The Right to Education Act: A late starter, Gujarat’s performance remains poor compared to most states

gyanBy Counterview Desk

The Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, has, without doubt, become a major milestone to ensure that children aged 6 to 14 are able to get free and compulsory education. However, initially, Gujarat was one state which seemed extremely subdued in implementing it. In January 2012, it was one of the three states – West Bengal and Karnataka were the other two – who had failed to come up with rules to implement the Act. This came to light when the Government of India asked West Bengal, Gujarat and Karnataka to notify RTE rules in order to begin implementing the Act. Then human resources development minister Kapil Sibal wrote letters to these states, asking them to notify the rules in the “larger interest of the students”. By that time, as many as 30 states and Union territories had already notified their respective state rules or adopted central rules. Model rules under the RTE Act were shared with all states at a meeting of state education secretaries, held as early as in January 2010, and forwarded to states/UTs with a request to adopt/adapt them as per their state requirements. The RTE came into force on April 1, 2010.

Though on February 28, 2012 Gujarat government came up with RTI rules, Gujarat’s education minister Ramanlal Vora declared in April-end that the Gujarat government faced “logistic, administrative and as social problems in execution of this Act.” A major hindrance in implementing the Act, he believed, was to “share” expenses between the state and the Centre for education in Gujarat. “In schemes announced by the Centre, 75% of the expenditure is borne by the union government while 25% of it is footed by the state. However, there is lack of clarity when it comes to the RTE Act,” the minister declared. He raised the issue of who would “foot bills of school uniforms, transportation, and books of the 25% students who will be admitted free-of-cost to private schools”. He asserted, “Let’s assume that parents of these poor children will manage costs of uniforms and books; but will private schools be able to provide these children midday meals? What are the steps towards ensuring nutrition of these kids? The Act is silent on these issues”.

Despite these objections, once the rules were made, government machinery went out of the way to praise it as “innovative”. It was suggested that instead of focusing only on input requirements specified in the Act like classroom size, playground, and teacher-student ratio, the Gujarat’s RTE rules put “greater emphasis” on learning outcomes of students. It was suggested that the rules, prepared by former Gujarat chief secretary Sudhir Mankad, who was Gujarat’s education secretary earlier, focused on learning (not on rote), measured through an independent assessment.  This component was “introduced” to ensure that schools did not show a better result by simply not admitting weak students. “The effect of school performance looking good simply because of students coming from well-to-do backgrounds is also automatically addressed by this measure”, it was pointed out in an effort to showcase how Gujarat may be late but has done a much better job. The rules also wanted the student outcomes in non-academic areas (sports, cultural activities etc) as well as feedback from a random sample of parents should be used to determine this parameter.

Furthermore, it was suggested, the Gujarat RTE Rules had taken a more “nuanced and flexible approach” in class size and teacher-student ratio. The required classroom size is 300 sq feet but in case classrooms are smaller, then instead of rebuilding them, the rules allow for a way to accommodate that with a different teacher-student ratio. The formula is: Teacher Student ratio = (Area of the classroom in sq feet-60)/8. “This approach not only allows smaller classrooms to exist but also gives schools a more efficient way to manage physical infrastructure”, it was suggested, adding, while the RTE Act wants to de-recognize private schools and close them down, Gujarat’s rules believed that the “sudden forced closure would create serious problems for the students and parents who would have to find a new school in the neighbourhood.” Gujarat’s rules “allow for the state to take over the school, or transfer management to a third party”, in order to “meet the norms”.

Recent surveys suggest that on the infrastructure front, despite visible gaps, Gujarat’s schools appear to be doing much better than most states. The Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER), 2012, one of the most authoritative studies which come out every year, suggests this quite clearly. In 2012, ASER found, in Gujarat library books were available in 44.3 per cent of the schools as against the all-India average of 32.2 per cent. Gujarat’s 96.1 per cent schools teaching-learning material was available in class 2 as against the all-India average of 81.4 per cent. In class 4 it was available in 95.9 per cent schools while the all-India figure was 78.8 per cent. Computers were available in 47.7 per cent schools as against 10.7 per cent in the country. In 38.7 per cent Gujarat schools where computers were available children were seen using them as against the all-India average of 9.4 per cent. Further: Drinking water was there in 82.3 per cent schools (all-India 73.5 per cent), the toilets were there and usable in 70 per cent schools (all-India 56.5 per cent), separate toilets for girls were available in 65.8 per cent schools (all-India 48.2 per cent), and midday meal sheds were there in 88.7 per cent schools (all-India 84.4 per cent).  Even in pupil-student ratio (55.3), Gujarat fares much better than nearly all major states.

These infrastructure facilities, however, have failed to improve the most elementary thing needed under RTE – to enroll children. There were 3.1 per cent in 2012 as against 2.7 per cent in 2011. Things do not end here. From all available indications, vulnerable sections of society have fared even worse in accessing education. ASER survey’s findings suggest that while enrolment level remains high at the lower primary level (age 7-10), with just about 1.2 per cent identified as “not in school” girls, it shoots up at the higher primary level primary level (age 11-14) with 7.1 per cent girls as “out of school.” Here also, the gap between boys and girls attending school is quite wide. As against 7.1 “out of school girls”, there are 4.2 per cent “out of school” boys. In fact, ASER report card suggests, as far as ensuring that the girl child at the upper primary level goes to the school, Gujarat’s performance is found to be worse than most states, except two. These are – 11.5 per cent Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan 11.5 per cent.

Though RTE does not apply to the secondary level, what is rather alarming is that, whopping 30.1 per cent girls, in the age-group 15-16, failed to turn up in Gujarat’s rural schools in 2012, which is the highest in the country. The report qualifies 30.1 per cent girls as “out of school”, a term officials now use to combine “dropped out” with “never enrolled” children. What is even more disconcerting is that none of the 20 states surveyed show such poor performance. Even the so-called Bimaru states are better performers than Gujarat. Though neighbouring Rajasthan and Odisha do not do well, they are still better than Gujarat with 29.8 per cent and 28.2 per cent, respectively. Jharkhand with 15.5 per cent, Chhattisgarh with 18.1 per cent, Uttar Pradesh with 26.5 per cent, Madhya Pradesh with 18.6 per cent and Bihar with 14.6 per cent perform much better than Gujarat in sending their girls to schools at the secondary level. The all-India average for “out of school” girls in this age-group is 17.9 per cent, much better than that of Gujarat. The best performing state, as before, remains Kerala, with just 0.7 per cent out of school girls, followed by Himachal Pradesh (3.8 per cent).  The states which “compete” Gujarat in economic growth – Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Karnataka – perform much better with 5.8 per cent, 8.5 per cent, 9.3 per cent, 17.4 per cent, 10.3 per cent and 11.2 per cent, respectively.

What is equally alarming is that, the gender gap between boys and girls in this age group is very high. As against 30.1 per cent girls qualify as “out of school”, as against 16.4 per cent boys, suggesting gender inequality. Sourindra Ghosh, a researcher, has pointed out in his a recent paper, “An Analysis of State of Education in Gujarat”, published in the book, “Poverty Amidst Prosperity: Essays on the Trajectory of Development in Gujarat”, “In Gujarat, male literacy rate stands at 84.5 per cent as compared to 64.8 per cent for females. The difference is thus of 20 percentage points, which is higher than the gap in literacy between male and female at the national level.”

Indeed, there are clear indications that things have not changed over the last six years for Gujarat’s girl child despite the high0-voltage yearly kanya kelavni gild child enrolment drive, undertaken by making the entire top babudom visit the state’s rural areas. A Government of India report, “Gendering Human Development Indices: Recasting GDI and GEM for India”, basing on 2006 data, had found that in the age-group 5-14, the percentage of girls attending school was 85.6 per cent, and Gujarat ranked 12th among 20 major states. The report added, the percentage of those attending schools in the age-group 15-16 was 36.5 per cent, ranking Gujarat 18th. If the Pratham report is any indication, while overall performance of Gujarat may have improved, other states had performed better. Vis-à-vis India, Gujarat’s performance has, in fact, deteriorated.

Things are found to be particularly worse for the girl child of the more vulnerable sections of population of Gujarat remain neglected as far as education is concerned. In its September 2012 report, the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO), has suggested huge gaps in the female education levels of Gujarat, especially among those belonging to the three socially-deprived groups, scheduled tribes (STs), schedules castes (SCs) and other backward classes (OBCs). Findings have been reported the NSS report, “Employment and unemployment situation among social groups in India”. The survey (rural plus urban) results show that in the age-group 5-14, 75.1 per cent ST females attended any educational institution; this dropped to 22.4 per cent in the age-group 15-19, and further to 1.8 per cent in the age-group 20-24. If the survey results are to be believed, there isn’t much of a difference for SCs and OBCs, either. Worse, in each of these social groups, Gujarat ranks among rock-bottom Indian states as far as females attending educational institutions are concerned.

Among SCs, 71.2 per cent females in the age-group 5-14 were found to be attending an educational institution, which is down to 18 per cent in the age-group 15-19, and further to 7.2 per cent in the age-group 20-24. As for OBCs, 78 per cent females attended an educational institution in the age-group 5-14; this went down to 23.8 per cent in the age-group 15-19, and further to 2.5 per cent in the age-group 20-24. While in every state the percentage females, attending an educational institution, goes down with a higher age-group, things are not as bad as with Gujarat. One can safely conclude that the Narendra Modi government’s drive to create an awareness to educate young females through the Kanya Kelavni drive, begun in 2004, has miserably failure. The state policy makers would do well to do some re-thinking about their strategy to send babus for just three days every year for the drive. No followup action is ever contemplated. Help from voluntary agencies is never sought.

One can see inter-state comparisons to show where Gujarat stands. First about STs; as against 75.1 per cent female STs attend an educational institution in Gujarat in the age-group 5-14, all states fared better than Gujarat with the exception of Andhra Pradesh with 69 per cent and Rajasthan with 70.2 per cent. Even Bihar was found to be sending 76.9 per cent ST females in this age group to an educational institution. Other states’ percentage is also worth noting – Odisha 86.6 per cent, Assam 86.9 per cent, Chhattisgarh 84.7 per cent, Jharkhand 81.9 per cent, Madhya Pradesh 83 per cent, Uttar Pradesh 87.4 per cent, and so on. In the age-group 15-19, Gujarat is, again, found to be ranking fourth from the bottom, with only Odisha (11.4 per cent), West Bengal (21.1 per cent) and Uttarakhand (12.8 per cent) performing worse than Gujarat. As for the age-group 20-24, Gujarat’s 1.8 per cent is the worst.

A scrutiny of the percentage of SC females attending an educational institution would tell almost the same story. Gujarat was found to be sending 71.2 per cent of female SCs in the age-group 5-14 to an educational institution, which is lower than most states except Jharkhand (59.8 per cent). In the age-group 15-19, 18 per cent SC females go to an educational institution, which is lower than all other Indian states. And in the age-group 20-24, the corresponding figure for Gujarat is 7.2 per cent, which is worse than all states except Haryana (4.1 per cent), Jharkhand (2 per cent), Karnataka (5.3 per cent), Rajasthan 3.4 per cent) and West Bengal (4.4 per cent).

As for OBC females, Gujarat’s 78 per cent in the age-group 5-14 is worse than all states except Bihar (72.6 per cent); in the age-group 15-19, Gujarat’s 23.8 per cent is worse than all states, including Bihar (42.1 per cent). Again, in the age-group 20-24, Gujarat’s 2.5 per cent is worse than all the Indian states. Even for higher castes, categorized as “others”, Gujarat’s young females do not show a better performance most of the Indian states, though here the situation is slightly better.

Glancing through overall literacy figures (of the 5 plus age group), there is reason to believe that other states, including the states so far identified as Bimaru, are all set to overtake Gujarat in future. This can be concluded from the fact that Gujarat’s overall literacy figures for the three social groups is not as bad as many states, and is almost equal to the national average. However, it is the younger group of 5-24 that Gujarat fares badly. Overall literacy figures show, Gujarat’s 54 per cent ST females are literate, while the all-India average is 54.4 per cent. Gujarat’s literacy among SC females is 56.7 per cent as against the all-India figure of 55.5 per cent. And as for OBC females, Gujarat’s literacy levels are 61.6 per cent, as against the all-India figure of 62.1 per cent. The table below shows how things deteriorate if one examines the younger age groups going to educational institutions.

Table: Percentage of females attending educational institutions
Social Groups
Age-group         ST            SC           OBC
Gujarat               5-14       75.1         71.2         78.0
15-19       22.4         18.0         23.8
20-24          1.8           7.2            2.5
All-India         5-14           81.7        83.6         85.8
15-19        40.9         46.8          51.8
20-24           7.2          7.9         10.8

(Source: Employment and unemployment situation among social groups in India, National Sample Survey, September 2012)

— Rajiv Shah

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