his skills, a person who is ready to learn from failures rather than looking for the ways which are partly successful or who is ready to comprise on his life and ideas even if they are not giving that much return in terms of satisfaction and economy as it can be if he/she takes risk. So the risk-taking capacity is very important. Confidence, communication all these things are missing. That makes one person an entrepreneur which is not happening.

How do you propose to bridge the gap between the classroom and industry? Can you please describe some of the initiatives in this regard?

As I said, there are two things one is a skill that we are developing with the help of skill centres. India’s best ‘World Class Skill Centre’ is in Delhi, Vivek Vihar. We set that up as we came into government and the gap actually has been filled. The level of outcome one will understand from the fact that after one year, of course, it’s giving 100% employment. The basic salary people get, when they complete the course is around 5 to 6 lakhs every year. That’s good for a simple skilled person and the stretch is up to 14 lakhs. But this is bridging the gap of skill, as I said there is a big gap in mindset also and for that, we are introducing entrepreneurship curriculum in our schools. We are working on it and this session onward you would see our 9th to 12th-grade students having entrepreneurship class every day. 

Tell us more about the concept of “happiness in the classroom”?

Happiness curriculum and entrepreneurship curriculum are complementary to each other. In happiness curriculum, we are talking about emotions. We tend to talk most of the time. We have very good religious books, we have a lot of “wishful thinking” books that teach life improvements. And there are many other books that teach as well as preach. But in action, a lot of things are missing because we have not worked on our emotional science. In happiness curriculum, we are teaching emotional science from nursery to grade 8. We are working on the emotional science of relationships, your own thinking, your own reactions, your family relationships, your social relationships, your relationship with nature, but all this only up to class 8.  From Class 9 onward we are working on “entrepreneurship” curriculum.

Students are suffering from a lot of stress and anxiety over studies and examinations, and are not able to focus. There is a lot of peer pressure on them because someone is studying in this great place or that great place. Economic disparities are also causing anxiety among students, due to which they are not able to focus on education. But through happiness curriculum, I have found that they are able to focus on education. I am not the only one saying this, all my teachers and principals are saying this. It’s emotional understanding, you understand your emotions and how do you react in different situations. If you start understanding how others react if you start understanding that then it’s automatically balanced, you need not balance it.

Can you talk about other life skill lessons like ‘good touch bad touch’?

There are two things, one is good touch bad touch knowledge for a person who is facing it but it is also important ‘good touch bad touch’ knowledge for a person who is doing it. Unless we teach that, we can’t solve the problem. We can’t just create fencings and make the world secure, we have to work on the source of the problem also. So that mindset who is doing this ‘good touch bad touch’ kind of things have to be solved and that is the solution.

How important is education for the ‘Aam Admi Party’?

For me, it’s not important how important education is for the Aam Admi Party. We work for the country if we have a dream, all of us have our own dreams for our life, society, family, but many of us have dreams for the nation. We have the dream for the nation and we are a firm believer that education is the only way to achieve that dream. We have a dream of India which should be wise enough, which should be behaving well in a society and it is not my dream, it is written in our constitution, our preamble, beautiful dream of a country. One can’t dream better for a country what we have written in our constitution. To implement that education is the only way. Every human being is giving a minimum of 12 years in the school system. Why can’t we work at that age to build a citizen which is fit for our country?

Can the experiments in Delhi schools be replicated on a national level?

I think sooner or later we have to, if not today then tomorrow we have to work on this system where education is the priority of the society. We are spending 25% of our budget on education for the last 4 years and when you spend more on education you have to compromise on some sectors. I include schools, colleges and human resources in one of the capital of a nation and this we need to understand as a country. Unfortunately, when it comes to politics it is not happening but Aam Admi Party, my government, is a trial of that. That if people work seriously on education, will they get successful in politics? If yes, then the road is very clear, everybody who is talking about religion and fictitious issues will have to come to education.

You are inviting the alumni of government schools to reconnect with their alma mater and contribute towards their betterment. How has the response been?

It is the beginning, the private school system is not too old and for the last 20 years, it is amazingly fast and growing up like anything. Simultaneously the government school system was failing. We know people who say ‘I am also from a government school system’ especially 40+ age people, successful or non-successful, they will tell you that. So what happened now?

Now everybody is shifting to private schools and government schools are left only for those who are ‘have not’ in society. So I think that this trend will change soon and answers will come with time.

How actively is chief minister Arvind Kejriwal involved with the educational reforms?

He is very much active and involved in the decisions we are taking, he keeps guiding us. The first time I went to him, as a finance minister, while I was preparing the first budget for Delhi. And asked him what I should keep in mind while preparing the budget? Since we have been talking about education since long together. To which he said that right now is the time to show that we are serious about education not to the world but to let us also know that we are serious about education. Further, he said that if you have to choose between building a school and a bridge, always choose the school. If the school is built then educated students will build the bridge on their own. Very bottom line statement, but it actually helped me a lot in preparing the first budget. I brutally cut a lot of schemes and a lot of those investments that I thought which can be held for the time being. And we decided to have 25% of the budget, we doubled the budget in our first year of government to education which earlier was around 10-12%.

Delhi government spends 26 per cent of its annual budget on education. Does being the finance minister help in getting higher allocation for education?

Yeah, you can say that. I am a privileged education minister who is finance minister also, that actually helps me a lot.

Your government has built 8,000 classrooms already and 12,000 are in the process of being built. What is the mechanism for the maintenance of these classrooms?

Infrastructure is an evolving process, the building I am constructing today will not be like this after 15 years. So I am not saying that we are the first ones to do this, we are just 3-4-year-old government. But unfortunately in the last 20-25 years of time, education especially government school education was not a priority, we have brought it to priority and to the forefront. The infrastructure that we are constructing we are localising and decentralizing it; the maintenance part, the up-gradation part, the decision making, monitoring of construction. Earlier, the system was like two parallel lines, there is engineering line who is the public work department who will construct the building. If I tell them that this is my school, here is the space you have to construct the school so the engineer will travel parallel, he won’t discuss with the teacher or principal, he will go to the location, construct the room and come back. He doesn’t understand the need of the principal, the principal doesn’t understand what the idea of an engineer is. We have now clubbed both, engineers have to work in collaboration with the principals. We have given power to our principals to make the decision, we have given them money to decide, and we have given them funds to functionally operate. That’s how things will move on now.

Government has issued directives to private schools asking them to refund excess fee along with interest on the extra amount, failing which they will be taken over by the government. How many schools have complied with this directive? Alternatively, has any been taken over by the government?

First of all, I’d say that many times people say that we are against private schools, we are not. Fundamentally, we believe in government school system should be strong enough to serve the entire population of the country. But it is like an illusion if we say that no private school is required in our country now, it is required. The private school system is a reality, especially at a time when the entire government school system was collapsed or was deteriorating. The private school system got to hold our education otherwise we could have been a country with very less education. We are India, we have software engineers, we have professionals, we are high in technocrats and management skills because we had good private schools at that time when government school system actually failed. As a nation, we could have failed if this was not there and this is the contribution of private schools here. But eventually, the history tells us that, a lot of leaders, politicians, bureaucrats who were supposed to fix the problems of the education system actually jumped into the business of private education system. They are now making a profit out of it, then here came the problem. My only grudge against private school system is ‘to be transparent’. Transparent in your admission system and fee structure. In India, private school system is not a company, its charity. As a nation, we have decided to be a charity private school system so you can’t make a profit out of it. They should not charge parents unnecessarily, to open up more and more schools from that money in different cities and different parts of the world. I have been asking them that there are rules and regulations, you have to show your accounts. If you want to increase your fees, there are Supreme Court directions on that line, there are rules, regulations, law that exist you have to implement that, you have to follow that. Unfortunately, it was not being followed, in 2015, when we came to power. We pushed them to follow it. We said that whoever wants to increase the fees, please tell us, we will audit and we will allow.

Everything is fictitious, I can’t allow that to happen. If you want private schools to make a profit, have a government which can make a law that all the private schools are free to loot those parents. Fair enough, I don’t mind. Unless there is a law that private schools can’t loot parents like this, I won’t let you do this. So that is the only grudge against private schools. But I am happy to share that for the last 3 years we have not allowed private schools to increase their fees. Very few have been allowed based on high-level scrutiny of accounts.

Where do children of Delhi’s ministers and MLAs study -- in government schools or private ones?

Most of them study in private schools, but there are exceptions I don’t expect everyone to be idealistic. Gradually, people will start having confidence in government schools. Right now my schools are overcrowded When we took charge of the government, we had about 10,000 rooms in all the government-run schools. Now we have added 8,000 rooms, so now we have a total of 18,000 rooms in our schools. Construction of another 12,000 rooms is in progress. These will take care of our need for rooms in schools. Right now, we have a shortage of rooms. My schools are overcrowded, so I don’t want people to send their kids unless the government is in a position to accommodate them.

What is the current teacher-student ratio in your schools?

It varies in different schools. We have the saction for a total of 64,000 teachings posts with us as of today based on the number of students at present. Currently, 59,000 teachers are working with us. The government has not reached a stage where it can foresee retirement and start recruiting. We will eventually have such a system. What we have done is empowered by the school system. We have formed their committees —  the principal, teacher and parent committees — we call it the school management committee (SMC). The SMCs can hire teachers against vacancies for 200 days. They can hire professionals and resource persons according to their need. We have also given them funds. Thus, we have managed to cover the deficit of  6,000 teachers.

What are the key features of the teacher training programme?

Teacher training programmes are very essential. Earlier, we used to have small teacher training sessions during summer vacations, and they use to call it seminars. Here, some expert will come and you have to be there, listen to him throughout the day and go back home and tick your attendance that yes, I attended the seminar. That was a very bad practice.  Now we have introduced a dynamic training system for teachers. We have identified world-class teacher training centres across the world, in Germany, Finland, Cambridge, Harvard, Singapore and Moscow. Worldwide we have a lot of good training systems. We have requested them to develop a principal training curriculum for us, they have customized for us, for Delhi government schools. So we have trained all our principals through IIM, we have sent a lot of our principals to Finland, Cambridge, Harvard and Singapore also and the other countries I named. This is our choice, as a leader, I think my teachers should know this. On the other hand, my teachers also know what they lack, so now we are developing a system of need-based training. What my teacher thinks that if I get this training on this subject or topic, I will be more competitive so we are identifying their gaps. We are helping them in that but the rule is that they will identify their gap, they will tell us that I need training on this topic preferably from here but otherwise also and we will arrange that and we are doing that.

You often say, “Focus on education, not schooling”. Can you elaborate?

Initiatives like the Sarv Sikhsha Abhiyaan are helping bring children to school, but that is the least important task. Educating everyone is the main task. We have done this before — the task of bringing students to the school — in many parts of the country. But what happens after that? There are dropouts;  there are degrees without jobs and mindsets without wisdom. That’s because we have gone to school but have not had any education. So education is important.

Can you compare the education scenario in the national capital with that in other states and show how efficiently the Delhi government is working in the education sector?

I can say with pride that Delhi is the only government who is spending 25% of its budget on education because of this Delhi is the only state where the government school system is improving, we are opening new schools every time, we are improving infrastructure. On the other hand, in many states I found they are closing down government schools, in many districts, 5,000 to 10,000 schools are being closed. I know, in Rajasthan, Haryana, Maharashtra, and Uttrakhand because in some education ministers conference some of the ministers actually gave this data that we are closing down these many government schools and in personal chit-chat, I asked them that why are you shutting them down. They say people are not coming here. I asked why they replied god knows but if there are no students then why would we run the schools. As an economist, the logic is fine here. But as a social reformer, if you think, education is an investment. I asked them can you help me to understand that where you are shutting down one government school and you say that in last 10 years it actually lost the interest of people and people are not coming to get their next generation study there, how many private schools actually popped up there. If you can do that study you will get the answer and moreover if you can find out that how many of the private schools that have come up in that area where you are shutting down government schools how many of those schools are run by political families or bureaucratic families, then you will get more clear picture but anyways that is their excuse. My domain is Delhi and I am happy to help here.

We often read that the Centre is least supportive of the Delhi government. Would your initiatives have yielded better results if you had the strong support of the Centre?

Yes, speed is important because a lot of people are doing good work in the country but the problem is the speed, the pace. There is a huge demand and you are just filing your files by doing something to show people that we are doing this. If I ask you what you are doing, you can show me something on the ground that yes I am doing this but this is not what is required. This much (large amount) is required and you are showing this much (small amount) just to show off.

So in the first year, we lot of groundwork and we could have done a lot of things that we are doing today in the first or second year itself. Just for sending my principal to Finland for training it took almost one year, for sending them Harvard it took them one year. Why? It could have been done in one week. Money was there, decision makers were there. I am giving tablets to my all teachers, it has been two years when I ordered. This objection, that objection, LG objection, why can’t an education minister, like me, decide that I am deciding to give tablets to all my teachers for them to be online, to be on MIS system. Everyone knows how technology can be used today through a tablet while a teacher is handling it. But for two years it is not happening and I am pushing for it.


This article was published in BW Businessworld issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BW Education Issue Mar-Apr 2019'


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