In this blogpost, which is part of the series #TheSouthAlsoKnows, Shreyan Acharya discusses school education reforms in Delhi, with a focus on the role of Student Advisory Boards (SABs), put in place with the aim to strengthen student participation in school governance.
India’s school education landscape
The education system in India is vast, with more than 1.4 million schools according to the Government of India, which makes the provision of quality education a challenge. India’s school education landscape is broadly divided into public and private education systems. There are increasing gaps in the accessibility of quality education due to the unavailability of resources and unaffordable fee structures of private schools in a significant number of households. The widening gaps are fractionalising how children access quality education. The economic burden of education escalated due to the impact of Covid-19 and increased dependence on the public education system. As described in the National Education Policy (2020) of India, delivering holistic education has become all the more significant within the public education system.
Education is the foundation of human development and essential for harnessing human potential. The public education system plays an indispensable role in catering to a majority of children by delivering free education. The Constitution of India guarantees the right to education as an inalienable fundamental right. The Right to Education (RTE) Act has enshrined in law the right of children to free and compulsory education and determines equal access to education for children, especially those from low socio-economic backgrounds. The growing presence of non-state actors (Bansal & Roy, 2021) such as civil society organisations, and public-spirited individuals such as young professionals working in partnership with the government are contributing towards bettering the public education system. It has been observed that non-state actors are providing valuable inputs to the governance of education by collaboratively engaging in and supporting public education and extending their expertise in developing child-centred curriculum, capacity-building programmes for teachers, and implementing innovative classroom practices (Bansal & Roy, 2021).
In Delhi, the school education system is witnessing transformative changes (Bansal & Roy, 2021). The focus is shifting from conventional learning methods to learning for holistic development. The state is playing an influential role in catalysing and effectuating reforms on various levels (Acharya, 2023). One such reformative initiative that is paving the way to directly impacting the student community in public/government-run schools is the Student Advisory Board (SAB) initiated by the Directorate of Education in Delhi. The objective of the programme is to strengthen the agency and autonomy of the most important stakeholders, i.e. students, by building student leadership and increasing their participation in school governance. Separate student bodies had been formed in 20 schools where student representatives were democratically elected in intra-school elections through anonymous electoral ballots. The initiative aimed to introduce and support student leadership as elected members are organised to form and manage different school-level committees. Through these committees, the elected student members directly participate in the affairs of the school by designing and performing diverse roles such as handling discipline, organising extracurricular activities and sports, planning academic support and advocating environmental awareness.
The value of partnerships in education reforms
The programme was designed and implemented in 2022 as a pilot in 20 government-run schools in Delhi with the aim to develop student collectives/bodies to participate actively in school governance. The intervention sought to transform the role of students in schools and to ingrain democratic values of active citizenship. Such democratic elements are already prevalent in some private schools; the programme aimed to fulfill the vision of the National Education Policy 2020 of India by bringing equal opportunities to students of public/government schools. In April 2023 officials of the Directorate of Education organised an event to reflect on the learnings of the pilot project. Students demonstrated their learning and the impact of SAB through exhibitions, panel discussions and presentations. To further capture the achievement of learning deliverables, project officials held focus-group discussions, and enabled in-person interactions of students with members of the project along with a video prepared to highlight the journey by capturing student testimonies. The students shared that their journey in the SAB opened doorways to realising their potential. Students felt that the enhanced leadership opportunities at the school level contributed to a feeling of empowerment and boosted their self-confidence and communication skills.
The pilot programme completed its first cycle in 2023. A first evaluation of the programme indicates that the multi-stakeholder participation by government officials, civil society partners, and others at various levels is creating a new social contract (UNESCO, 2021) that has the potential of improving the public education space in Delhi. Firstly, the programme was designed and implemented to enhance student participation after carefully examining different relevant initiatives undertaken by schools across India. Building a programme where students are provided more agency in an existing system of instructional learning was a foreseeable challenge. Capacity-building measures were taken in association with knowledge partners such as civil society organisations for the students, teachers and principals to support smooth adaptability and efficient implementation. The initiative illustrates the value of partnerships in boosting education reforms. Secondly, a new dimension of the vitality of school collaborations also emerged as private schools shared their knowledge with the pilot schools to support the objectives of the programme. Thirdly, the role played by the state in identifying the existing gaps in the schools’ functioning and promoting initiatives aimed at strengthening students’ leadership skills displays strong accountability to promote quality education equity.
The SAB represents a potentially replicable and sustainable model for other public schools to provide leadership opportunities for students from different socio-economic backgrounds. The SAB will hopefully pave the way for other innovative approaches that support and accelerate student capabilities. Innovative approaches such as the SAB illustrate a commitment to improving the public education system in India and contributing to the achievement of Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
About the author:
Shreyan Acharya worked as a Change Maker in Education Fellow with the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi in India, as part of the core team that conceptualised, facilitated and implemented the Student Advisory Board project in the Directorate of Education, Delhi.