Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s ambitious project of starting a virtual education project in municipal schools seems to be going down the drain. The project, which was launched with much fanfare, was the BMC’s attempt to improve civic schools’ quality of education by making teaching student-friendly, and tackle the problem of dwindling attendance.
However, poor execution and the lack of a proper monitoring authority had made the project a waste of resources.
In a sample survey carried out by dna in 15 municipal schools across the city, it was found that virtual classroom equipment were installed in most schools, but were not operational. In some cases, equipment had not been installed and were lying unpacked.
In the handful of schools where they were both installed and functional, classes were not being held in accordance with the prescribed timetable. Reasons range from teachers not being well-versed with the technology to teachers being out of school for multiple trainings round the year to disruption in signals relayed from the head office in Dadar. So, students are often subjected to blank screens or no sound during their lessons.
“It is a pity that such expensive equipment are gathering dust because of the school authorities’ lack of initiative. Moreover, only one to two teachers in three to four schools receive training. If they are transferred, retire or quit, there is no one to continue the classes,” said Dr Richa Singh, a volunteer of Citizens Association for Child Rights (CACR), an NGO that works with BMC schools.
Singh was instrumental in fixing two pieces of virtual classroom equipment for three schools of the Chakala municipal school in Andheri (East). “Though the concept is very good, the implementation is pathetic,” she said.
“We had called the head office authorities and got it fixed. It is not a difficult procedure, it just requires some initiative. The helpline operator was very helpful,” she said.
The cost of the project was budgeted at Rs27.2 crore and each piece of virtual education equipment costs Rs2 lakh approximately.
Of the 15 schools dna visited, there was no virtual equipment in Anikgaon Marathi municipal school in Chembur. According to school sources, the equipment had to be sent back since the staff was unable to install the antennae on the terrace. In Chembur’s Marwali Church Marathi municipal school, equipment were lying unpacked. School staff informed dna that they were not likely to be installed anytime soon.
In the Tank Lane municipal school in Santa Cruz (West), wires had been eaten away by rats. “We have reported the matter to the head office, but haven’t heard from them,” said a teacher.
In Santa Cruz’s Manekji Gazdarbandh municipal school, a plasma screen has been fixed to the wall, but the classroom resembled a godown, with the rest of the equipment packed and stacked up in boxes. No classes have been conducted in the school so far.
In the DN Nagar Marathi-medium municipal school in Andheri (West), equipment are yet to be installed. On the school’s second floor, and in the DN Nagar Hindi medium school, equipment was installed, but classes are not held regularly, said students.
In Chakala Urdu-medium school, Chakala secondary school and Marol Hindi-medium school, equipment was installed, but no regular classes were being held. Teachers from these schools refused to speak to dna.
The virtual classroom project was launched in 2011 as a pilot project in a few civic schools, including one in Colaba, which managed to secure a 100% result in Class X exams. Other schools, where the system was introduced, fared well in the board exams.
In few schools like the Marol Marathi-medium municipal school, where classes were conducted regularly, students said they enjoyed attending the classes and the system helped them. The decision to launch the virtual education system in 400 more such schools was taken earlier this year.
A senior education department official seemed to be completely unaware of the sham. “We will look into the matter soon and sort out the issues,” he said.
Sunil Dhamane, deputy municipal commissioner (education), said, “Headmasters of all schools where virtual classrooms have been installed, except three, have submitted installation and testing reports to the education officer. Timetable for usage of VTCs has been prepared and implemented. Revision sessions for SSC students have started a fortnight ago.”