Schools under CCTV surveillance

NEW DELHI: Promised in the budget speech, Delhi Government’s project of placing every classroom under CCTV coverage is being tested at two schools. Conceived mainly to check teacher absenteeism, the programme can impact also kids’ behaviour. Deputy chief and education minister, Manish Sisodia visited Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya, Gokhla Marg, Mori Gate and Rajkiya Sarvodaya Kanya/Bal Vidyalaya, East Vinod Nagar on Wednesday, to both see demonstrations and gauge teacher and student reaction.

The Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System Ltd (DIMTS) installed cameras in three classrooms at the Mori Gate school in July. A private company installed cameras in 12 rooms at East Vinod Nagar, three days ago. The ones demonstrated provide 24-hour surveillance, live-feed – principal secretary, education, Punya Salila Srivastava espies a student taking attendance – and audio. It sends alerts if there’s tampering or space – say, in front of the board – where a teacher ought to be goes vacant for long.

When the full system is up – Sisodia hopes to start the tendering process soon – it will cover roughly 70,000 classrooms and laboratories in schools across Delhi. Principals will have access, of course, but there will also be a “central control room” at the state level that’ll have access to feed from every camera, hence an eye on every classroom.

Some educationists have expressed strong reservations about this degree of surveillance and expenses involved. But resistance on the ground seems low; at least no-one’s voicing it. Instead, a kid quietly discloses that the camera has put an end to corporal punishment – “Teacher ab nahin maarte.” Another tells Sisodia that pens don’t disappear so often; a third finds class bullies less active; and a good many tell him cheating in tests is down. Sisodia believes the system can benefit teachers. “There is violence against teachers too and false allegations. Now there’ll be records,” he explains, “A small section of teachers are opposed to it. The rest are already regular and doing good work. Kids coming from as far as Kondli, they deserve to have teachers who are regular in class.” The minister is considering also the possibility of allowing parents or the School Management Committee access. That, apparently, can be achieved through an application.

The cameras are making some children warier. Sisodia seems keen to ensure they don’t add to stress, asking class after class if they’re “having fun” a touch worriedly. “We’d sometimes eat during class but now don’t,” says Chanchal Chanesh, twelfth-grader at the SKV. Her classmate Shivani Sharma adds, “Sometimes I lose focus and then, suddenly, remember the camera.” When one kid declares with a toss of her head, “masti to karenge,” Sisodia says approvingly, “that’s the spirit.”

A tamper-proof, high-definition camera can cost under Rs 5,000 to well over Rs 50,000 in the market. Considering many schools have a serious theft problem, the government is in the unique position of having to protect their security system. A wire box is not a solution – it’ll interfere with the image – and an education department official says that the wiring will have to be concealed.