Delhi BJP spokespersons Harish Khurana and Pooja Suri recently challenged Manish Sisodia (Deputy Chief Minister & Education Minister of Delhi) to a debate on his government’s education model. Such “development challenge” debates between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the opposition have been heating up for quite some time now. What is the recent one about?
Back in December 2020, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal announced his political party’s plans to contest in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, which are slated for 2022. The move comes in line with AAP’s plans to spread its reach beyond Delhi.
Kejriwal’s government in Delhi has been lauded for its work in the education sector. In fact, it was one of the leading reasons for their landslide victory in the 2020 elections. Education Minister Manish Sisodia has also claimed that their model is better than that of Punjab and BJP-ruled states. He is now calling for the need to replicate this developmental framework in UP.
The opposition, on the other hand, feels that this is just another antic to get votes. BJP’s Harish Khurana recently accused AAP of engaging in political tourism, saying that it is their ploy to “fulfil political aspirations of expansion” to a new destination. Few schools have been built in Delhi for the past six years. So, can the Delhi government lay claim to the impact?
AAP engaging in political tourism:
The BJP unit of Delhi alleges that the condition of government schools in the capital is fast deteriorating with many employees not receiving any salaries for months. Harish Khurana also cited Right to Information replies, highlighting that there has been no increase in the number of schools ever since the AAP came to power. He criticized Kejriwal’s government for showing off “Excellence Schools” when they are merely revamped versions of existing buildings.
The opposition feels that AAP leaders should focus on improving the standard of education instead of touring poll-bound states like UP and Uttarakhand on the back of false promises. “Their government flaunts the fact that it grants the highest budget for education in the country. But between 2015 and 2020, more than 50 percent of the education budget has lapsed,” asserted Khurana. Another BJP member from Delhi, Pooja Suri, charged similar claims: “They are fooling people by tall claims but avoiding a debate over the education model, which shows that they are trying to hide failure.”
Moreover, AAP has not managed to accomplish all of its promises made in the 2015 manifesto. Improving education and increasing the budget allocation were some of their key commitments to citizens. But according to an NGO report in 2019, enrolment rates and pass percentages fell by 8 percent. And only 30 new schools came up as against the promised 500. The plan to open 20 degree colleges was also junked by the government. So, the sudden endorsement of the ‘Delhi model of education’ seems opportunistic.
Merit in Delhi’s education model:
Revamping the education system is not just about enhancing the hard infrastructure but also making systemic changes. From empowering School Management Committees to improving learning outcomes with the ‘Chunauti’ scheme, there are several other factors for success. In 2019, AAP leader Atishi had spoken to the same point: “Visit our government schools and you would know.”
That said, the education spending has increased almost year on year—it was 26 percent of Delhi’s entire budget in 2018-19. And to make up for the shortfall in schools, the government built eight thousand new classrooms and allocated more funds for repairing existing buildings. Even during the pandemic, AAP claims that all its schools are running online classes.
Additionally, it introduced innovative student learning programs like the ‘Happiness’ and ‘Entrepreneurship Mindset’ classes. Many principals and teachers were sent to Cambridge University for a training session. Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar has praised these efforts, recently announcing his decision to replicate the Delhi model. “The transformation in education under the Delhi model needs to be looked at. It should be replicated to raise the standard of education in Maharashtra,” he had said.
So, senior leaders like Manish Sisodia are campaigning on the basis of AAP’s track record in Delhi. In the past, he has himself come forth to challenge many state governments, opening debates on various development works. While AAP definitely wants to take its political influence beyond the national capital, their arguments are more than just boastful claims.