CURRENT FOCUS

The battle is won for the CAG audit of Noida, G.

Read More+

STATUS AND CHALLENGES

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           *Ambarish Rai

The RTE Act, 2009, implemented in India since April 2010, was an attempt to universalise elementary education in India by providing free and compulsory education to all children between six to fourteen years of age. Some of the prominent features of the Act, apart from free and compulsory education, include- accessibility of school in the neighbourhood of a child, infrastructural norms and standards, a comprehensive national curriculum, no denial of admission, enforcement of standards for teacher training, prescribed pupil teacher ratio, filling up the teacher vacancies through the recruitment of qualified-trained teachers, continuous comprehensive evaluation system (CCE), no detention of students till class VIII, prohibition of corporal punishment and creation of a friendly, child centered teaching learning experience for the children.

Although it has been more than five years since the implementation of the Act, the situation with respect to school education in India is worrisome. Less than 10% of the schools in the country comply with all the norms and standards specified within the Act. While almost 97% of children are now enrolled in schools, dropout rates remain high and attendance remains a challenge. Moreover, as many as six million children continue to remain out of school. During the enactment of the Act, the government had set two deadlines for the implementation of all the provisions of the Act: March, 2013 by when all the norms and standards (other than those pertaining to teacher training & regularization) had to be implemented and March, 2015 by when qualified teachers had to be recruited and the existing contractual staff had to be regularised as permanent staff. However, the deadline has passed and little efforts have been made by the government to implement the Act in its true spirit. Presently, the Act is without any road-map or action plan.

The Right to Education Forum, a collective of educationists, teachers’ union representatives, activists, members of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and International Non Governmental Organizations (INGOs) and other networks operating in the 20 states of the country, has been continuously monitoring the implementation of the Act on the ground. Every year, the Forum takes stock of the status of implementation of the Act through its National Convention in Delhi. At the same time, it comes out with a report reflecting upon the status with respect to six parameters- systemic readiness, role of community, teachers, quality in education, privatization of schools and issues of inclusion and exclusion.

1. Systemic Readiness- One of the foremost tasks after the implementation of the Act was the formulation of state rules and their notifications. It must be noted that within the first three years, all the states had drawn up their rules and guidelines for implementation of the Act and notified the respective authorities. However, both the Centre & the states continue to treat this Act as a mere scheme with optional implementation. There is a violation of some provision almost every other day. Unfortunately, what is forgotten is that the RTE is the product of the fundamental right to education (Article 21-A of the Indian Constitution) and therefore, the legal right of every child (between six to fourteen years of age) that cannot be denied.

The mechanism of redressal of grievances is extremely weak and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) which was created to serve as a monitoring agency as well as a forum for resolution of grievances has failed in its mandate. Although the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) have been constituted at the state level, only 174 cases have been registered so far and 484 cases from 2010-11 remain unresolved.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  [ 17 ]


On the other hand, the government continues to reduce its allocation towards education, a major hindrance to the implementation of all the provisions of the Act. In 2015, the Sarva Shikhsa Abhiyan (SSA) saw a budget cut of 23%. Since the funds to implement the Act are processed through SSA, a trend of the union budget allocations for SSA reveals the financial commitments of the Centre. The education cess which was supposed to compliment the education budget, has now become a basic source of funding to education in place of Government’s own allocation. In addition, a large percentage of funds continue to remain under utilized.

2. Community Participation- There is hardly any doubt that once the local community is fully aware and truly empowered, it can emerge as a critical stakeholder. The RTE Act identifies the importance of the community and has created provisions to ensure community participation in school education. It has provisions for the creation of a School Management Committee (SMC) for all Government schools. One of the main purposes of setting up a SMC is: to increase community ownership and participation in RTE. Other functions of the SMC include preparation of School Development Plan (SDP) and monitoring the functioning of the local school.

Although SMCs have been created in as much as 91% of the schools, certain challenges persist, mainly related to the formation and functioning of the SMCs. For example, most of the SMCs have been formed in an undemocratic manner. There are instances where members are not even aware that they are a part of SMCs. Hardly any trainings have been conducted by the government to enhance the capacities of the SMCs.

One of the key responsibilities of the SMC members, as per the RTE Act norms, is to develop a SDP. The SDP is to be the basis for the plans and grants to be made by the appropriate Government or local authority for the school. However, such work requires training, as local SMC members, being parents and other community members have no expertise or experience in this field.. Also it has been noticed that SMC members lack awareness with respect to the financial powers given to them.

3. Teachers- Teachers are considered to be the key agents if the quality of education is to be improved. Therefore it is essential to assess the changes made in staffing teachers, filling gaps of vacant posts, and ensuring no deployment of teachers in non-teaching tasks. It is unfortunate that India continues to face a major challenge with respect to teachers.

After five years of the commencement of the Act, there is a shortage of 9.4 lakh teachers in government schools (5.86 lakh in primary schools and 3.5 lakh in upper primary schools). Under SSA, though 19.8 lakh posts for teachers were sanctioned till 2012-13, only over 15 lakh teachers have been recruited up to 2014. There are delays in appointment of teachers as a result of which posts remain vacant for many months. In addition, around 6 lakh teachers are untrained. About 8.32% of the schools in India are single teacher schools. The number of teachers teaching multiple grades, often at the same time, raises questions regarding the intention of the government with respect to improving the quality of education. Although by 2015, all the vacant teacher positions had to be filled, contract teachers were to be converted into regular teachers and untrained teachers had to be provided teacher training, no satisfactory effort was made by the government to adhere to the deadlines.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 [ 18 ]


Contract teachers continue to be hired by some state governments, in gross violation to the RTE norms. They do not qualify for full employment, and while they are cheaper to afford, research suggests that they are not as productive in ensuring quality education as full time regular teachers. As of 2013-14, 55.55 percent of teachers in India were contract teachers. The service conditions of teachers and amount of time spent in doing non- teaching work is also a big concern.

The condition of teacher training institutes is equally poor in the country. Most of the District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs) are dysfunctional and suffer from shortage of academic staff. The Cluster Resource Centres (CRCs) and Block Resource Centres (BRCs) which were supposed to provide academic and research support to the teachers are also non- functional. Studies have shown that 17% of the DIETs do not have their own buildings, 40% do not have their own hostel facility while 70% have no librarian. There is also about 80% vacancy in faculty positions in some states. Most of the DIETs are situated in isolated locations. Staff and faculty members have not been adequately trained. It is also important to note that 90% of the pre-service teacher education courses are in the non-government sector. The states need to play a more active role in improving the institutional capacity of its training centres, especially in the eastern and north eastern part of India.

4. Quality- While access to schools has indeed improved post the implementation of the RTE, the quality of education continues to remain a big concern. However, it is necessary to understand that quality in education cannot be seen in isolation and limited to assessment of learning outcomes alone. There are certain precursors that have to be ensured without which quality of learning cannot be enhanced.

The infrastructure quality has improved over the years, except in the case of hand washing facilities and percentages of schools having libraries. In both instances, in 2013-14 the percentages have dropped, which raises cause for concern. Both library facilities and hand washing facilities in schools need to be addressed. It is also to be noted that the issue is not of having just the infrastructure but also their use and maintenance. Many of the toilets lay unused due to lack of maintenance and cleaning, resulting in dropouts, especially for girls.

Indicators

2010-11

2013-14

% of schools having boys toilets

81.14

94.45

% of schools having girls toilets

72.16

84.63

% of schools having hand wash facilities

58.14*

 

44.66

% of schools having boundary wall

58.16

 

61.87

% of schools having library

80.32

 

 

76.13

% of schools having drinking water facilities

94.45

95.31

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       [ 19 ]


The other determinant of quality of education, the outcome of learning of children in schools is a major concern. If children are not learning in schools – even basic language and mathematics – then their attendance in school remains futile. In terms of outcomes of reading levels we find some improvement over the years, however, it is very slight.

The language in which children are taught is crucial both in terms of quality and equity. Research evidence from across the world shows that children starting formal education in their mother tongue, have a tremendous academic advantage. On the other hand, children whose first medium of instruction is not their mother tongue are at a serious disadvantage. While the question of what constitutes the most suitable medium of instruction has always been a central issue in the diverse, multi lingual Indian context, it acquires even more significance in the context of universal elementary education and the Right to Education in order to provide an “equal opportunity to learn “ at the primary stage.

However in this debate, political and economic concerns have often eclipsed educational concerns. This may explain why year after year, reading and comprehension levels of children are low, as children are made to learn in a language they don’t understand.

Specific to this, in our context, is the question of English. While the elite of India have always opted for English medium for the schooling of their children, this has been a growing trend in the last 10 years, with increasing number of private schools aimed at the economically weaker sections of society, whose key selling point is often “English medium” instruction.

5. Privatization of Education- It is important to note what the State initiatives have been, towards addressing privatization of education, when at the same time, the RTE Act aims to provide for free and compulsory education to all children. A study done be Azim Premji Foundation on ‘Privatization of Education’ reveals that the widely held belief about private school education being better than public school education, is nothing but a myth. Well-designed researches show how it is assumed that just because a school is run privately; it would be providing quality education. However, in reality this may not always be the case.

The RTE Act asks the state government to enrol children from EWS category in private schools and 25% seats to be reserved for them. In the initial year, there was a strong resistance by private schools vis a vis this provision. There is lack of transparency and accountability in the admission process. The number of seats available in the private schools under 25% quota and data of children admitted under this category is not available, yet.

While there is a rise in different types of privatized schools, the government of India seeks to check all unrecognized schools, in order to ensure quality education. Low cost schools (budget schools) are mushrooming in different parts of the country providing sub-standard education to the poor while corporate and international business companies are also jumping into this business to grab the opportunity for profit.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         [ 20 ]


Still, there are cases reported in the study by RTE forum, that children have been denied admission by 7% of the schools examined of which most of the schools were in Bihar, Jharkhand and UP. 2% schools were found to be collecting fee from students. 53.6% schools have asked children to produce their identity at the time of admission, which is the complete violation of the Act.

6. Inclusion and Exclusion in Education- 6 million children remain out of school and 41% drop out before completing their elementary education. In fact, the process of data collection is so poor in our country that different data sources indicate different numbers of out of school children (OOSC).

UP continues to have the highest number of OOSC with 16.12 lakhs. However, even among those children who are at school, we find that many of the children with special needs (CWSN) are minimally enrolled. As of 2013-14, only 1.30% of the children with special needs are enrolled in schools.

The groups of children who are out of school include victims of disaster (natural, manmade), children who are under juvenile justice homes/observation homes, children affected by seasonal migration, nomadic children, children involved in labour and so on. Census 2011 data shows that we have 4.35 million children employed as child labour. There are issues in addressing these children through a coherent strategy. Some residential education schemes targeted at children are infested with serious issues of abuse-physical, sexual and mental, which have not been addressed strongly at any level.

To conclude, it is urgent that the government allocates substantial amount to educate all the children. Moreover, qualified teachers must be recruited on priority. There is no way in which quality of education can be improved without qualified teachers. Moreover, teachers must be distanced from any non-academic work.

In 1966, the Kothari Commission had recommended that the India’s public spending on education should be raised to the level of 6% of Gross National Product (GNP) by 1986. Both the UPA and the BJP election manifesto had made promises on the same lines.

It is important to note that Government must declare a timeframe and recalculate, the current resource gaps to fulfil the goals of universalization of elementary education. Taking into account the impact of the cumulative shortage over the years, it is felt that the allocation to education should not be less than at least 10% of GDP. We are still far from realising the objectives of the RTE Act, 2009. The situation is extremely poor and if immediate actions in the right direction are not taken, it will only worsen.


*Ambarish Rai is National Convenor, Right to Education Forum and has been a renowned activist working on various issues such as attainment of educational rights of children, for water rights of tribals of the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra; for achievement of labour and peasant rights, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       [ 21 ]

October-December, 2015