Two schools, in neighboring states in India, tell a stark tale. Education, always seen as the great equalizer in post-colonial India, has been a key challenge for policymakers for decades.
In India’s largest and most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government elected to power in December 2016 has been able to do very little. The schools continue to work out of ramshackle buildings, with poor quality mid-day meals, and an acute shortage of teachers. Deep Dives visited a school in Uttar Pradesh to record the terrible conditions under which, the sparse staff and children struggle to get their primary education.
Just 20 km away, in the neighboring state of Delhi, ruled by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) since May 2015, a massive influx of funds has changed the face of state schools. In fact, they look better than the many private schools that charge exorbitant fees. Teachers are regularly sent abroad for training, and the best possible facilities are provided for the children, who usually come from the state’s poorest families. The architect of this turnaround, Atishi Marlena, is an Oxford alumni who worked as a consultant with the AAP government to make these far-reaching changes.
Uttar Pradesh’ Chief Minister Ajay Singh Bisht, also known as Yogi Adityanath, has admitted that there was a shortage of 97,000 teachers in state primary schools. But he said the shortfall in trained teachers was not a failure of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government – it was a shortcoming from the existing education system.
But the Delhi government’s focus on the education sector has changed that notion in the capital. Besides routinely getting basic funds and facilities, the Delhi schools are now receiving advanced schemes in teacher training and school development, campaigns to improve learning levels, among other things, says Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister Manish Sisodia. The Aam Aadmi Party-led state government sees education as an investment, the minister says.
Interestingly, Uttar Pradesh allotted only 13% of its budget to education in 2018-19 while Delhi put aside 26% from its annual budget. The approaches by two different state governments have yielded vastly different results. This suggests that strong political will and the right investments can make deep socio-economic changes for the better.