RTE: More wrongs than rights

The Pioneer | 09 December 2016

Even after six years of implementation, the Right to Education Act has been a failure, as the focus has been more on providing immaterial amenities than on quality education. It’s time for the Government to evaluate the policy

The main objective of the Right to Education Act (RTE), which was implemented on April 1, 2010, was to ensure free and compulsory education for all children aged between six to 14 years. The Act, in one go, ensured right to education and fixed the responsibility of an institution (read Government).

Prima facie, it was expected that the Act would ensure education for all, but even after six years of implementation, things are far from encouraging. It seems to have deviated from the very purpose on various counts.

The fact of the matter is that while ensuring universal education, there is a ‘catch’. The Act makes it mandatory for all schools to have Government recognition to become stakeholder. This is a tall order which is difficult to fulfill.

Moreover, the Act proposes to designate building codes, like for schools till class five, 800 sq metres and for middle schools, 1,000 sq  metres land is a must. Besides, the Government has imposed the necessity of having a certain number of classrooms. This has come as a shocker. Even schools, runningsansGovernment aid, were taken into the purview.

Compliance of rules, thus imposed, proved to be a herculean task for poor fellows — the educators. Things got disheartening for schools running before the Act too as they were taken into the ambit of RTE regulations. On the other hand, law-makers conveniently choose to ignore the existence of small schools in mohallas, dingy lanes that are faring far better than Government schools of the locality.

Clearly, the RTE seems to be a death warrant for such schools. The news of scrapping of provisional recognition of 800 schools in the capital made headlines March this year. Of course, law has to take its course, but what about the poor students who could not complete their education? Does the Government have an answer?

The prevailing mindset is that those who can afford, will send their wards to private schools which too are not spared. The Act provides for 25 per cent seat reservation for poor children in private schools, free of cost. Not just this, it demands to keep the seats vacant in case there are no takers from the reserved category. What a paradox! Since the Government failed to provide quality education in their own schools, they are arm-twisting private schools to dole out free education. 

The Government cannot understand one simple point that if low-budget schools, which charge peanuts from students, are to toe the line of the Government, they won’t exist for long. In fact, the first and foremost responsibility rests with the Government as per law.

So, it is for the Government to introspect why it failed to deliver.  It is to be noted that stipulations like building code, infrastructure, etc, are not going to impact swanky schools of capitalists. But for sure, these draconian laws will annihilate the small schools that teach the same children, the Government schools failed to. It will be anybody’s guess that how come a school run in four to five rooms meet the conditions set for their survival? The end result is ‘the end’ of these schools itself.

Private schools in the country do not adhere to the land norms as prescribed by the Government, and are delivering quality education than most Government schools. It is up to the Government to understand and emphasise on ‘quality’ than ‘infrastructure’.

Infrastructure, nonetheless, is important for the holistic development of the child, but not at the cost of education. Schools and teachers, running private schools, barely make the ends meet. The icing on the cake are the whimsical laws that makes the situation all the more challenging for school leaders.

An in-depth analysis is the need of hour to analyse how things stand before and after implementation of the Act. A study, carried by the Centre for Civil Society and Azadi.me, made some startling revelations. In 2010, ie the year of implementation of RTE, 65.5 per cent of students from Government schools and 76.2 per cent from private schools, could read books of first level. But in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, while the data for Government schools deteriorated, they remained stable for private schools on an average basis. For Government schools, this data in the year 2014 fell to 49.2 per cent from 65.5 per cent, whereas in private schools, this figure stood at 73.1 per cent for 2014. 

Notably, except Gujarat, all State Governments spent about 48 per cent to 150 per cent on education in 2011-12 and 2014-15. Gujarat spent only 15 per cent. What is more remarkable is the fact that Gujarat fared quite well compared to other States. Data revealed that after the implementation of the Act, the Gujarat Government chose not to give importance to building codes but the focus was on quality of education.

Students are the biggest stakeholders in the school system. How will ignoring the quality of education and focusing on immaterial, physical aspect, like building infrastructure build the future of the country? The Government must insist on fixing teachers’ accountability in public schools and learning outcome-based recognition for all schools, be it public or private schools.

The crux of the matter is that if we frame rules, to further education, why not adopt a system that really makes education simple, accessible and focuses on quality. We have another chance in the form of the National Education Policy. We can make all possible amends to recover from the damages done by the already prevalent education system. Apprising importance of education to all stakeholders — schools, teachers, parents and the Government — is the need of the hour. Our education system is not delivering at present but there is a hope that the New Education Policy will uphold ‘quality’ in education for all.

(The writer is Research Fellow at Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation)

Read this news on The Pioneer website.