In a bid to ensure students’ safety in addition to keeping a tab on the activities of teachers at schools, Delhi’s finance and education minister Manish Sisodia announced in his budget speech that 175 crores have been earmarked for the installation of CCTV cameras in school buildings. A total of 1.2 lakh cameras will be installed. The decision was taken in January itself and was made a part of the budget for the year 2018-19.
While presenting the budget, Manish Sisodia emphasized on the safety and security of students. The cameras will be installed across all the government schools in Delhi.
Sisodia said, “An outlay of Rs. 175 crore has been proposed in the budget estimates. About 150-200 cameras will be installed in each school building. Parents will now be able to see classroom activities of their children online.”
He was implementing the announcement made by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in the month of January when he had tweeted, “Each parent will be given access to see his child studying in the classroom on a real time basis on his phone. This will make the whole system transparent and accountable. It will also ensure the safety of kids.”
The decision to install cameras in the classrooms was triggered by some incidents in the past few months when young kids were either killed or molested in the school premises in and around Delhi.
The decision drew flak when it was announced and is being criticized now that it is about to be implemented. It was heavily criticized by a section of the academia and even legal fraternity cautioning against creating a culture of surveillance. But the party and the government is convinced about the step being taken and is holding firm.
Atishi Marlena, advisor to the Delhi education minister, said, “There will always be people who will express concerns. In fact, there is a class of people who are more vocal and vociferous. But across the board, 90 percent of the people strongly approve this move. If you speak to the parents, they will tell you that. There are two reasons for that. Number one is that there is a very serious security concern. You can’t wait for an incident to happen like what happened at Ryan International School. There was a case of sexual assault on a four-year old by her classmate in one of the private schools. As far as security goes, we have said that we will be happy to adopt any other solution if anyone gives us one. Someone should tell us that this is the other method to enhance the security. We don’t know. Number two, it is not enough to put CCTV cameras. One of the problems with CCTV cameras is if no one is watching them then there is no effect of having CCTVs. Therefore the idea of live streaming came. We have more than 50 thousand class rooms. There is no way we can have a centralized system.”
But the announcement has not gone down too well with teachers particularly. Some of them called the idea of installing CCTVs in classrooms “disheartening”. Anita Rampal, a Professor at the University of Delhi (DU)’s Department of Education, said, “Investments that focus on the installation of CCTVs and online streaming of classrooms promote a bizarre and dangerous mode of surveillance of teachers and children. It does not create a trusting, creative and good learning environment.”
edInbox also tried to speak to school teachers. Not many of them were willing to come on record. A woman teacher with almost 30 years of experience in teaching, on the condition of anonymity, told edInbox, “Such monitoring does not exist even in prisons”. She expressed her apprehensions thus, “This kind of surveillance will take away the joy of teaching. The fact they are being watched all the time will make teachers and students both uncomfortable. The safety of the kids is paramount but then they can hire better security personnel.”
The government does not buy this logic and claims that the idea of installing CCTV cameras in classrooms is quite popular among students. Atishi says, “The idea of having CCTV cameras in the classrooms is popular among students. The reason for this is that there are other problems that students face in the classrooms. Bullying is a big problem and corporal punishment is still at large. We have piloted CCTVs at a few schools. One day we – Manish Sisodia and I – went to a school. We interacted with some of the younger kids. Manish, just to initiate a discussion, said that CCTVs have been installed but will be removed. He also asked the students if he was doing the right thing. The kids requested him not to do so. So we asked why and they said after the cameras have been installed, the teachers have stopped beating them. Another kid said that their pencils and other things used to go missing but that has stopped now”.
The private school administrators too have objections. Meeta Rai, with almost 40 years of experience as a school administrator and currently the principal of Delhi Public School at Indirapuram, says “In my school, we have over 300 CCTV cameras but not one in a classroom. We do not want teachers to be burdened while teaching. Constant monitoring can turn them into nervous wrecks.”
The government says that kids who come to government schools are its responsibility. It dismisses such apprehensions and says that CCTV cameras constitute the problem of a miniscule minority of the urban elites and if they have a problem, then they should bring another idea on the table.
Atishi adds, “CCTV cameras happen to be a problem for the tiny liberal elites. One FM channel had done a show on this after the decision was announced. It was a call-in show. 95 percent of the callers that included parents supported it. As far security goes, we have also said that if someone has a different idea, it should be brought to the table. Finally 16 lakh kids studying at the Delhi government schools are our responsibility. If anything happens to even one child, people are going to bay for our blood. So what is the other solution? We have people who are doing research on our reforms at the Delhi government schools. They were telling us that in front of their eyes, kids were given corporal punishment. When it happens in front of the outsiders, imagine what must have been happening otherwise”.
The safety of the school kids is paramount and it was the deciding factor to reach this decision. But opinions are sharply divided on the installation of the CCTV cameras. When it was announced, a Twitter war broke out between those supporting the move and those against it. Some claimed that it is not spying but it will keep children disciplined, show the amount of efforts the teachers are making to teach the kids and lead to bonding. The others asked if any study has been conducted to ascertain the move’s psychological effect on teachers.
There are still some questions at large – Is there any evidence to suggest its effectiveness? Can students and teachers remain natural in the classroom? Doesn’t it tantamount to spying and an indication of a definite lack of trust?
Apar Gupta, a lawyer, tweeted, “A real time video tracker in schools will lead to policing of children not only to prevent crimes but also to ascertain their moral choices and behaviour. An example could be social interactions like staying away from X kid. It will condition children into fearful clients and not full individuals”.
The debate will continue in the days to come and its effectiveness will be judged. The government claims, “There will be an auto complaint system to check the non-functioning of any CCTV camera installed at the schools. The auto system would itself lodge a complaint and it will go to the system integrator who would then rectify the camera”.
Additionally, the education minister, the secretary of education and the director of education will have the rights to see any Delhi government school classroom through the app at any point of time.
We all trade our liberty in this age for security but that can’t be an end in itself. Security must function as a base to exercise liberty and freedom and make choices. A surveillance system may be legal but it certainly limits the expression of the subject.
Reporting by Kumar Dhananjay Editorial Consultant, Delhi