The Telegraph / January 15 2006
Mumbai, Jan. 14: It could have been in George Orwell’s 1984. But the place is a school and the time is now.The Mahatma Gandhi Centennial Sindhu High School, the largest school in Nagpur, has 250 CCTV cameras installed. As the proud principal says, they are in classrooms, corridors, staircases, labs, activity rooms, staff rooms, everywhere.
The students are watched, every moment, every move is captured. It is a world record in “monitoring” and “discipline” in a school.
“We have about 11,000 students, 400 teachers and 128 classrooms. It is not possible to monitor them individually. So, we installed the cameras,” says Deepak Bajaj, the principal and the man behind installing the technology, who sits in his “control room” and watches the monitor constantly.
At the press of a button, a whole class comes into view, making it impossible for the children to indulge in any “unacceptable” behaviour.
“When we want to watch them at close quarters, we zoom. If a student at the back bench is trying to copy, he is immediately caught,” says Bajaj.
Whenever he needs to intervene — the sound-system is two-way — “I can talk to the class and hear the teacher, too”, Bajaj says.
It is quite often that his voice is heard in the classes and every time this happens, the class stands up in reverence and Bajaj spends considerable time repeating commands like “sit down, please”.
The CCTV system was installed in 1997 and inaugurated by Vilasrao Deshmukh, who was the Maharashtra chief minister then, too. Shortly after this, a documentary filmmaker from Pune, Avinash Deshpande, shot the film on this school — The Great Indian School Show — which was screened in the city today.
Then there were 185 cameras. “There were 12 monitors then, now there is one. It is total surveillance. There are three control rooms,” says Bajaj.
The “advantages” are manifest. The children, whom Deshpande was allowed to film freely but not talk to, never fall out of line, in any sense.
Assemblies are held with the help of the CCTV system, with one student leading. Even the farewell ceremony of a senior teacher was conducted on the CCTV. The students in their individual classes clapped as the retiring elderly man rose into a crescendo of praises from the principal — all this being relayed two-way by audio.
A few chosen students are allowed to appear before Deshpande’s camera. The students praise the system to the skies.
The director says that the children were asked to say only good things about the school