RTE: Right?

The Right To Education came into effect on 1st of April 2010 and was hailed as a landmark piece of legislation aimed at making primary education accessible for children in the age group of 6 to 14 years and setting up uniform standards of education throughout the country.

Although it did the important job of bringing education into political discourse and enshrined the right to seek education as a fundamental right under Article 21-A, there are significant issues with regards to its approach, policies and their implementation of the said policies.

1. High Infrastructural requirements:

The clause 19 of the RTE Act and the relevant schedule make it mandatory for the schools to have a playground, library and hourly teaching quotas on a weekly basis. This provision hit small private not-for-profitor philanthropic schools in poor urban areas the most, and about 2,469 schools were closed and 13,546 schools were served notices on the basis of non compliance with the norms in across 14 states through March 2015 to March 2018. This closure of schools increased pressure on the already hard pressed government schools with inadequate infrastructure and massive staff shortages. The enrolment in primary education has fallen from 13.36 crore in 2009-10 to 12.91 crore in 2015-16, with the enrolment rates of children belonging to the Scheduled Castes in primary education falling from 2.6 crore to 2.57 crore and the enrolment of children belonging to the Scheduled Tribes falling from 1.49 crore to 1.37 crore in the same period.

The enrolment figures for upper primary schooling (Classes 6th to 8th) are still encouraging, with 5.95 crore children in 2009-2010 to 6.76 crore in 2015-16. Although this jump can also be attributed to the impetus given to the construction of toilets for boys and girls under the Clean India programme. This is the time around when most women start menstruating, and hence sanitation becomes a must for making sure they continue their education.

As a result of difficultyinsatisfying norms, red-tapism has increased manifold, and private schools that had the means to grease the palms of officials were able to get away without upgrading their infrastructure, whilst small philanthropic ones suffered.

2. The provision of EWS reservation:

Clause 12 of the RTE Act makes it mandatory for all recognised schools to earmark 25% of the seats for children from economically weaker sections (EWS) and disadvantaged groups (DG). Whilst a laudable move geared towards making expensive private schools more accessible to the poorer sections of the society, it runs into significant roadblocks due to these issues:

A. Exemption to minority institutions: Schools recognised as minority institutions are exempt from reserving 25% seats for children belonging to EWS. As of 2018-19, about 39,215 schools across the nation have been granted the minority tag3 , and many more are in line to get one. This deprives children from the poorest sections of the society from gaining admission into premier schools.

B. Reimbursement woes: The Act ordains that the respective state government will bear the expenses of the children enrolled under the EWS category. It directs the Centre to reimburse the private schools the per child expenditure arrived at by the states or the actual fee charged by schools, whichever is lower. The issue here is that the methodology for the calculation of per-child expenditure happens to be extremely opaque and vague. It took the states a lot of time to arrive at these costs, and even when these figures were finally made public 3 years after the enforcement of the Act, the private schools complained as the reimbursement figures were too low, especially in States like Uttar Pradesh4 . As of January 2019, only 15 states and UTs have submitted the figures of cost per child, which is a mandatory requirement for seeking funds from the Centre. With uncertainty and delay in receiving the reimbursements, private schools have no incentive towards ensuring the implementation of the 25% quota, and many of them pressure the guardians of these children to foot the bill, in clear violation of the RTE norms. This forces many children to withdraw their admissions. As a result, only 20% of the EWS seats have been filled throughout the country as of 2016-175.

C. Administrative hurdles: Another factor contributing to the low enrolment under RTE are the massive administerial obstacles that prevent the target group from availing the benefits of this scheme. Many children applying under RTE are first generation learners, and their parents have a difficult time in filling up forms etc. Since the government help centres are few and far between, the private schools have started charging a help desk fee to facilitate the process of filling forms, in clear violation of RTE norms. Moreover, there exists a significant information gap and the names and details of the schools need to be publicized through various channels, so that the parents can make the best possible choice for their children. The lottery system for admission is also riddled with delays, and susceptible to corruption, with children who do not fall into the EWS/DG categories getting admission under the quota by submitting fabricated certificates.

3. Blind spots with regards to pre primary and secondary education:

Although the RTE norms for 25% reservation apply to pre primary schools attached to elementary schools, it leaves out stand-alone pre primary schools from this requirement. Moreover, the Act is extremely vague in its provisions for pre primary education and allots the responsibility of ensuring pre-school education to the "appropriate government" without delineating any mechanism for how it is to be carried out. Without a strong foundation in the preschool years, many children find it difficult to cope up with the curriculum of elementary school.

As the provision of the Act only covers elementary education, a lot of children are left in lurch once they complete 8th standard; because they do not have the economic means to pursue secondary education.

4. No Detention Policy:

While the no detention policy till 8th standard was meant to encourage retention into schools, it came at a cost of diluting academic standards and outcomes. This could have been mitigated through the effective implementation of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation, which aimed at taking off pressure from terminal examinations; but the implementation of CCE remained patchy at best, because the educators were used to certain traditional methods of teaching, and teacher training programmes also lacked a holistic vision. Plus, effective CCE implementation required resources and a paradigm shift from textbook centred education to an integrated approach.

Owing to all of these reasons, the no detention policy created a pool of 8th pass students who were severely ill equipped to take on the rigours of secondary school.

As of January 2019, the policy has been tweaked so as to allow the child to sit for a re exam if a child fails in the first attempt after giving her/him remedial classes and allows the schools to detain the child if he/she fails again; but how many schools have the capacity to impart remedial classes, considering teachers are already overworked?

5. Lack of outcomes based approach:

While much has been said about the inputs with respect to school education in terms of square footage, playgrounds and libraries, scant attention has been paid to the evaluation and measurement of actual academic outcomes. There is hardly any system to check upon the quality of education being imparted in these schools. India is reported to appear inProgramme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2021, after being placed in bottom two in 2009, the last time it participated in 2009. As per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) released by Pratham, an NGO, the percentage of children studying in 5th standard in government schools who can read 2nd standard level text went down from 53.1% to 44.2% from 2008 to 2018; whereas for private schools the figure marginally decreased from 67.9% to 65.1% in the same period in rural regions6 .

Hence, RTE has been a mixture of policy and implementation paralysis. While it abolished capitation fee and made transfer certificates for switching schools non-mandatory, it liberated parents from a good deal of harassment they had to face at the hands of school authorities.

On the other hand, in face of no redressal mechanisms and government's woefully inadequate administrative capacity, many provisions of the Act remain a dead letter.

Many question the principle on which the Act is based and allege that the 25% reservation is a convenient ploy for the state to shrug off its responsibility of imparting education to every citizen.

After almost 10 years after its enforcement, it is time to take stock of the hits and misses, and fix the major loopholes that have prevented its effective implementation, and rethink the way we view education as a matter of public policy.

References :

1. http://nisaindia.org/data-on-school-closures

2. Educational Statistics At a Glance, 2018, published by MHRD

3. https://mhrd.gov.in/idmi

4. https://www.hindustantimes.com/lucknow/pvt-schools-on-rte-admissions-will-not-take-ews-kids-if-govt-doesn-t-reimburse-fees/story-GklK7tBN0OXchOXAdR43rL.html

5. https://www.orfonline.org/research/ten-years-of-rte-act-revisiting-achievements-and-examining-gaps-54066/?amp

6. ASER report 2018 (Rural)

By -

Madhav Chadha

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