Earlier this month, the Government Boys Senior Secondary School, in Shahbad Daulatpur, in North Delhi, became one of the first government schools in the national capital to start monitoring classrooms with the help of Closed Circuit Television cameras.

In all, there are 52 CCTV cameras in the school, which has classes from 6 to 12. While its 23 classrooms have two cameras each, they are also installed in corridors and the mid-day meal area. A centralised monitoring room in the school displays the feed on one large TV screen.

Classroom surveillance

Delhi’s plan outlay for education in 2016-’17 is Rs 4,645 crore, which is 23% of the total plan expenditure. Of this, the Arvind Kejriwal-led government has set aside Rs 100 crore to install CCTV cameras “inside every classroom in government schools”, said Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, while presenting the Budget in the Assembly earlier this year. The cameras will allow the government and parents to keep a tab on what is going on inside classrooms.

“The CCTV camera feed, via internet, will go to school officials, the education minister and parents so that they can see on their mobiles what their children are studying,” said Sisodia, who handles the education and finance portfolios among others. “All these projects are to enable us within three years to make government schools better than private schools.” The government hasn’t indicated any timeframe for the completion of installation of CCTV cameras in schools.

Aiding discipline?

The majority of students in Delhi – 16 lakh – attend 2,778 government-run schools (1,022 run by the Delhi government while the rest are run by Delhi’s municipal bodies). Another 10 lakh students are enrolled in 2,677 private schools.

The Shahbad Daulatpur school, on the outskirts of Rohini, has 850 students, all boys, in its afternoon shift. Its faculty comprises 16 regular and 12 guest teachers – a ratio of one teacher for 30 students.

On May 6, as Sisodia, accompanied by his advisor Atishi Marlena, made a round of the Shahbad Daulatpur school to inspect the CCTV cameras, Vikas Kumar, 26, a guest teacher, was teaching English grammar to 12-year-olds seated in neat rows before him.

Delhi Education Minister Manish Sisodia, with his advisor Atishi Marlena, discusses CCTV footage being shown on a large screen from the various classrooms of the Government Boys Senior Secondary School, Shahbad Daulatpur, North Delhi. (Photo credit: Aparna Kalra)

Sachin, a student in Kumar’s class, who uses only one name, said the cameras have resulted in him and his classmates being “less naughty and not fighting with each other”.

He added: “The class is quieter.”

Kumar, who has been a guest teacher for more than four years, and with this school for the past six months, said he had nothing against being monitored on camera. The surveillance ensured that “the child is alert, the teacher is active,” he said.

Kumar is more worried about his low salary. Kumar, who has a B.Ed degree, wants the government to regularise guest teachers so that their pay increases.

Guest teacher Vikas Kumar, 26, doesn't mind cameras in the classroom. But he wants the government to regularise teachers like him so that their pay improves. (Photo credit: Aparna Kalra)

Guest teachers earn Rs 800 per working day, and are not paid on holidays or days they take off. Their salary can range between Rs 12,000 and Rs 16,000 per month depending on the number of days they work. On the other hand, a regular teacher earns a monthly salary of Rs 50,000. A guest teacher’s tenure ends when the school term ends in May. The temporary nature of the job means that she or he has little stake in the system, and the school is less invested in them too.

‘Sword of Damocles’

Private schools in Delhi have long had CCTV camera surveillance, but rarely inside classrooms.

Ruchi Seth, the principal of Lotus Valley International School in Noida, said she was not clear what a camera inside a classroom was meant to capture and convey. She added that most schools used CCTV cameras in corridors or near swimming pools to ensure student safety. She is against teachers being monitored on camera.

“That free space is so important, not because I am afraid of being monitored but it is like a sword of Damocles over your head,” said Seth.

Seth added that there were many ways to groom good teachers, and a CCTV camera was not one of them. They could make young teachers, who are often nervous, even more so.

Experts seem to endorse her views.

“If CCTVs could improve teaching standards, we would have seen a revolution by now in many schools which invested in this technology more than a decade ago,” wrote Krishna Kumar, professor of education at Delhi University and former head of NCERT, in the Indian Express. “All they can lend is what we already have in plenty in our schools, namely control.”

Political constituency convinced

What do those who send their children to government schools have to say about the CCTV initiative?

Auto-rickshaw driver Vijay Kumar, father of three, thinks it is a good idea. Kumar’s son has just graduated from a government-run school, and his two daughters are in Classes 9 and 6. “It is better now. If the teacher is not there, is absent, what is the education [being given]?,” said Kumar, who has lived in Delhi for more than two decades. “If the teacher is physically there, he will give some task or the other.”

Kumar said that he felt education in government-run schools had improved, and teacher absenteeism had reduced, since Kejriwal came to power last year. He is supportive of all of the Aam Aadmi Party’s initiatives. He voted for Kejriwal and said he would vote for him again, mainly because he is not harassed by the police any more.

Incidentally, Kumar does not go by the meter till requested.

‘Fix creaky infrastructure’

Government schools are largely percieved as inefficient even though education experts have fought to dispel this notion, pointing out that they often deal with first-generation school goers, much more than private schools do. Even then, it’s no secret that both infrastructure and teaching quality are low in state-funded schools.

This is perhaps why those who work in the education sector are worried that the Delhi government is doing the minimum possible for schools that are anyway used to the bare minimum. In this context, surveillance seems like a gimmick.

For instance, the Shahbad Daulatpur school’s toilet has a tap for washing hands which flows out on to the floor. Its students play throw ball in the open ground, which is hot, dry and dusty.

Some teachers suggest that perhaps the money used to install CCTV cameras could be better used to improve basic infrastructure. “Maybe an indoor playing area for badminton and table tennis could be built so that my students are not always out in the heat,” said Rajdeep Khatri, one of two Physical Training teachers at the Shahbad Daulatpur school.

But besides CCTVs, education minister Sisodia has other priorities. He told this reporter that he needed to solve the problem of the high number of students in each class in Delhi. “There are 150 students in one class in some schools,” he said.

He added that the government planned to add 21 new schools, and 8,000 classrooms by the next academic session, which starts in July. “I have 16 lakh students and I don’t have room to seat them… Let me build [more classrooms and schools] so that I have just 40 in one class.”

Sisodia said in the Delhi Assembly that his government was in the final stage of testing 5,500 new teachers, and will also regularise guest teachers.