RTE Amendment Bill 2017 penalizes poor students for system’s failure to provide quality education

manifestoExcerpts from “A Public Manifesto For The Education Of India’s Children”, prepared  by India’s three major civil society networks, Right to Education Forum, Campaign against  Child Labour and Alliance for the Right to Early Childhood Development:    

In 2017, India only spent 2.7% of its GDP on education. Current per child expenditures in educationally lagging poorer states continue to fall short of the expenditure needed to ensure adherence to the RTE norms; Bihar spends only 30% of what is required to implement the Act in totality. This drives down the quality of its education. Financing to states for education need to be equitable, timely, commensurate with the current financial requirements to ensure RTE Implementation.

The central share to education funding has declined which has particularly affected educationally lagging, populous and low income states. The GOI-state fund-sharing ratio for SSA was revised in October 2015, to 60:40 (previously 65:35). Thus, in FY 2017-18 the funds requested by PAB of SSA was at INR 55,000 crore, the Government of India (GOI) SSA budget for the year was INR 23,500 crore. The release made by the central government as the percentage of the PAB approved Central share has reduced from 79.7 percent in 2013-14 to just 42.7 percent in 2017-18.

The central government explains that the reduction of central investment on education is the result of great devolution of to the States. However, recent research suggests that expenditure on education from the States has not increased to pick up the slack. Expenditure on school education has not increased, with the centre withdrawing from its responsibility. Models of funding education based on regressive taxation like the Education Cess, need to be phased out with the funding for education instead coming from core government revenues.

Despite the RTE Act providing for all schools to attain all norms in a time bound fashion, the rate of compliance of schools with the norms and provisions of the RTE Act is at abysmal of 12.7%. Indeed, classroom conditions have deteriorated from 2013 to 2016. According to latest UDISE 2016-17 data, percentage of government elementary school classrooms in good condition have declined from 75.3 to 73.2. Only 57.97 % of the Government Management Schools were electrified.

The proportion of funds spent out of total approved budgets under SSA also fell from 84 percent in FY 2013-14 to 66 percent in FY 2016-17. In FY 2017-18, until 30 June 2017, INR 7157 crore, equivalent to just 9 percent of the approved budget was spent. This chronic problem is the result of a small but serious problems that have not been adequately addressed till date. The RTE Act provides for a school management committee (SMC) in elementary schools (sections 21-22) to provide parents a voice in decision making in how their schools are run. However, in FY 2016-17, only 48.8 % ( i.e. 4,81, 980) of schools constituted SMCs and had more than 9 meetings during last academic year.

Total of 3,91,760 schools in FY 2016-17 did not have SMCs to begin with. While similar structures exist in secondary schools, they lack the same powers that SMCs have. Similar structures are needed for preschool and ECCE centres. While there is a provision for Anganwadi level Monitoring & Support Committees, it fails to provide for majority of representation of the community or recognize the role of the community in planning.

At the same time, there has not been a corresponding focus on the role of the Local Authority, the Panchayati Raj institutions. There has not been a focus on building their capacities to enable them to take on the extensive role expected. Discrimination, harassment and violence against children from socially excluded and marginalized communities and girls has continued even as the RTE (section 17) and RPWD Acts categorically mandate that no child should be discriminated.  Thus, Valmiki children still face discrimination where, they are made to sit separately, not allowed to touch water pots and humiliat- ed by addressing them by their caste name and attributes.

Unequal education systems create unequal lifelong opportunities for India’s children. This in turn creates an unequal society and results in wasted potential on innumerable children who lack access to good quality opportunities in childhood. The government runs Kendriya Vidyalaya schools for central government employees, especially those in transferable jobs. Costs per child incurred in KVs in roughly 27,000 INR per child; this contrasts with an annual average of only 3,000 Rs per student across India 7 . This discriminatory funding gap needs to be closed to ensure all of India’s children have the same opportunities.

Crimes against children have also increased from 89,423 in 2014 to 1,06,958 in 2016. At the same time, the specific barriers to accessing quality education experienced by marginalized social groups and Children With Disabilities require urgent action. Sections 8 C and 9 C of the RTE Act also talk about the role of the schools and local authorities to address discrimination. Worldwide whenever surveys are done of what matters to citizens — education emerges as one of the top priorities . It is the responsibility of their elected peoples’ representatives to work to ensure that these aspirations are not betrayed. The RTE Act in its current form seeks the fundamental right to education of 250 million children.

Every child up to 18 years, as per UNCRC Declaration of which India is also a signatory, must be protected from any form of child labour. The SDG Target 8.7 also states ending child labour in all forms by 2025. Allowing children to work risk violating these children’s right to education. It affects the retention rate of children in schools and increases dropouts of children from marginalized sections. Given the absence of monitoring mechanisms, it provides loopholes to put children to work even during school hours.

It also prevents children from getting time for play and leisure recognized by the UNCRC, ratified by India and prevents them from doing homework. Study conducted by V. V. Giri National Labour Institute shows that the enforcement of Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986 was very poor. The punishment of employers in the past 30 years has been negligible. The punishment clause to the parents will only help labour Inspectors to inflate statistics of punishment, by punishing the parents for their poverty. Social Security measures should be extended to families of child labourers, rather than sending them to jail, which in turn will increase child labour.

The Child Labour Act provides for rehabilitation of children and adolescent victims. It provides for setting up of the Child and Adolescent Labour Rehabilitation Fund in which all the amounts of penalty have to be realised. There is no Child Labour Free District in India, though claimed so by some of the State Governments. Peren District in Nagaland has the highest percentage of child labourers (37.38%) and Thrissur District in Kerala has the lowest percentage of child labourers (0.73%). Hence, the Fund should be constituted in all Districts.

The Act if amended will be a critical step to ensuring the future of the entire 41% of India’s population that is under 18 years of age. It will extend the right to another 163 million that are under six and another hundred million that are above the age of 14. Therefore, the government (and its elected representatives) should take its implementation with the seriousness it deserves. While we seek an individual commitment, ensuring delivery of education is a fundamental responsibility of the State. Specific responsibilities of different levels of government for Elementary education have been laid down under sections 8 & 9 of the RTE Act. These responsibilities must then be extended to ECCE and Secondary education as well if the right is extended to these age groups.

The last few years have seen a sharp increase in the number of private schools as well as in the number of students en- rolled in them. While government schools increased in numbers by less than 2%, private schools went up by 24.28%. While enrolment in public schools declined by 8.5%, it increased by 24.42% in private schools 12 . Simultaneously, efforts have been made to hand over government schools to private parties in PPP mode (eg. In Rajasthan).

The situation is no different for ECCE pro- vision where the non-state sector forms the second largest form of provision (after the ICDS). However, unlike school educa- tion, no binding regulations exist for these providers. This puts children’s education, health and well-being at risk by placing India’s youngest children in a totally unreg- ulated sector. Even in school education, however, a large number of schools continue to run without a certificate of recognition.

Thus, CBSE has recently had to reiterate that “It has come to the notice of the board that schools are showing a lax attitude towards the provisions contained in the RTE Act and its rules regarding academic betterment as well as the safety and security of the students. In many of the states, schools are functioning even though they have not obtained any recognition certificate from their respective state education departments.

Punitive measures and incidents of closure or nationalization of schools or ECCE Centres that fail to adhere to norms have been few. Several states have dedicated legislations on the regulation of private schools, especially fees; these largely fail to consider the specific needs of the youngest children. However, adherence to the same has been problematic. This affects poor and middle class families alike. An Assocham survey shows that 65% of parents spend more than half of their take-home pay on their children’s education and extra-curricular activities.

Parental spending on a single child’s education has gone up from Rs 35,000 in 2005 to over 94,000 in 2011. Section 23 of the RTE Act provides for an end to capitation fees and prohibits screening at the time of admission. Experience suggests that these provisions contin- ue to be violated. At the same time, while There is a need to extend the RTE Act to cover early childhood care and education and secondary and senior secondary education in line with existing SDG commitments to deliver a minimum of 12 years of free and compulsory education.

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, NCPCR, is tasked as the apex body for grievance redress under the RTE Act (sections 31-34). However, a large number of these positons are vacant. However, an uninterrupted chain of grievance redress is needed to ensure complaints on violations are reported, investigated in a timely fashion and redressed. This entails strengthening mechanisms of redress at the school/ECCE Centre and administrative levels, apart from strengthening the functioning of the commissions.

The decision to roll back NDP policy through the RTE Second Amendment Bill 2017 effectively penalizes students for the system’s failure to provide quality education to India’s poor children and is discriminatory to marginalized communities risking increased drop out and increase the number of children out of school 25 . It also ignores the existing Supreme Court verdict on the issue (that has upheld No Detention), has the potential to damage the internal coherence of the RTE Act, and is retrogressive with respect to India’s international obligations on the Right to Education.

As per media reports, the centre is contemplating location-specific merger of  about 2,60,000 small government schools  as part of its rationalization process to  “enhance efficiency” 16 . The school mergers  and closures have resulted in increasing the  number of drop-outs, especially children  from marginalized communities and girls,  due to reasons such as increased distance to  school, location of the new schools (often in  upper caste areas where children from lower  castes feel threatened), lack of transport  facilities and safety issues (highway on the  way to school) among others. 17 The closure/  merger policy is also a contravention of the  fundamental spirit behind the section 6 of  the RTE Act, as well as Section 3 (1). In many  states, merged schools are far beyond the 1  KM radius of the closed school. This subverts  the accountability of state to ensure schools  within 1 km radius.

Download full report HERE

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