How AAP brought education to the political discourse

In his new book Manish Sisodia documents the transformation of Delhi’s government schools. (Image for representation)

Sometime in mid 2017, Delhi’s Education Minister Manish Sisodia and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal were discussing work in Kejriwal’s drawing room. It was here that the seeds of now-famous Happiness Curriculum’ for were sown.

“He interrupted me and said, “Buildings have become better, teachers are being trained,results have also been improving but before getting into politics, we always used to talk about making children better human beings. Why is nothing is being done on that front?” Sisodia quotes Kejriwal in Shiksha: My Experiments as an Education Minister, his just-released book.

On July 2, 2018, the Dalai Lama launched the curriculum for Delhi government schools. Today, the Aam Aadmi Party government’s (AAP) concept, in which 100,000 students from nursery to class 8 spend the first 45-minutes each day without opening a textbook, is also being introduced elsewhere–the BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh and Delhi University.

From increasing the budget to overcoming infrastructural hurdles, strengthening the position of principals to re-establishing the trust of teachers and from happiness to patriotic curriculum, the 188-page book divided into ten chapters, is a blow-by-blow account of Sisodia’s experience as Capital’s Education Minister from 2015 until 2019. It also draws attention to why education has not been in political discourse of the country so far.

The framework for the happiness class finally came up at the ten-day Vipassana course that Sisodia attended in Rajasthan in April 2018 without any access to pen, paper or phone. “This is why I could make notes only in my mind,” he writes.

Soon after coming to power in February 2015, Kejriwal government made it clear that education would be a priority. Not surprisingly, Delhi government set aside highest funds for education. In 2019-20, the most recent budget presented by Sisodia, 26 per cent (13,997 crore) of the total Rs 60,000 crore was allocated to education.

Son of a teacher from Uttar Pradesh, the 47-year-old journalist-turned-politician, Sisodia, also the Finance Minister, is often referred as de-facto CM, and, of course, credited for implementing AAP’s educational agenda.

Shiksha’ comes at a crucial time when AAP government completes its first five-year term and faces elections next year. In February 2015, it won a record 67 out of 70 assembly seats, 39 seats more than it won as a fledgling outfit in 2013. The BJP was limited to just 3 seats and Congress none.

When Sisodia started visiting government schools, he found classrooms looked like junkyards with ceilings threatening to come crashing down as students sat in corridors, halls, or even, under a tree resembling what he calls a vegetable market’.

“There was one school, where in one class, there were 174 students. I could not help but think that even if God came there as a teacher, forget about teaching, he would struggle to fit them in one classroom,” he writes.

It was here that Delhi government decided to swallow the bitter pill and start improving the dismal condition of government schools. It needed to build 30,000 classrooms of which 21,000 have been built in first four years.

“Today it gives us immense satisfaction to see that there isn’t a single classroom in Delhi that doesn’t have a proper board, or where the fans are broken, or where the washrooms are damaged,” he says.

Shiksha harbours a hope that one day, education will become an important point of debate in the country’s political discourse. Sisodia minces no words when he says AAP is not the first government to work on education. “From Jawaharlal Nehru to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, many leaders have taken significant steps in the arena of education. However, the one place where they are lagged behind was that the fruit of these attempts was reaped only by 5-10 per cent of the children. Even if there were efforts to make education available to the remaining 90-95 per cent, they were perfunctory and casual,” he writes.

Sisodia says he wrote the book to document the story of transformation of Delhi government schools. “The Delhi education model is a testament to the fact that with extreme diligence and political will, government schools can be made like private schools even at a time when their performance across the country is underwhelming,” he says.