Why the Delhi government’s claim about the high pass rate among government schools means very little.
Manish Sisodia has been enthusiastic about schools and has at least made a visible effort to bring a fresh lease of life into much-neglected government schools. He has made an effort to facilitate an influx of ideas from school systems across the globe.
It is also commendable that the Delhi government has initiated classes for spoken English and for assisting students preparing for the first stage of the Joint Entrance Examination, which has indeed reflected in the success rate of Delhi government school students, at the JEE-Main examination. Parent-teacher meetings and summer classes are all great initiatives.
No other state government in the country has made any visible effort at all when it comes to government schools and public education. Is anyone else even making an effort to track and monitor the pass rates of students in government schools and benchmarking them against private schools?
Then, there are some inherent advantages which Delhi government schools have, over other government schools in the country. They follow the CBSE syllabus, which itself is a notch above the standards of most state boards.
We also need to be careful to not benchmark state government schools with schools such as Kendriya Vidyalayas, JNVs, Army Schools - as the latter have a far higher per-child spend and often have selective or restricted intake often catering to the middle class and above.
The Limitations in Government Schools of India
The sad reality, however, is that public education in India, is a lost cause, not for the lack of funding or attention from state-level education ministers. The primary culprit is the central law which gives tenured roles to overpaid teachers with no demands of accountability and disrupts meritocracy via quotas in heavily unionised teacher bodies that are embedded in the political system. Government school teachers and their unions, via their political clout, work on improving benefits and salaries for themselves instead of the learning levels of the students they are supposed to teach.
Government school Principals, often become tools for political agendas, indoctrination and social engineering, instead of propagating academic excellence. So, unfortunately, even enthusiastic and zealous individuals like Manish Sisodia, have their hands tied and efforts like those we currently see in the government schools of Delhi, amount to incremental improvements on a system which, within our current legal regime, is bound to be a lost cause.
Putting High Pass Rates in Context
Much is being made out of the high pass percentage achieved by the Delhi government schools, in the Class 12 Central Board of Secondary Education(CBSE) examinations. We need to do a serious dissection of the 90.6 per cent pass rate which is being bandied around as a mark of excellence, with the Delhi government wearing it as a badge of honour. I have highlighted the reality and written about this two years ago, but this analysis needs to be done, once again. All data analysis has been done using a near-complete (over 98 per cent of students) file containing CBSE’s class 12 records.
The high pass rate, among the government schools of Delhi, means very little for several reasons. Most of their government schools do not offer critical subjects like Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Biotechnology and Computer Science. The first four are also the ones, where the pass percentage is far lower than many of the other subjects.
Students are indeed passing, in the Delhi government schools. But they are completing their high school, with a namesake class 12 mark sheet, with arbitrary subjects like home science, health, painting and physical education. These subjects, along with many of the languages and humanities subjects, are, unfortunately, not assessed seriously by the CBSE board. Selecting these subjects, over more traditional and rigorously assessed subjects, seriously limits the avenues available to the students, both in terms of tertiary education and professional prospects.
Out of 808 Delhi government schools scrutinised by us, here is a count of the number of schools, offering various critical subjects. Note, that even a subject like Mathematics, which is foundational for undergraduate study in everything from economics to science to engineering, is offered in less than 70 per cent of the schools. Science subjects are offered in less than one-third of the schools.
Almost 30 per cent of the schools (238) for which we inspected data offered neither science nor commerce. Students had opted for combinations of subjects with limited academic utility. They had selected subjects like Home Science, Physical Education, Holistic Health, Sanskrit, Painting and a few humanities subjects, where the academic standards of the CBSE board are known to be abysmal.
It is a known fact that the failure rates are the highest in the science stream subjects like mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, accountancy and economics.
These are the nation-wide percentages of students failing in specific subjects.
It is concerning, that out of 103,602 students from Delhi government schools, whose subject combinations were analysed, almost 55 per cent (56,916 students) did not have even one of the following subjects: mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, accountancy, economics and business-studies. The percentage of students with mathematics, from these schools, was barely 16.58 per cent. In the data we inspected, just 17,158 students out of 103,602, had registered for mathematics. Nationally, almost 49 per cent took the mathematics examination.
Hardly any high scorers
Over 9.73 per cent of the students, from Delhi’s private unaided schools, scored 90 per cent or more (in English plus the best 4 subjects). This is to a healthy 12,396 candidates, out of 127,324 whose scores were analysed.
On the other hand, there were barely 593 students scoring 90 per cent or more, out of 103,602 students from the state government schools of Delhi. So the percentage of 90 percenters in these schools, is a minuscule 0.572 per cent.
Unimpressive school averages
Barely 6 out of over 800 schools (not even 1 per cent of the schools), have a batch average exceeding 80 per cent - an average easily attained by over 7 per cent or more of the schools sending candidates for the CBSE examination, nationally.
If one moved the bar a bit lower, just 46 schools had a class average of 70 per cent or more (5.7 per cent of the schools) which is a score attained by over a third of the nation’s schools (4213 out of 11249 schools which we scanned).
As per data analysed by us, there are 815 schools with a class average of 80 or more, out of 11,219 schools for which we analysed class 12 results.
There isn’t a single one of these schools, in the list of high performing CBSE schools based on this year’s class 10 or 12 examinations.
Atrocious class 10 result
The class 10 pass percentage in Delhi government schools was a dismal 69.32 per cent, well below the 78.62 per cent for Delhi as a whole and significantly below the national pass percentage of 86.70 per cent. It needs to be noted that students generally have no option to drop science or mathematics at the class 10 level.
Summing it up
It is, of course, true that average Delhi government schools function under a problematic legal regime and cater to very different socio-economic strata, compared to the private schools, but this is just to illustrate, how misleading the pass-rate metric is.
Good initiatives aside, there is no grand makeover going on in these schools, and even if it is a work in progress, the results are yet to be seen. While everyone needs to carry on their duty, unmindful of the results, the reality is that we are not judged by effort or potential or noble intentions. It is the results and outcomes which ultimately count. The first step for these schools should be, to ensure that their students opt for meaningful and rigorous subject combinations, which will be accepted by universities and useful to future employers.
To mislead the public by continuously advertising a grand transformation, which is nowhere to be seen, is to perpetuate a hoax of the most irresponsible variety as it might mislead less-informed parents into select these schools for their children, over some of the better, private ones.