Surveilling Delhi’s Schools: Is Installing CCTV Cameras in Classrooms a Step Backwards?

Arvind Kejriwal recently announced that the Delhi government will be installing over 1.5 lakh cameras in government schools and classrooms around the capital city. The Delhi chief minister said that this initiative would ensure students’ safety as parents can keep a close watch on their kids by watching live CCTV footage of classrooms on an app called ‘DGS Live’ available on the Google Play Store. 

Although the desire to ensure their children’s safety is understandable, as a young person with very protective parents, I wonder if keeping a constant watch on their kids, even in class, is more a sign of obsessive and controlling parenting rather than of a healthy parent-child relationship. Needing to monitor children all the time does not teach them about establishing boundaries and upholding trust, both of which are valuable life lessons. 

On the topic of privacy of students, Kejriwal said that “Children go to school for education, to learn discipline and become good citizens of the country… they do not go there for anything private.” While teaching discipline to students is important, it should not be the sole purpose of education, especially in a country where the education system encourages rote-learning and passive absorption. 

The Indian education system was designed by the British to produce obedient Indian civil servants who follow orders without questioning the colonial state. Regardless of the board, CBSE, ICSE or most state boards, students often have to memorise word-for-word entire history chapters, scientific phenomenon and math equations. The Indian education system teaches students to learn an ocean of information and merely regurgitate that in exams without asking questions or thinking critically about what they are studying. 

Installing CCTV cameras is only going to amplify these issues.

Because students would fear being watched by authority figures and their parents, whatever little creativity and risk-taking that happens will significantly diminish. Schools should be nurturing environments where students are encouraged to take risks and ask questions, and this initiative seems to be a step away from that and from teaching democratic values to young people. 

As far as safety is concerned, due to the ‘surveillance effect’ students may self-discipline, which could translate into fewer incidents of violence in classrooms. But this does not address the root of the problem or prevent those incidents from occurring in spaces that are not monitored by cameras. So, installing CCTV cameras essentially shifts the site of violence from classrooms to spaces like bathrooms or outside school premises, meaning that it does not even truly tackle safety issues.  

Barring the potential lack of sustainability and difficulty of maintaining this initiative (Delhi streets are currently littered with ill-maintained and non-functioning cameras), it is very concerning that under it, only government schools will be surveilled. On the other hand, more economically privileged students who go to private schools do not have to deal with having cameras in their classrooms. In that sense, this step by the Delhi government seems like a very expensive political gimmick targeted only at the poor. 

Instead, the money to be spent on over 1.5 lakh CCTV cameras will be better invested in ongoing initiatives to improve infrastructure in schools. The administration has made multiple positive and worthwhile changes to government schools: they have given good quality training to teachers, incorporated extra-curricular activities like yoga for stress relief etc., all of which have resulted in an overall improvement of the quality of education in Indian schools. 

And, the Delhi government would be better off spending taxpayers’ money in maintaining these programs as opposed to unfolding a new and rather costly scheme of installing CCTV cameras – an unfair initiative aimed only at the poor and one that will further entrench existing issues in our education system. 

Kudrat Wadhwa is a graduate in Anthropology from Brown University who writes about politics, intersectionality and pop culture.

Featured image credit: reuters