Education

Why Delhi School Teachers Are Wary About Increasing Surveillance and Intimidation

Teachers are drawing attention to the constraints they face while dealing with the demands of the system.

Note: This article has been updated to take note of the death of Kaushalendra Prapanna and to clarify that the schools Tech Mahindra was working on are Delhi municipal schools, which are run by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and not the Delhi government. Accordingly, the original headline has also been changed.

Kaushalendra Prapanna, a committed alumnus of the faculty of education, Delhi University, died on September 14 after fighting for his life on an ICU ventilator for days. He had been in a coma since September 5. He worked as a subject expert at the Tech Mahindra Foundation and trained Delhi municipal school teachers.

As part of his reflective practice, he regularly wrote for leading newspapers on academic and policy issues related to education and children’s’ rights and posted blogs on literature, language and other areas of interest.

On August 25, his piece in Jansatta, ‘Na Paddha Paane ki Kasak’ (‘The pain of not being able to teach’), drew attention to the constraints capable teachers faced while dealing with the demands of the system. He said despite eminent academics having opposed it, the Delhi government is going ahead with the plan to instal CCTV cameras in classrooms, offering slots of live footage directly to parents’ mobile phones.

In fact, a case filed in the high court was dismissed after the government argued, and the chief minister reiterated on various occasions, that there was no breach of privacy involved in the live broadcast of classrooms as children came to school to study, not to do anything ‘private’.

Also Read: Policing or Protection: Parents Ponder as SC Refuses to Stay Delhi Govt’s School CCTV Project

According to Kaushalendra’s piece, children and teachers are scared and anxious about this move, though generally open to other information communication technologies (ICT). “We can expect white boards, smart boards, coloured walls and painted fans in classrooms of Delhi government schools. Though it would neither be appropriate nor correct to assess government schools in other states using the same yardstick as for Delhi. Seeing Delhi government schools can cause some delusion because these are being specially spruced up”.

Kaushalendra Prapanna. Photo: Facebook

Contrary to this, Delhi municipal schools and those across the country continue to be in a deprived condition. He talks about the several tasks teachers are being compelled to undertake, including getting children to record their attendance on biometric machines, compiling various data and completing non-academic assignments. As a result, even the most committed teachers, whose students perform well, can get demotivated because they are unable to do what they like doing best.

Also Read: As AAP Turns Government Schools Around, Questions about Learning Linger

This article seems to have triggered serious punitive action against him. According to his family, Kaushalendra’s employers were warned and he was summoned successively by three senior officers of Tech Mahindra Foundation. A file of all his articles was allegedly produced and he was severely reprimanded and humiliated, then compelled to quit.

After this shock, harassment and mental trauma, his family says, he suffered a cardiac arrest. Even as a stent was put in, his chest got seriously infected. All those who have known his sincerity and commitment to education and his ability to motivate teachers or who have read his writings are completely devastated.

Teachers respond to intimidation

Delhi government teachers have been facing intimidation on several accounts, and many experienced ones have been communicating anonymously on blogs or other media, about serious academic and administrative concerns. In February this year, reports in the Indian Express and Jansatta gave details of an open letter written to the Delhi education minister by the Lok Shikshak Manch, a teachers’ collective. It questioned the government’s order asking every teacher to purchase a tablet for Rs 15,000.

The letter said:

“We have seen that in the name of digitization and e-governance, work in schools has been unnecessarily increased, duplicated and has made rectifying human mistakes tedious and difficult. The digitization of admissions, results, bank account details, Aadhaar number, demand of voter ID, data of daily progress of Mission Buniyaad, etc. had already put excessive pressure on teachers, but making the tab mandatory seems like a plot to turn us teachers into full-time data entry operators.

Since technological tools such as tabs are capable of bringing fundamental changes in the character of education and teaching, we would like to know the academic and policy documents on the basis of which this decision has been made. By virtue of our professional educational preparation and our responsibility towards society, we teachers are intellectual beings and not mechanical executioners of orders.

As long as we teachers are free to use these tools as per our academic need and professional understanding, these instruments are of aid to us; however, if their use is fixed in a pre-conceived manner and made compulsory, this relationship will be reversed, and we will be turned into agents serving these instruments. Forcible use of devices such as tabs increases the risk of micro-surveillance of teachers and the controlling of every activity”.

Fears about surveillance and data security

Teachers have expressed deep concerns about the surveillance they are increasingly being subjected to, through CCTVs, biometrics or when forced to use certain apps on their phones which constantly track their location. In fact, instead of conducting much needed face-to-face interactive workshops for teacher professional development, the Delhi State Council of Educational Research (SCERT) now makes them download private apps such as Chalklit, mandating online training sessions through those.

Some teachers have averred that the online sessions are so trivial and irrelevant, that they complete them as a formality, in a few minutes. They then receive the certificate from the app, which they are required to forward to the SCERT. The apps are expected to impart training for a wide range of topics, for complex pedagogical concepts in mathematics or even sensitive issues such as how to make children aware of sexual abuse. They are amused to note the irony of the SCERT going so far as to sending them notifications to nominate this private app for the best prize.

CCTV monitoring room of Shaheed Hemu Kalani Sarvodaya Vidyalaya, Lajpat Nagar, where CCTV system has been installed. Photo: Twitter/@ AamAadmiParty

It is indeed a deeply worrying prospect of how the process of teacher development – the most crucial dimension of enhancing the quality of the education system – is being reduced to such farcical forms of promoting poorly conceived ‘branded’ technologies by state public institutions whose own capacities need to be greatly enhanced. The role of the partners of the Delhi government, such as the Central Square Foundation and Pratham, which have directly steered its education programme, or others such as Tech Mahindra Foundation, in promoting quasi privatisation has been questioned.

Also Read: India Is Falling Down the Facial Recognition Rabbit Hole

Just before the launch of a facial recognition application on Teachers’ Day, the Gujarat State Teachers’ Association passed a resolution forbidding teachers from downloading the Microsoft Kaizala app through which they were expected to take a selfie to mark their attendance and location. The association pointed out that this amounted to the government distrusting its teachers. It also raised security concerns, especially of the majority of women teachers. In any case, there have been scientific questions about using facial recognition technologies and the possibility of their misuse causing security breaches. It is worrying that governments are in a hurry to aggressively push these technologies in schools.

Teachers contend that despite the order of the court, schools have been collecting private data of parents and children, including their voter card, Aadhaar card, mobile number, educational qualifications, ownership or tenancy details of the house without disclosing the identity of the third party to which this was to be handed over.

This personal information is used for its political propaganda, such as personalised messages by the education minister on children’s birthdays with wishes to grow up and do good work like the Aam Aadmi Party. Or the chief minister sending wishes before their examinations, promoting the party and explicitly eliciting electoral support. Parent-teacher meetings and those of the school management committees have also come under this shadow and teachers say they were made to prepare for large meetings before the last elections where party representatives brazenly gave campaign speeches without even a single item being taken up that concerned the school or its students.

Manish Sisodia at a Delhi government school. Photo: Facebook

Pushing children out for better results

Using extensive centralisation, surveillance technologies and quasi privatisation to constrain teachers’ autonomy on the one hand, the government is also segregating students from the early years into separate sections based on ‘ability’. There have also been instances of schools deliberately pushing students out to ‘showcase’ better board exam results. This is making teachers seriously question the government’s commitment to good quality education for all.

Teachers say that it is increasingly difficult for students to complete Class XII as large numbers are being pushed out of regular schools and enrolled under the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), thus being rendered ‘invisible’ from the CBSE database. They are under constant pressure to send low performing students after Class VIII to NIOS, or for vocational training.

A reply under the Right to Information Act, made public by advocate Ashok Aggarwal, showed that in 2018-19, 66% (which was more than 100,000) of the total number of students who failed in Classes IX to XII were not given re-admission in government schools. The Delhi government system is very small with only around one thousand schools, and if even they are not geared to ensure equitable quality education, it is a travesty of a child’s fundamental right.

Educationists and teachers fighting for and raising legitimate questions about children’s rights have been threatened, traumatised or trolled, a disturbing situation indeed. There is much solidarity with Kaushalendra and teachers hope the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights will take up this case to provide due protection and justice.

Anita Rampal taught at Delhi University.

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Media Department of the Government of NCT of Delhi responds:

On September 13, The Wire published an article by educationist Anita Rampal with the headline ‘As AAP Pushes Education Agenda, Delhi Government Stifles Dissent’. This article is a brazen misrepresentation of facts, with an intent to falsely implicate the Delhi government in an alleged case of persecution and victimisation of a Tech Mahindra employee, Kaushalendra Prapanna.

The basis of Ms Rampal’s piece is an article written by Prapanna on 25th August in Jansatta newspaper. While the article is an overview of the challenges of the teaching community, it makes a passing reference to the implementation of Delhi government’s policy of installing CCTV cameras inside government school classrooms, despite opposition from some academics. It also states that there are apprehensions among teachers and students about access to footage being provided to parents. The writer goes on to praise the transformation of Delhi’s government schools and states that in comparison, municipal schools of Delhi lag far behind.

Rampal writes of Prapanna,

“This article seems to have triggered serious punitive action against him. According to his family, Kaushalendra’s employers were warned and he was summoned successively by three senior officers of Tech Mahindra Foundation. A file of all his articles was produced and he was severely reprimanded and humiliated, then compelled to quit. After this shock, harassment and mental trauma, he suffered a cardiac arrest, with some impact on the brain. Even as a stent was put in, his chest got seriously infected. All those who have known his sincerity and commitment to education and his ability to motivate teachers or who have read his writings are completely devastated.”

The paragraph quoted above implies that the punitive action against Prapanna initiated by his organisation, Tech Mahindra, was a consequence of him having critiqued Delhi government’s CCTV policy. This is a complete lie and a mala fide attempt to portray Delhi government in poor light. The facts of this case show Delhi government had absolutely no role to play in this unfortunate episode other than being referred to in the article written by Prapanna.

Kaushalendra Prapanna was an alumnus of the Faculty of Education, Delhi University, of which Ms Rampal is a professor at the department of elementary education. He subsequently joined a Tech Mahindra organisation and was involved as a resource person for training teachers of Delhi’s municipal schools that have no connection to Delhi government schools. Delhi government and Tech Mahindra have not had any formal or informal association in any form. There is no question of the Delhi government having been involved in any alleged persecution he may have faced from his organisation.

It is extremely shocking that an academic of such repute would abuse the unfortunate circumstances of an employee of a private organisation to accuse the Delhi government.

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Anita Rampal responds

I am shocked to read the false and threatening letter of the Delhi Government . It is deeply saddening and ironical that Kaushalendra, who used irony to say that one could be misled to see how the Delhi government schools are being specially prepared (as part of its electoral campaign), is posthumously being represented by the government as someone who ‘praised’ it. This only goes to show to what extent this government can go to subvert and stifle any criticism, and how vulnerable its teachers (many of whom are the most experienced alumni of Delhi University) have been feeling.
I stand by what I have written in the article, based on what I had been told by Kaushalendra’s distraught family while he was in coma after the mental torture he had been subjected to.
I also request that the title should reflect the import of the article to say ” Why Delhi government school teachers are wary of surveillance, intimidation and propaganda”