When the Right to Education Act was first passed in 2009, its critics were skeptical about what possible ends it could achieve. While RTE is undoubtedly not a miracle that will simply dissolve the challenges of rendering education to the disadvantaged children, it has a part to play. By insisting that all schools have certain basic facilities, the RTE restored a certain dignity in the schooling system of the disadvantaged. The deadline of revoking the recognition of schools that did not have such minimum standards by March 2013, however, has passed unnoticed.
The efforts to improve child education under RTE
The RTE’s mandate of trained teachers, basic facilities, and a better educational infrastructure has motivated a diverse set of academia. The accountability of the state for providing educational facilities for children is now recognized by the NGOs, activists, private foundations and even international organizations. They are now inspecting the loopholes in the present infrastructure and the proposed monitoring system for government schools. The School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) is an important body now, and serious consideration is being given to the parents’ opinions regarding child education. Another realm of enquiry is, whether the children are indeed being able to gain admission in private schools and utilizing the 25% reservation under the RTE Act. The RTE Forum, exclusively constituted to spearhead such efforts, has been holding conventions at various state capitals and publishing annual reports which furnish the progress of RTE in the states. Private foundations are also proactive in this field.
Effect of the RTE on government schools
The government schooling system has been plagued with dropouts and low retention. One of the major causes of low retention is dull classroom activity. UNICEF has long been working on the ‘joyful mode’ of imparting education to children. The National Curriculum Framework 2005 had also underlined the primacy of the learner and a flexible evaluation system. However, learning achievements seem to be a major drawback of the government school system. It needs to be mentioned here that Learning Achievements (LA) is the most important parameter in judging the school system and the school quality. The Annual ASER surveys reveal that a Grade V student of an average government school is unable to compete in literacy and numeracy tasks marked for grade II. The JRM (Joint Review Mission) which monitored government schools during the SSA (Sarba Shiksha Abhiyan) also stressed on the increased focus on LA. The fact that government schools are severely deficient in LA scores has financial implications. The government is struggling with the increased financial input necessary to redesign the educational system as per RTE mandates. While the solvent class is choosing private schools (which are evidently better) over government schools, it is to be remembered that the government schooling system needs immediate refurbishment. The prime reason for this–despite the 25% reservation mandated by the RTE–is that government schools are the primary choice of a majority of the disadvantaged children.
Effect of the RTE on private schools
The ‘elite’ private school sector considers the 25% reservation for the disadvantaged, as mandated by the RTE, to be too much of a burden given the inadequate reimbursement rates of the government. In fact, they had contested with the said issue in court. However, the verdict after a long legal battle, upheld the point of view of the state, that the private school sector is obliged to share the task of educating disadvantaged children. The private schools, by no means, were satisfied with such a verdict and have gone for an appeal. The cheaper private schools, in spite of recognizing government subsidy as an important contributing factor, prefer to remain autonomous to avoid amplified government scrutiny.
Challenges faced by the RTE
- As mentioned before, it is imperative to remember that the RTE is not a magic wand which will make the existing problems of educating disadvantaged children simply go away. The problems exist and they are substantial. The RTE merely mandates the educational apparatus of the state to impart proper education to the disadvantaged and backward children. Considering this perspective, such children can use all the support available to them, especially when, in most cases, the parents are too preoccupied in the struggle for sustenance in this society of high inequality.
- The most precarious position is of the students of government schools, whose educational experience is severely deterred by migration, illness, and necessity of child labor during agriculture seasons. All these contribute to the irregular attendance in schools, compounded by food insecurity. It is to be mentioned here that, in such cases, the families of the said students are extremely marginalized, with practically no schooling background.
- Modest but necessary facilities like toilets are absent in most elementary government schools. Surveys indicate that only 49% of the schools are equipped with a girls’ toilet, due to the high dropout rate of adolescent girls. Also, only 43% schools have electricity, which makes circumstances extremely adverse to imparting of proper education.
- Only 15% schools have computers, even though exposure to computer technology is an integral part of the education system in the current perspective. However, there has been a notable progress and the infrastructure is improving.
- Another problem faced by the students is the language. The students whose mother tongue is Maithili or Bhojpuri are profusely uncomfortable with the Hindi language textbooks and it takes them almost eight years to be proficient. Hence, more language-bridging programs should be in place to make the imparting of education an effective process.
- A revisit to the schools of the northern states after a period of ten years revealed that teaching activities are ongoing in less than half the schools.
- Another major cause of concern is the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), which has been vested with the responsibility of implementation and monitoring of the RTE. As it turns out, NCPCR is heavily fund-starved and plagued with interfering factors which serve as bottlenecks in effective monitoring of the RTE.
- As per the results of several important surveys, it is not only the government schools that suffer from low LA. In fact the entire schooling system of our country suffers from a low achievement syndrome. Students perform well with questions regarding information recall, but are unable to perform smoothly when application-based questions are concerned, and this is applicable equally for the elite schools. The results of the last international PISA tests confirm above-mentioned inferences. While the elite schools lost no time in resorting to the more scientific and child-friendly Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE), the government schools are still clueless as to what mode of education should be set as standard.
- While the RTE compels a teacher training program, the educationists inform that the current teacher training apparatus is not adequate for the said mandatory program and it will take some time to rectify it. This obviously puts RTE in a precarious position.
While the government schools are undergoing refurbishment, the status of the private school sector is not very transparent. What is obvious is that, imparting education to the disadvantaged children of our country still faces massive challenges. Factors like curriculum, textbooks, cost of education, language barrier, including a disarrayed teacher-training program, need considerable rethinking. A positive implementation of the RTE necessitates all the building blocks to be in the right places. The education system of our country needs to exert itself more to honor a child’s constitutional right to education.