Pranjal Dhaka worked with Public Systems Groups at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, in pursuance of the client led project component of the Master of Public Policy programme. His account on community efforts undertaken to ensure quality public education in Sundaram Nagar, during the course of the project, is quite illuminating.
Date: 18th February 2018
Time: 2200 hrs
Place: Paigaam-e-Insaaniyat Charitable trust office, Sundaram Nagar
Ahmedabad is rapidly transforming into a major urban centre with international and domestic investments flowing in, along with an evident endorsement from the central government to push for development and urbanization in the city. The process of this transformation poses serious challenges to ensure socio-economic equity in a highly diverse demographic that is divided along communal, caste and class lines. Social exclusion and economic inequality of minorities can be a direct consequence of an institutional bias that further pushes a minority social group to the periphery. Ahmedabad has a significant Muslim community that accounts for around 12.24 percent of the total city population (Census 2011). The community has been struggling to access basic public services like education, sanitation and drinking water, and have been spatially segregated to the western part of city in largely unregulated and compactly packed colonies. These families work as weavers, daily wage labourers, tailors, traders, shopkeepers, auto-rickshaw drivers and in other jobs and trades that put a ceiling over the socio-economic capital they can exert individually.
Agenda of the meeting
One of the major concerns of the community is with reference to the issues around access to quality education. There has been a subtle shift in the narrative characterizing development in Ahmedabad, portraying it to be an emerging business hub while neglecting fundamental issues around education and health. This context presses the need for community mobilization to claim and assert accountability from local government bodies to ensure collective mediation.
Ajaz Sheikh is a social activist and PhD scholar from Gujarat University who has extensively worked on the issues of education and drug addiction amongst adolescents. He is working towards collectivising parents to form community associations to claim a democratic space and push for better quality education facilities in government schools in the locality.
“An individual is often not strong enough to challenge an entire institution like the government but an organization can collectively and coherently question, lobby and push for a positive change. We just need to ensure accountability, the government is bound by the Constitution to act upon people’s will.”
-Ajaz Sheikh, Social Activist
The government schools in the areas around Sundaram Nagar are often perceived as inadequate and inept in providing quality education causing a gradual shift in the parental choice in poor and lower middle income families to send their wards to low fee private schools. Most of these low fee private schools charge as low as Rs 250-500 a month and function without proper facilities or a regular and qualified teaching staff. This trend further absolves the government schools from taking responsibility, as parents themselves do not prefer enrolling their wards in government schools. There were, however, certain avenues created for larger engagement of parents to demand better facilities for their children studying in these schools. This was done through successful awareness drives by many non-governmental organizations and academic institutions for RTE in 2015-2016 and its various provisions including Section 21C mandating a 25 percent reservation in all private schools for students belonging to Economically Backward Families.. But a general level of unawareness and hesitation to pursue a formalized process of mediating these concerns still continues to be a crucial constraint in compelling government authorities to address issues around education.
Community Outreach programme: Forming parents’ associations
Ajaz Sheik, working closely with a local charitable trust (Paigam-e-Insaaniyat Charitable Trust), is planning to start an extensive community outreach program that seeks to engage parents and other concerned members of the community in forming a parents’ association that can discuss, mediate and create a grievance redressal mechanism for parents to ensure accountability through a collective forum. The meeting held on 17th February witnessed attendance from parents and member of the trust that has worked on various local issues that affect the community on a day-to-day basis.
It started out with every attendee introducing themselves and then a briefing by Ajaz Sheikh. The briefing started out with a detailed background of the legislations and policies around education and the current state of government schools. Ajaz was using a mix of rhetoric and facts to enunciate the need for addressing equal access to quality education as a primary step towards community development. The briefing was followed by an open discussion that witnessed parents and other attendees talking about the problems they face with reference to the way government schools operate. It was loosely moderated by Ajaz to focus the agenda of the meeting on discussing the strategy of enforcing accountability on the government schools and push for incremental institutional change. Amongst various issues that were put forward by the attendees the discussion focused upon the poor quality of school infrastructure, a general disinterest on the part of government school teachers and principals in ensuring good quality teaching and engaging the students, and the apathy of the government officials in addressing these issues. Through discussion and careful moderation, the meeting concluded with a general understanding that the formation of the parents’ association is a step forward in engaging the community and placing accountability over political, bureaucratic and school authorities towards a positive change.
A venue for the next meeting was decided and the attendees agreed to be volunteers to reach out to the community and gather with more parents from the community. It was also decided that there must be a ‘Right to Education Mela’ to engage and make people aware about the plan to form such an association through pamphlets and discussion.
The Way Forward
As an observation, it was interesting to witness the process of building a critical mass at grassroot levels to collectivize individuals towards a common cause. The effort is at a conceptual stage and requires two basic elements that need to be adhered to, that will consequentially determine successful mobilization. First, it must involve a large number of people, even if they are not directly affected by poor education in government schools as active participants to characterize education as a community level concern. Secondly, it must strive to moderate individual opinions to push for a focused collective approach to engage with the current democratic process as laid down by legislations to create and sustain a culture of institutional accountability. There is enough clarity amongst the trust members and Ajaz Sheikh about the actionable measures to follow while working on the issue. However, in order to engage a large number of people, the success of this novel project relies upon a continuous and discursive facilitation to enable an institutionalized forum that can push for strengthening accountability.
Census 2011.Ahmadabad District Religion Census 2011. (http://www.census2011.co.in/data/religion/district/188-ahmadabad.html) (accessed on 24 April 2018).
(Pranjal Dhaka is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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