Community Video Monitoring: Demanding Accountability in Education

A year back, children attending the school in Dotto village, in the Nuapada district of Odisha, had an unusual load to carry — huge bottles of clean, drinking water that would last them the whole day. The Right to Education Act guarantees children in government run or aided schools the access to potable water. But the children of the village school in Dotto were being denied access to potable water in the school, after the school’s hand pump broke down. In Jharkhand’s Deogarh district, a lone and weary teacher taught 125 students at a Government Primary School, while in Mauwamaccha Village, Mungeli District, Chhattisgarh, the situation was even worse. There was no school at all and so the children had no hope of accessing the free, quality education that was theirs by right. Each of these ‘gaps’ in RTE implementation was documented and reported to authorities,multiple times, through existing community monitoring systems,like School Management Committees. However, only documenting and reporting the violations had no effect. Furthermore, community members were intimidated about escalating these issues to higher level officials when they were not taken seriously by lower level officials. Community members were not in a position to advocate their own cause at a state and national level. 

Only after Video Volunteers’ community correspondents visited these schools and helped community members conduct ‘video audits’ of their schools, was there was a successful resolution of the problem in each of these cases,with action being taken by the authorities.

What are video audits?
Through sessions conducted at state-level training camps and also at the recently concluded Video Volunteers’ National Meet, VV’s network of 174 correspondents have been trained to spot RTE Act violations and also how to document gaps in RTE implementation through video reports. Their video reports now include material documentation of the problem — for example, a poorly constructed, unsafe, school building — along with interviews with community stakeholders like parents and children and also the local government representative or school administration officials responsible for solving the issue. Local authority figures, who wouldn’t ordinarily answer questions put by citizens, are put in a spot when being filmed, and respond to the questioning. The final video narrative from this video audit / documentation creates a layered, nuanced representation of the problem and that to, within the short time frame of a two to three minute video. This video then becomes the basis for community-led interventions through dialogue and screenings in the community and during meetings with education officers and other public servants. Powerful visuals and video-based narratives in these audits concisely put across the problem and in a format that elicits human empathy and the desire to solve the problem among authorities.
A testimonial by Abhishek Kumar Dash, VV’s correspondent in Nuapada, Orissa, whose video audit resulted in the construction of a tubewell in village Dotto’s school, shows how the process of a video audit triggers action. Dotto’s school had a School Management Committee (SMC), which had already approached and then appealed to several authorities to solve the drinking water problem multiple times. However, there was no impact and therefore, after a while, the SMC and parents had become apathetic to the situation faced by their children.
Abishek therefore planned the video audit meticulously. “We chalked out some good visuals to support the story, took the interviews and then got the Village Education Committee (SMC) together with some of the guardians as well. I borrowed a friend’s laptop, to show them the interviews. The screening made all the difference. While they knew that their children suffered daily, to see them say it on camera really affected everybody. About seven to eight of us went to the School Inspector who suggested we approach the Rural Water Supply & Sanitation Department (RWSS). There, we met the Junior Engineer and showed him the video. He said he knew of this problem and had already attempted to fix it twice. However, the video really affected him too, and he immediately ordered work to begin.” Eight months later, the village school had its tubewell.
Video Link: Community & Correspondent ensure drinking water for School Kids.
State –Odisha, District- Naupada
Community Correspondent- Abhishek Kumar Dash

Significant Success Rate
Thus a video audit cuts through several layers of apathy, even revitalizing community monitoring systems, like SMCs, that have been created by the RTE Act. This form of video audits that combines social audits with the power of video documentation is a systematic process of Community Video Monitoring. Such video audits have been successfully implemented by VV, across India in 7 states, across 82 districts in 214 schools. In 80 of these schools, multiple violations have been resolved. Currently, this represents a significant success rate of around 37%, which has not been replicated by any other community monitoring system in India. This level of success rate is critical in ensuring that the government does not evade its responsibility with regards to RTE and universal education goals in India.
We are seeing an alarming trend of public schools being shut down, rather than being reformed, when they do not meet RTE Act stipulations, forcing children to travel even further to study in classrooms that are already bursting at the seams or enroll in private schools.
Over the past five years, the span of time that VV has been conducting these video audits, our correspondents have reported a drop in the quality of education being provided at government schools. The paucity of trained teachers has played a big role in this. Any parent, who can afford it, would rather not have their child go to a government school. One telling statistic is the percentage of children enrolled in private schools going up from 18.7% in 2006 to 30.8% in 2014. For many policy makers, this trend has led to the widespread belief that the private sector should play an increased role in education. There are growing conversations about Public Private Partnerships, especially in higher education, in the formulation of the New Education Policy and the government seems ready to throw open the market to private players by agreeing to policies of the WTO-GATS (the General Agreement on Trade in Services).
If this is the direction that future policies will take, there is reason to worry about how marginalized communities will access schools and colleges for their children.This is why VV makes sure that even the unresolved cases, captured in the video audits, are the basis of reform-focused, advocacy initiatives that aim to solve the issues with RTE implementation in the country, rather than moving towards privatization. These advocacy efforts have been undertaken at the state or national level, both independently by VV and in co-ordination with partners like Poorest Areas Civil Society(PACS) and RTE Forum.

What our video audits reveal:
Our video audits have captured 309 RTE Act violations across 7 states, namely Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, UP, MP and Maharashtra. A few video audits have also been conducted in other states. Most schools violate RTE provisions related to:
1. Student-teacher ratio – 63 violations captured
2. Separate, functional toilets for girls and boys – 69 violations captured
3. Safe drinking water – 42 violations captured
4. Proper school buildings – 49 violations captured
VV’s video audits corroborate the findings of larger sample-size surveys and reports like Annual Status of Education Report and RTE Forum’s 5th stock-taking report (2014-15).Additionally, these video audits also provide the hyper-local context to these data surveys to show why and how the violations play out in different states and districts. Solving RTE Act violations means tackling these myriad hyper-local realities, even when it comes to state-level advocacy on RTE implementation.
For example, Video Volunteers school video audit analysis echoes the recent study by the Odisha RTE Forum that found that more than one-third of rural schools did not have even one functional toilet and also revealed that drinking water unavailability is a major challenge in Odisha schools. Each state reveals such trends, where RTE Act violations mostly centre on two or three key issues that have then become the basis for state and national level advocacy initiatives by VV and its partners.

Video Audit-based Advocacy
In a consultation about RTE implementation with Members of Parliament, Video Volunteers and RTE Forum screened five representative videos audits conducted by VV correspondents before 17 Parliamentarians. Similarly, VV is also working with civil society partners to present these video audits at existing grievance redressal forums like National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).

Advocacy efforts are also being stepped up at the state-level and are showing results. In Jharkhand, VV’s call to action letter with video links on 23 unresolved RTE violations, to Neera Yadav, Human Resource Minister, Jharkhand has borne results. In July 2015, Jannes Punita, the Public Relations Officer(PRO) for Jharkhand government, responded saying that the State Government had taken a series of actions to tackle the issues. The PRO’s mail, mentioned in particular, the video audit by Community Correspondent Jyoti Malto about a closed school in the tribal community of Dandibedo Pahad Village, Boriyo Block, Sahibganj, Jharkhand. The school has no teachers and no classes have been held in the school for the last three years. Currently the literacy rates of Scheduled Tribes in Jharkhand stands at an abysmal 40.7%. The average for Jharkhand is 53.6%, while the national rate is 64%. The Government of Jharkhand has initiated a series of actions to ensure that the school reopens and teachers are appointed to teach children in this remote tribal hamlet.
Video Link: Goats come to School, Children stay home
State – Jharkhand, District- Sahibganj
Community Correspondent- Jyoti Malto

Stepping up advocacy efforts, VV has now sent two more video audits about teachers in the state working without salaries to Jharkhand’s PRO office. The first is an incredible story, captured by VV correspondent Warles Surin, where teachers teaching in a government school for girls haven’t received their salaries for the last 30 years.
Teachers working for 30 Years without any salary
State: Jharkhand, District: Simdega
Community Correspondent: Warles Surin

The other video is about a school teachers in famine-struck Paharpur village in Jharkhand, who haven’t been paid in 16 months, who are on the brink of looking for other livelihood opportunities to make ends meet.
No salary for teachers in Paharpur
State: Jharkhand, District: Godda
Community Correspondent: Mary Nisha Hansda
In addition, VV is also attempting to raise questions about RTE implementation, through these video audits, in winter session of the Jharkhand Assembly.

Similarly in Bihar, after the recent elections, VV will send a team to discuss video audits with the newly appointed education minister and present the video audits before the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights. In Odisha, VV is partnering with RTE Forum so that advocacy efforts can be stepped up in the state through the evidence presented in the video audits. Similar advocacy efforts will be undertaken in other states as well, once sufficient video audits have been conducted in each of the remaining four target states.

Urgent need to scale-up video audit model
Video Volunteers is committed to the systemic reform of the public education system, and sees the local community as a critical stakeholder in this process. All aspects of community involvement, including interventions by School Management Committees, can be strengthened considerably through video-based audits. Monitoring through such video documentation then becomes a vehicle for local interventions to lobby with the government officials to improve the situation. These video audits can also be presented at state and national level grievance redressal forums and form the basis for Public Interest Litigations filed for judicial mediation between the state and people.
Last and not the least, these video reports also help raise awareness, through community-level screenings and discussions, and improve the involvement of local citizenry in demanding accountability from the administration.

However, as of now,only a limited number of video audits are being conducted and there is an urgent need of funds and support to increase the scale and pace of such video monitoring. We believe community video monitoring is powerful and is critical to reforming the public education system. We hope all our readers commit to the process of communities monitoring programs beneficial to them rather than outsiders, and help support the scale-up of the ‘video audit’ model to more schools and districts, across India.

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