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Right To Education

 By Sahil Mehta/Nishant Boorla/ Shaonli Nath

One of the most important bills to be introduced and passed in the parliament in the last decade was the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009. First introduced in 2005, the amended act was passed as part of the 100 day programme of the UPA government in 2009 and came into force on April 1st 2010 (The irony of the date of implementation was lost on our dear lawmakers). In a remarkable step, elementary education remained not just a dream but the constitutional right of every child in India in the age group of 8-14 years, just as quintessential as the Right to Life. Education wasn’t just a privilege anymore; it was compulsory and empowered each Indian child to demand education.
Among the highlights of this act is that it requires all private schools to admit children from weaker sections of society and disadvantaged communities in their incoming class to the extent of 25% of their student strength. The government reimburses expenditure incurred by the schools in this regard. Also the school cannot ask for donation or capitation fees as part of the admission process and neither can they interview the child or her/his parents as part of the screening process.
There are other provisions within this act and the complete act can be easily found on the internet. At first glance, this act comes across as a messiah for the ailing education system in the country and it certainly does puts us on par with many developed countries in the world in terms of emphasis and priority given to education. And while everything is debatable, the RTE Act, for certain looks good on paper.
It has been one a half years since its enactment. And while no government policy’s effectiveness can be judged in such a short time especially one that has been implemented in India, this short time period is sufficient to gauge whether the policy has had the desired impact in bringing about change. Sadly the RTE act has failed to live up to its promises and expectations.
Although the RTE makes education free and compulsory and sets qualification standards for teachers, in a myopic treatment of the problem of education, the act lacks any defined provisions for addressing the acute shortage of teachers, and particularly of skilled teachers, faced by the country. The HRD ministry estimates the shortage of school teachers in India at a whopping 1.2 million. These numbers ignore the teachers in government schools who are themselves poorly trained and ill skilled and delivery of quality education by them is unfathomable. There are thousands of teachers who are on pay-roll of Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan yet it is once in once in a blue moon (or perhaps never) that they turn up to teach a class. As much as we try to minimize dropout numbers among students, what about the non-attendance among teachers, what about the non-attendance among teachers?
Kapil Sibbal made a statement about how the brightest minds in all countries went into teaching and that it isn’t happening in India. Therefore, more incentives are required to attract bright young people into this profession. While this is a very noble idea, it’s practically impossible to meet the shortage of teachers in elementary education.
The brightest minds in the country are not going to end up teaching basic counting and alphabets in rural areas. We can expect qualified people to take up teaching, especially for government schools, only when the social status associated with the profession rises. “Social status” is an ambiguous term but it can be interpreted in the following manner: Out of an engineer and a primary teacher who will receive greater respect in a social setting? The answer is obvious and self-explanatory. Increasing the pay would help in bringing in more teachers but will not do much to increase their quality.
The quality of the teaching profession can only increase when people taking up teaching are driven by passion for this profession, when people are driven by a desire to bring about a change. It is sad that while in ancient India, Guru came right after God, the situation in modern day India is dismal. In the absence of a conductive environment for teaching as a profession, the promise of compulsory education remains a farce.
Another widely documented problem with Indian education, especially in rural areas has been the large number of dropouts. Every year a significant fraction of our student problem drop out, for many reasons including, yet not limited to, making money by working jobs to make ends meet for their family. The boys assist in farms and the girls accompany their mothers as domestic help. The fundamental problem of dropping out cannot be addressed by just a static enforcement of education.
No sensible man will believe elementary education is sufficient to get you a job in this world. So unless higher education is within the reach of a person, they wouldn’t see sense in sitting through elementary education. For someone who has to spend the rest of his life working on crops in fields, education will come via experience not by sitting in overstuffed, dimly lit classrooms. The approach should be to devise a sustainable model which will provide a holistic approach for children to continue their education while vocationally being involving in their own social ecosystem. How? That is yet to be seen.
One of the most controversial points about the law is the reservation policy in private schools as discussed in the article earlier. While there is a genuine dearth of both schools and teachers, shackling private schools with reservations might end doing more harm than good. The law makes provisions for the government compensation but the compensation will be in line with the costs incurred in educating a student at a government school. Indeed, a vast majority of private schools are apprehensive about receiving any compensation at all. A better solution will be to encourage the establishing of more private schools in rural and semi-urban areas via public-private partnerships.
These are but some of the problems associated with the RTE Act. There will be major challenges in constructing more schools, financing them, training teachers, ensuring attendance and monitoring the compliance of rules by private schools.
All in all, the RTE Act and its implementation leave quite a lot to be desired. Over the next few years it will be very interesting to see how RTE’s active implementation takes course. Till then good education remains a distant reality for most Indians. And if that concerns you in the slightest, please do not hesitate to join movements like Teach for India and The Guardian Circle.


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