By Autar Nehru
Coming on the heels of making its national ambitions public with the launch of ‘Make India No 1’ campaign in August this year, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is making an all out effort to take on the BJP in Gujarat assembly polls in December later this year.
And education continues to be AAP’s main selling political proportion. In Delhi, AAP-led Delhi government went into yet another new school initiative by launching Delhi Model Virtual School (DMVS) on August 31 to further buttress its claim on making education a developmental cum electoral issue in Indian politics centred around sub-nationalism and hyper nationalism for many years now.
Though the initiative was announced in the budget speech of 2021-22 by the deputy Chief Minister, Manish Sisodia, who holds both education and finance portfolios in the Arvind Kejriwal government and is the face of ‘successful’ Delhi Education Model, also comes with the adage of “anywhere living, anytime learning, anytime testing” and throws a clear challenge at the 43-year old NIOS National Institute of Open Schooling, esb 1979).
However, it is more than taking on NIOS at this juncture for AAP, which is actually fancying its electoral success in Gujarat state, where elections are expected to be held in December this year. It has rattled the Gujarat state BJP by showing the poor state of Gujarat government schools like shortfall of 19000 classrooms, lack of computer labs, single-teacher primary schools, lack of amenities like toilets, poor housekeeping (Sisodia tweeted spider web and ghost house like school pics during his recent visit to Gujarat and compared to his schools in Delhi) and promising quality education in every village. In fact, the first item of the five-point agenda of AAP in its vision of ‘Make India No 1′ is free and quality education for every child. Along with this, healthcare, employment for youth, women empowerment and farmers’ issues, AAP has already set its eyes to go national in the 2024 parliamentary elections as the principal opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC) continues to slide and shrink paving space for players like AAP to fill its shoes.
AAP which went into Punjab elections early this year actually routed the incumbent Congress though nobody expected it do to so spectacularly and by the same logic the party which is deft in using the multiplying force of digital communication technologies and appealing on middle and lower middle class dreams, is using education as a poll issue in Gujarat. Any favourable outcome is likely have a profound impact and outcome for national politics in next couple of years.
In all this charged political environment where the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) at the centre and in Gujarat (besides other states), is also busy to taunt Kejriwal’s education model citing the issue of about 84% principal vacancies in Delhi government schools. In their efforts to expose Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is emerging as a big challenger to BJP in Gujarat, BJP leaders have been equally exposing AAP government’s dismal record in filling the teacher vacancies and keeping schools headless. Earlier, the BJP leaders had attacked AAP on construction of more than 8000 additional classrooms at exuberant cost and levied corruption charges on the AAP government. Even the face of Delhi education model, deputy Chief Minister, Manish Sisodia, has been slapped with a case by the CBI though it is not related to education but old liquor policy purportedly to checkmate AAP.
In all this political slugfest, the seed that the newly started Delhi Model Virtual School (DMVS) is going to plant, will be advantage AAP as it will have nation reach and AAP leaders are keen to make it better than NIOS both in platforming, content, engagement and branding. Announced on August 31 by the Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, DMVS is open to students from classes 9 to 12 from all over the country and it has commenced admission process for class 9.
DMVS which builds on the switch and success of online classes during covid pandemic has been set up under the aegis of Delhi Schools of Specialized Excellence Society and is affiliated to Delhi Board of Secondary Education (DBSE). The school was announced in the state budget of 2021-22 and will cater to students who can’t afford regular schooling due to various reasons including being sportspersons, artists, school dropouts, girl students prevented from going to schools due to distance, social taboo or work, child labourers and others. At the same time it is an anywhere, anytime school futuristic concept waiting to legitimize itself.
For DMVS, a learning management system (LMS) along with teacher training modules have been created and high-quality production studios have been established for recording and live streaming lectures. Google for Education and Schoolnet India Ltd have been chosen as partners to operationalize the schooling platform besides providing online resources. Delhi government school teachers have been picked up for lecture delivery. Outside experts are also expected to make guest lectures.
DMVS is proposed to be a close replica of a regular school with live streamed regular classes. These classes will be available as recorded lectures in a virtual library along with other learning content to those who may not be able to join the live classes. Worksheets, slides, and projects; paperless assignments; class calendars; conducting virtual conversations; and creating an artificial intelligence-based interface to create a personalised flow based on the learning level of each student along with technology assisted assessments is envisaged to make these school effective.
Even though DMVS is not the first virtual school in India after the NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) began its virtual school in August 2021 in government sector, Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal claiming it to be the first virtual school got the announcement politicized. The NIOS was quick to lay its claim on being the first such school with its chairperson Saroj Sharma offering Delhi government NIOS services to run its school effectively. “Our main issue at NIOS has been the lack of publicity and non-engagement with opinion makers, else NIOS is a world class organization doing a lot of good work with over 23 lakh students,” says Prof C B Sharma, a former NIOS chairman.
DMVS, has also divided educationists on its ramifications for schooling. According to Srinivasan Sriram, principal of The Mann School, Delhi and a former IT administrator cum HoD of Mayo College, Ajmer for 30 long years, DMVS as a concept is good but there are lots of loose ends to be tied up. “NIOS is already in place. Will DMVS address the short-comings in NIOS, is a question that needs to be answered. What about the social and emotional needs of the student? No mention about this important aspect in DMVS? Technology will play a big role in this and I am not too sure of how the teachers have been trained to deliver lectures effectively,” he adds. Some educators are even expressing the fear that new coaching centres will emerge as a result and eventually schools will start losing out. The All India Parents Association (AIPA) too has slammed the idea and termed the Delhi’s virtual school as a “disastrous” idea to further marginalise the poor children.
At the same time, there are people who feel the emerging technologies and application of Artificial Intelligence in any case will disrupt schools in coming years and society needs to adapt to the transformation. Much will depend on how DMVS addresses the implementation challenges and if it overcomes those and proves to be an effective and popular option, this could well be a new world of schooling though. And, remember, all success here will ultimately consolidate AAP’s positioning of education as a developmental issue.