IN a major metropolitan city like Mumbai, while quality education ranks high in the list of priorities of parents cutting across communities or economic backgrounds, many baulk when it comes to sending their children to civic schools offering free education. Despite being the richest civic body in the country, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) seems to have failed to deliver in giving the kind of attention to civic schools, especially secondary schools. Spending by the civic body on both primary and secondary schools has not even crossed 45 per cent of the allotted budget in the past five years. That is reflected in secondary education where not a single rupee was spent in 2012 and 2014 on improving the infrastructure or quality of education being imparted to the 35,920 students currently enrolled in the city’s 147 secondary schools.
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With civic polls just days away, among other promises, education has found a mention in the manifestoes of major political parties like the Shiv Sena and the BJP as well as opposition parties such as the Samajwadi Party and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM).
In its manifesto released last month, Shiv Sena has promised to set up e-libraries for students who do not have access to adequate space to study and to build skill development centres for the youth. Besides, the party has also promised to give preference to students from BMC schools for jobs in the civic body.
In its manifesto, the BJP has promised all civic schools would start kindergarten classes too. The party has also said it will undertake an aggressive enrollment drive to increase the number of students in Marathi medium schools, and introduce semi-English medium in all vernacular medium schools.
Citing other initiatives, while SP leader Rais Shaikh has promised virtual classrooms in all BMC schools across the city, MIM leaders, in their public rallies, have said they would strive to improve the infrastructure of schools, and would like to take over the BMC schools and run them free of cost as they have done in Hyderabad. The Congress had also announced free bus transport for BMC schoolchildren and digitisation of all the schools.
There are 3.23 lakh students enrolled in 1,195 schools, of which 1,048 are primary schools. While an allocation of Rs 1.87 crore was made in the 2012-13 budget, the BMC had set aside Rs 3.77 crore in 2014-15 for secondary schools alone. In both years, however, the education department of the civic body did not follow up on any initiatives. In 2016-17, even though a substantially higher amount of Rs 31.32 crore funds was allocated, the education department was only able to spend 12.83 per cent of it.
Even though separate budgetary allocations were made for schemes like vocational training, installation of cupboards and separate computer laboratories for secondary school students in the last annual civic budget, none of them have been implemented yet.
Among other initiatives, the 2013-14 budget had made provisions of around Rs 60 lakh for schools with hostels for street children, which too was never implemented. Among all other heads, the implementation of education budget has consistently been the poorest.
While the quality of teachers at civic schools has always been a bone of contention among parents and education activists, a separate allocation of Rs 4.5 crore was made for the Primary Teachers’ Training Centre in the 2013-14 budget, which was never taken up by the civic administration. In that budget, an allocation of Rs 20 lakh for a school health programme was made that never took off.
More than a year after the budget for 2016-17 was announced, many initiatives which were announced in the last year’s budget are still under the tendering process and the students have been unable to avail any of these facilities, that include setting up of 69 computer laboratories, purchase of 115 cupboards and organising vocational training for secondary school students.
Activist Shyam Sonar, who has taken up issues which violate the Right to Education Act, said the BMC needed to focus on basic amenities which could slow down the dropout rate in civic run schools. Citing one such instance, he said, “There are hundreds of children who live in Siddharth Nagar slum near Four Bungalows in Andheri. They have to walk 4km every day to reach the BMC school in D N Nagar. If these children are given bus fare, or transport is arranged for them, more students will join.”
Sudhir Paranjape, another activist, suggested that the BMC should set up a better feedback system. “The inspectors who should report shortcomings in the civic schools are in a nexus with private schools. In order to improve the current scenario, the education department has to be in touch with the local community for feedback and ensure that the issues are resolved in a timely manner,” he said. Paranjape added that since there has been a lot of migration in the city, the BMC should take stock of the number of students in schools and relocate some schools to areas with higher demand.
Commenting on the BMC’s “step-motherly” attitude towards secondary civic schools, Ramesh Joshi, general secretary of the MCGM Teachers’ Union, said a few initiatives that had been taken up in the past were partially implemented. “The BMC had started 49 secondary schools in the city back in the 1970s simply due to the pressure from the councillors. Since only primary education is technically the BMC’s obligatory duty, they make a namesake budgetary provision for secondary schools. The BMC shouldn’t have taken up the responsibility if they weren’t intending to give it as much importance as primary schools if not more,” he added.
Defending their stand, officials of the education department said expenditure in secondary schools was low since students shared the premises and facilities of primary schools.
“Many of the facilities like computer labs are already present in the 165 buildings which is shared by primary and secondary schools. We are in the process of implementing most of the initiatives planned for this year and have been delayed due to the model code of conduct,” said Education Officer Mahesh Palakar. He added the delay in getting reimbursements of the funds from the state government also added to the department’s troubles.
Conceding that secondary schools were not given equal importance as primary schools, Deputy Education Officer Dr J R Keluskar said inactive education committees were partly to be blamed. “The inspectors are supposed to visit the school premises and relay the needs of the schools to us. Similarly, the corporators of the education committee are supposed to conduct visits of their own and place their demands as well as come up with creative solutions which we can implement. But nothing of that sort happens,” he said.
Shiv Sena corporator Hemangi Worlikar, chairperson of the education committee since April last year, however, said members of the committee visited schools when they received any complaints. “If we receive complaints, we give instructions to education officers to take adequate action. I have to check why certain initiatives haven’t been implemented, but we have taken up several schemes. For instance, we recently conducted introductory lectures about IAS exams to 5,000 students and medical camps,” she said.
The lack of facilities in primary and secondary schools alike are reflected in the increasing dropout rates of these schools with parents now opting to send their children to private schools instead. A white paper released by an NGO Praja Foundation indicated an increase in dropout rates and a considerable decrease in enrollment figures.
According to the document, between academic years 2011-12 and 2015-16, the number of students dropping out of schools has shot up by around 71.2 per cent. While in 2011-12, only seven in 100 students had dropped out of school, 15 out of 100 students had discontinued school in 2015-16 even as fewer students were admitted.