Right to Education Act paves way for unchecked privatization of education, legalizes commercialization

aisecAll-India Save Education Committee (AISEC) has come up with a comprehensive critique of the New Education Policy (NEP) document, released by the Ministry of Human Resources and Development, Government of India. Set up in 1989, AISEC, involving prominent educationists and citizens across India, has been engaged in upholding the cause of education and has waged a number of countrywide as well as regional movements whenever that cause of education was jeopardized. One of the most important areas the AISEC works on is against attacks on education through privatization-commercialization and communalization. An excerpt from the AISEC critique pertaining to school education:

A national policy is being reformulated, yet it does not define the basic and comprehensive outlook for school education upon which it is based and if it is the same or different from the earlier or existing ones.

Theme 12, entitled Comprehensive Education – Ethics, Physical Education, Arts & Crafts, Life Skills, professes that “Education is concerned with all-round development of the child…. Our students need to have a holistic development which cannot be achieved only through information and instruction.” But there is no further reference to ethics or character-building essence of education anywhere in the discussion beyond the title.

Any serious attempt at defining a comprehensive outlook, must answer the following questions: What should be the basic outlook of school education: employability or preparing children to grow into a ‘man’? Are employability and skill generation the sole, even the main objects of education, more so of school education? What are the present problems with school education of the country? Why instead of increasing, the number of government–run schools is decreasing? Why instead, private schools are mushrooming? How are these private schools helping school education of the country, or doing otherwise? Why are students dropping out in an alarming scale? Why is quality going down not just in government schools, even in private ones? Is the teacher-student ratio in most schools anywhere near its desirable mark?

The ground reality locates the major problems in school education, among others, at: sharp decline in quality of both learning and teaching; alarming rise in drop outs which is directly related to poverty and prohibitive rise in cost of education; absence of adequate number of schools; absence of minimum requirements (in regard to basic infrastructure, teacher-student ratio etc.) in government-run schools forcing students and their guardians to seek berth in private schools even going beyond their means or to lie low, content with whatever they get or simply quit schools.

While preparing the document for consultation, the writers, too, recognize these to a great or less extent. The first theme (Ensuring learning outcomes in Elementary Education) for consultation pronounces that ‘even with all (these) reforms’ ‘the learning outcomes for a majority of children’, remains an ‘area of serious concern’. Because, ‘children are not learning the basic skills’; even at grade (class) V children ‘cannot read simple texts and cannot do simple arithmetic calculations’. If this is a simple and honest narration of facts, the theme sets the task. ‘There is a need to understand the reasons’ and ‘suggest ways and methods of improving the learning outcomes of school children’. And then coming to the specifics, it is added that there is need to address ‘on priority basis’ ‘quality issues’, ‘availability of trained teachers, good curriculum and innovative pedagogy’ and need to ‘assess the system of Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE)’. If anybody takes the pain to go through the earlier policy documents, he or she would find virtually the same words even there.

They admit that there are gaps in availability of trained teachers, good curriculum and innovative pedagogy; but do not proceed any further on those issues. They admit there is mushrooming of pre primary/ play school industry, that is, private institutions in the country. But they do not commit anything against rampant privatization. Here is a country where barring a few privileged pockets and institutions,   infrastructure of educational institutions are at a wretched low, not to speak of other factors like corruption at every point of the system and every stage of education process. Schools lack teachers (about 1,40,000 teaching posts are lying vacant in schools; only 1 teacher is there in 1,14,531 primary schools) , their own building ( in 1,48,696 schools) or adequate class rooms, toilets ( in 4,55,561 schools) even for girls.

Then again the consultation questionnaire includes one on international partnerships. With such a state of infrastructure for the country, is it a joke or what? It is rather incomprehensible how a policymaker can utter such impossibilities speaking in general for the country. Students drop-out from poverty of their family; yet the policymakers suggest colourful furniture, rugs play way toys, charts, pictures etc. as special attractive measures to draw students; games, art and confidence building measures to retain them.

The document says in Theme II (Extending outreach of Secondary and Senior Secondary Education): Universal Elementary Education(UEE) becoming a reality. Is it a reality? No, the reality does not endorse the claim that elementary (pre-primary & primary) education has become universal. The document also claims : ‘initiatives such as RTE … would not only be increasing participation levels in elementary education but also substantially improve the internal efficiency of elementary education in the coming years’. Is this also a reality? No. Rather the appreciation of and confidence on the RTE implemented by the Congress-led UPA government is wrongly placed by the present BJP-led union government.

One, the RTE Act, 2009 does not cover all students, education at all levels even at the elementary stage. Coming in sequel of another flopped “flagship programme”, SSA, and in the same way as it, the RTEA too pledges to universalise elementary education from Classes 1 to 8 and does not bother for children   below 6 and above 14 years.

Two, the RTE Act abdicates the government from funding education at least at those stages. Who then will shoulder that responsibility? The RTE Act straightaway paves the path for private investors to get into the scene for unchecked privatization of pre-6 year education of children; it legalizes privatization and commercialization of education. Now the policymakers shed crocodile tears for mushrooming of pre-primary/ play school industry.

Three, it follows the system of multi-grade teaching with the labels “child centered” and “activity oriented” approach stuck to them as stipulated in the DPEP and SSA, offspring programmes of the World Bank and IMF. Forget about the few shining Kendriya Vidyalaya of the metropolis and other cities. In the vast hinterland of the country, a single teacher, may be a para-teacher, appointed on contract basis, and figured as a ‘class room manager’ ( mind it, not class teacher) would look after a number of classes, may be even in a single room. These teachers are supposed to work for 45 hours a week, and would have to work for, as and when required and compulsorily, to do census duty, election duty, disaster relief work etc.; would have to prepare midday meals for students, keep accounts of the groceries, fuel and such other items, even chase after students across fields to lure them back to school. It befalls students to learn by themselves.

Four, the RTE Act legalizes no pass-fail system up to the level of class VIII and   admission of students according to their age, a 14 year child to Class VIII, and not according to his or her prevailing academic standard.

Five, the RTE Act pertains to government- run or general aided -schools. The one under high-priced private control will be exempt from all government controls and restrictions, making room for only the rich to enjoy the best of facilities for education. They will get the best of amenities and will have the examination system for checking and improving performance. They will retain the class promotion system as usual. The RTE Act thus stands out as highly discriminatory giving way to catering to the Minimum Level Learning (MLL) education for a vast work force and Optimum Level Learning (OLL) education for a handful of elites from private schools.

And the whole outreach programme for secondary level education in the proposed education policy (Theme 2), a programme for ‘near universalization of secondary education’ as a ‘logical next step’ hinges upon such a deceitful, discriminatory measure of the RTE Act that is detrimental to students, teachers and education as a whole.

It is held that universalisation of quality secondary education implies creating ‘secondary schooling provisions’. But what is this smokescreen for? Why don’t they simply say: ‘implies setting up of more secondary schools’? Is it a mere difference in vocabulary with a fancy on high-sounding words or does it signify something else? Schooling provisions not necessarily imply education in schools; it would imply that those may be created by methods other than ‘creating schools’ and would include also open/ distant/ online learning. It would further abdicate the government from its responsibility towards education of the country.

It is no denial a fact that teachers play a pivotal role in any education system. It has been earlier indicated how miserable the picture of our situation is, where taking the country as a whole, nearly one and a half lakh of posts of teachers lie vacant in schools. Yet the document   contains a Theme V on Re-vamping Teacher Education for Quality Teachers. It says quality of teachers has been ‘a major cause of worry’ or ‘competence of teachers and their motivation is crucial for improving the quality’. They admit ‘issues of large number of vacancies’, problems of ‘untrained teachers’, ‘lack of professionalism in teacher training institutions’, ‘teacher absenteeism and teacher accountability’ and ‘involvement of teachers in non- teaching activities’ all need to be addressed.

They say ‘several initiatives are being taken’ by the Central and State governments, or different tests like the Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET) introduced by the CBSE or TETs by the state Governments are being held. Then they pose questions inviting suggestions on how teachers can be recruited or their quality improved etc. They, however, do not spell out anything about why the government,  or other initiatives have miserably failed in their efforts, so far in the past and even in the present, ultimately giving birth to the present situation; why the so-called recruitment tests have now become synonymous with and infamous for corruption; why teachers are being compelled to carry out non-teaching jobs like arranging for mid-day meals etc.; who other than the governments engage teachers in such jobs; why rampant political or other interference and intervention take place, allegedly involving fat sums of money in the process of teachers recruitment under the very nose of governments?

Without even any hint on these, rather maintaining a complete silence on these points, have made the above-mentioned quotes from the document not just totally baseless, even dubious. For any national education policy to operate genuinely for people’s interest, it must be pronounced unambiguously that education institutions at all levels must be given the unstinted autonomy in every concern, starting from the processes and policies on teachers and employees recruitment, administration, admission of students, academic affairs including framing of syllabus etc. These affairs cannot remain merely in the hands of such agencies, government or not, exclusively made up of bureaucrats or their nominees, which , in our present situations, remain susceptible to political interference, overlordism, corruption stemming from greed for pelf arising out of the privileged position of power.

Click HERE to download AISEC’s full document

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