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The Power Of Possibility: Democratising Governance of Govt Schools

The essence of democratic values lies in the symbiotic exchange of information and authority amongst the people at the ‘top’ and the people at the ‘bottom’ of our very stratified society and system of government. Only if this happens simultaneously, can there be a healthy ecosystem of governance

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When Smallpox was eradicated, it was considered the greatest humanitarian achievement of the twentieth century- only one of the two infectious diseases to have been eradicated, ever.  

It made us believe in the endless possibilities for change. It made us go farther and work harder.   

Institutionalising democratic values beyond the papers of our nation’s Constitution and into the hearts of our constituents is a behemoth challenge. If surmounted, it will be as paradigm-changing a breakthrough for the 21st century, as the eradication of smallpox was for the twentieth. 

It will reignite the possibility.  

The essence of democratic values lies in the symbiotic exchange of information and authority amongst the people at the ‘top’ and the people at the ‘bottom’ of our very stratified society and system of government. Only if this happens simultaneously, can there be a healthy ecosystem of governance?

Let’s take the case of public education. Section 21 of the ‘Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act’ (RTE), is meant to push authority to the people closest to the point of service delivery- the parents and the local community. 

This was done by mandating the formation of School Management Committees (SMCs) in all government and government-aided schools.   

The RTE Act lends SMCs the powers of oversight which include the review, monitoring and supervision of public schools, related programs, funds, activities and policy implementation. 

SMCs are mainly responsible for building school community linkages; Monitoring and reporting any child right violations; Overseeing school functioning and finances.
We believe that shared ownership and inclusive governance of public institutions leads to better representation and better outcomes. Citizens need to be provided with the information and tools they need to ensure that their interests are represented by responsible, accountable leaders.  

If SMC members in particular and the local community, in general, are provided with the information and tools to represent their interests and to hold their leaders to their word, they can truly transform a broken social contract that fails the majority of our children in schools across the country. Kids in under-resourced public schools expect more from us as citizens than just exercising our right to vote.  

They expect us to think, actively engage and raise our voice on their behalf. 

When after nine years of implementation, only 12 per cent of schools comply with the basic norms and standards laid down in RTE when over 8 lakh teacher posts lie vacant when one in three schools in India doesn’t have electricity, the need for local stakeholder investment and local collective dialogue are paramount.  

It’s time we internalise that the best way to preserve our democracy is to take part in it.  

Democratising governance of government schools can be achieved by strengthening SMCs which, at their core, promote agency at the individual and community level, and enable collective impact.  

When people realise the scope and power of their citizenship, it leads to change. We have seen how inclusive representative governance of public schools has transformed not only the schools but also the people involved. We have seen how fostering a voice for the vulnerable, can bridge power gaps.  

In the ever-growing journey of strengthening structures that promote local collective dialogue and action, efforts have to be made around the building and effective functioning of SMCs. What pushes a sense of possibility, is a deep-seated instinct, that parents have fidelity towards an unwritten law which says “we shall give our children better than we ourselves”, and that fidelity would drive them to go beyond their limitations and actively contribute and participate in forming SMCs. 

We have seen parents find their voice when their children were being denied a basic right to a ceiling, four walls and a bench in their classroom. We have seen members of society go department to department to ensure a better learning environment for the children of their community. We have seen teachers work alongside the SMCs to organize General Body Meetings in their schools to seek inputs from the parent body on how they can improve learning for all children. We have seen parent attendance in PTMs quadruple because the SMCs and the teachers make extraordinary efforts to reach out to the community.  

These parents, these teachers, these principals were able to do all these things and be all these things because they were informed. And because a platform was activated where they could come together to discuss and act on their challenges and aspirations. 

Vaclav Hadel, former President of the Czech Republic, once said that “hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” 

Fostering a culture of shared ownership around a government school is what creates a world of multiple, positive possibilities.  

And renewed possibility stands for renewed hope for our children.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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governance Government Schools

Sahil Babbar

The author is co founder of Samarthya and ex-fellow at Teach For India.

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