Right to Education Act has not been up to the mark compared to the promises which it held

rte

By Sankalp Agarwal*

Education is often used as a parameter to measure the development of a country. It is the fundamental right of every human that makes them empowered, assists in growth and enables better decision making for them individually as well as for the nation as a whole. However, these benefits presume the existence of a sound education system.

Since children represent that segment of the population who are in the best position to make a different in the future, various steps such as the Geneva Declaration, Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been taken around the world for providing affordable and accessible education to all children so that they can attain a better life. Infact not just at the global level, initiatives have also been taken at the national level in almost all countries, with the most significant one in India being the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act.

What is RTE?

Indian Constitution was amended in 2002 to include the provision of free and compulsory education for all children in six to fourteen years of age as a Fundamental Right, which was complemented by the enactment of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act in 2009.

RTE aims to ensure the following key points:

  • Providing free and compulsory education till completion of elementary education in a neighbourhood school.
  • Reservation of at least 25 percent of seats by all private schools for children belonging to economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups.
  • Laying down the norms and standards relating regarding Pupil Teacher Ratios (PTRs), buildings and infrastructure, school-working days, teacher-working hours.
  • Specifying the duties and responsibilities of appropriate government and local authority.
  • Providing for the appointment of appropriately trained and qualified teachers.
  • No child admitted in a school is held back or exempted from school till the completion of elementary school.

Data shows that RTE has helped in increasing enrolment among girls and has reduced the overall drop-out to half. As per the last census, the literacy rate in India stands at 74% overall with that of male and female categories at 82% and 65% respectively.

4A Framework

It is the duty of the government to ensure that no individual is denied of education in the country.

4A framework lays down the following four key areas which the government should seek to ensure to provide education to its citizens:

Availability

It means that is the responsibility of the government to ensure that education is available to everyone. For this, it should ensure that there are sufficient schools as well as teachers to cater to the students.

Accessibility

The government is obliged to secure access to education for all children in the age group of 6-14 years. This can be done by focussing on the twin characteristics of free and compulsory education, as outlined in RTE Act.

Acceptability

It deals with the quality of education that is offered to the individuals. Minimum standards of health and safety, as well as qualification of teachers need to be set and enforced by the government. Also, it calls for the need to respect diversity in the student population.

Adaptability

This area is concerned with provision of education to children with special needs or belonging from special backgrounds. The student should be given opportunities to adapt and learn.

Evaluation of performance of RTE

Pratham, an NGO, releases an Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) every year that reports the findings on various parameters related to provision of education in rural areas. The below table shows interesting findings on some such parameters at 3 points in time – immediately after implementation of RTE, four years after RTE and 8 years after its implementation:

  2009-10 2013-14 2017-18
Basic Parameters
Enrolment in school in the age group of 6 to 14 years 96.5% 96.7% 97.2%
Attendance in government schools 73% 71% 72%
Children enrolled in private schools 24.3% 30.8% 30.9%
Schools complying with pupil teacher ratio norms 38.9% 49.3% 57.8%
Schools complying with classroom teacher ratio norms 76.2% 72.8% 72.9%
Infrastructure
Schools with drinking water available 72.7% 75.6% 74.8%
Schools with useable toilets 47.2% 65.2% 74.2%
Schools with library books 62.6% 78.1% 74.2%
Schools with computers 15.8% 19.6% 21.3%
Schools complying with mid-day meals being served on day of visit 84.6% 85.1% 87.1%
Learning outcomes
Reading
Children in Class 3 who were able to read a Class 2 textbook fluently 21.5% 23.6% 27.3%
Children in Class 5 who were able to read a Class 2 textbook fluently 46.9% 48% 50.5%
Children in Class 8 who were able to read a Class 2 textbook fluently 76.5% 74.7% 73%
Arithmetic
Children of Class 3 who were able to do subtraction 26.4% 25.4% 28.2%
Children of Class 5 who were able to do division 24.9% 26.1% 27.9%

A look at the table tells us that although the schooling infrastructure in rural areas has been improving continuously since implementation of RTE, there has hardly been any progress on learning outcomes. This indicates that even though investment has been made, its results are far from being actualised due to multiple constraints as have been discussed in the next section.

Problems and recommendations

Even after ten years of implementation, only 12% of the schools are RTE compliant. This is a very alarming number given the 3-4% expenditure of GDP, although not sufficient, the Government has been allocating every year for RTE. This low level of compliance as well as non-achievement of the goals of RTE been plagued by a number of causes. These have been grouped under the broad headings of pertaining to system, policy, infrastructure and societal issues, with one-to-one mapping of suggested recommendations also done to help in dealing with the problems in a more effective manner.

Systemic issues:

PROBLEM RECOMMENDATION
A big problem with the RTE Act is that it covers children only between 6 and 14 years of age, while leaving the responsibility on state governments to ensure elementary education before the age of 6 years. This problem can be addressed by increasing the gambit of RTE to cover children below 6 years and up to 18 years of age.

Rationale: Since, the responsibility rests on state governments, no concrete efforts of regulations with respect to registration of students are seen. Further, the argument behind increasing the age limit arises from the fact that when the change was proposed in the Constitution in 1995, education till 14 years was considered sufficient for a child. But in today’s world, education till 18 years of age needs to be supported so that an individual can at least complete the basic education. Owing to the current policy, the dropout rate increases dramatically from 2.8% to 13.1% when a child turns 15 years of age.

The central government has always performed under-par when it comes to spending on education sector. The problem is two-fold: the target of education budget doesn’t seem sufficient in itself (6% of GDP as was defined by Kothari Commission), and the government further spends lower (~4% of GDP) than what has been budgeted. Government should focus on spending heavily in education sector which can be achieved in a structured manner by first increasing its outlay to the already defined targeted expenditure, and then further going beyond that.

Rationale: The Kothari Commission which was formed in 1964 and whose recommendations were accommodated in National Policy on Education in 1968, suggested that minimum spend on education should be 6% of the GDP. However, more than 50 years have elapsed since then, and it will not be fair to say that the targeted outlay needs to be enhanced keeping in line with inflation and development aspirations of the country.

Further, the problem is that none of the governments has ever provided for the target outlay, that for 2019 being 4.6%. If government intends to get closer to its commitment to universalize secondary education by 2030, then it definitely needs to increase the outlay significantly and make some major investments. A point to be noted is that investment in online courses like Swayam portal, or in sports education through ‘Khelo India scheme’ etc., will not actualize unless India is able to achieve universalisation of quality education.

RTE provides for 25% of seats to be reserved in all private schools for students from weaker sections and makes state governments responsible to reimburse the costs to such schools. However, non-timely or partial reimbursements from state governments, like the case of Tamil Nadu government which is as recent as June 2019 wherein the government declared to reimburse less than 50% of the fees it was required to do. Add to this problem is the non-provision the Act for reimbursement of expenses of the uniform, socks, shoes, books, extra reading material, the transport, etc. The only possible solution to this problem is to ensure stricter enforcement on the state governments so that they cannot retract from their obligations. This can perhaps be done through incorporating penal provisions in the Act.

Rationale: In the absence of full and timely reimbursement of funds by the state governments, the private schools usually resort to either charging fees from students registered under RTE with the promise of giving back the money once the grant from government is received, or they try to cross-subsidize the cost by increasing unnecessary burden on the well-off class. In either case, it is not justified.

Further, in the absence of provision for reimbursement for allied expenses, the parents of students themselves have to bear the burden of all such things, which in some cases even leads to the child being made to drop out.

Policy-related issues:

PROBLEM RECOMMENDATION
To paint a successful picture of RTE, emphasis has largely been on enrolment of students but not on the quality of education. This point was also highlighted in the statistics given by ASER. Tests on mathematical & reading ability should be taken to evaluate the actual learnings of the students. The government can also consider introduction of a national school standard of education on the lines of some foreign countries.

Rationale: Importance of providing quality and meaningful education should not be undermined in the name of increased enrolment since development of an individual is ultimately based on the learnings rather than attendance. A national standard for education will help to standardize the curriculum on a national basis and work towards eliminating variations based on state curriculum. A uniform curriculum provides greater flexibility to teachers as well as children in terms of mobility.

No detention policy has led to decreasing motivation levels in students since they are aware of the fact that they cannot be detained. It also takes away impetus from the teachers to focus on actual quality teaching. It is advisable to permit detention to some extent so that both teachers and students are committed to the envisaged level of education. Teachers must be held accountable for the student’s learning, and not just teaching their teaching.

Rationale:  The objective of introduction of no detention policy was to stimulate a stress-free environment for the students for their holistic development, but it has actually had the wrong implications. The policy of no-detention can work only when absenteeism can be curbed, teacher-student ratio is in line with the defined figure and the teachers are highly committed and motivated. Unless such things are in place, this policy will lead to creation of individuals incompetent for work and also increase unemployment in future. Hence, introducing detention will help alleviate concerns of unemployment in future. Also, linking teachers’ assessment to students learning will be a good way to ensure commitment from the teachers.

Teacher assessment criteria in India is not up to the mark; teachers are not evaluated just on teaching, but also on other factors such as upkeep of the school, cleanliness, etc. The Act provides for teachers to take up election duties, conduct surveys, perform disaster related duties, etc. which consumes significant time. Evaluation parameters for teachers’ performance need to be changed at the earliest to ensure only those factors are considered which directly impact quality of teaching. Also, teachers should be freed from additional tasks of taking up election duties and other like roles.

Rationale: Effective systems and accountability measures need to be implemented to ensure that teachers are present in school and perform their duties responsibly, a fact also highlighted by Ms. Seema Bansal, BCG’s Social Practice lead, in one of her speeches.

Further, if teachers are relieved of the burden of election duties, then they can devote up to four times more to teaching, since 81% of their time in 2018 as per the report titled “Involvement of Teachers in Non-Teaching Activities and its Effect on Education”.

Infrastructural issues:

PROBLEM RECOMMENDATION
Although the infrastructure facilities have improved over the years, they are still far behind from being called up to the mark. Many areas still lack schools Government needs to work on improvement of infrastructure, with drinking water facilities and useable toilets for girls being on priority. Also, small primary schools (enrolment less than 60) need to be increased.

Rationale: Unavailability of drinking water and useable toilets for girls are often cited as reasons for student dropouts since these are the basic facilities that should be present at every place, the current ratios being 74% and 66% respectively.

To increase penetration in areas where currently there is no school, small schools should be opened to ensure that no child remains devoid of education. Although the percentage has improved over the years, it is still at 43% and has ample scope to be improved.

Another problem which has marred RTE is the insufficient number of teachers available to achieve the results; 10.1 lakhs post are still vacant. The problem of unavailability of sufficient teachers can partly be attributed to the lower pay offered to them. Steps should be taken to make teaching profession attractive, which can be in the form of direct monetary benefits like increased pay or indirect benefits such as investment in teacher training programmes. Availability of proper infrastructure like drinking water, toilets will also help in attracting teachers.

Rationale: Lack of teachers affect pupil-teacher ratio mandated by RTE which in turn affects the quality of teaching as one teacher has to teach a large number of students owing to unavailability of others. Infact, surveys have indicated that in some schools as high as 25 percent of the teachers are absent at any time and 50 percent of those present are not engaged in any teaching activity. If teaching can be made lucrative and investment is made in training programs of teachers, then more and qualified teachers will be attracted, on the similar lines as the private sector schools.

Societal issues:

PROBLEM RECOMMENDATION
Non-fulfilment of basic needs such as food, shelter, etc. because of families being engulfed in the vicious circle of poverty and unemployment. As part of a bigger picture, government needs to take initiative to eliminate the long-standing problems of poverty and unemployment.

Rationale: Since families are unable to break the shackles of pertinent social issues and manage to earn barely for daily sustenance, it becomes really difficult to convince them of the brighter picture which awaits them post education. Unless their social status is improved, they will always prefer having their kids assist them with farm or household chores rather than obtain education.

Even though the Act provides for 25% of seats in private schools to be reserved for students from economically weaker sections (EWS) of the society, this sometimes leads to the problem of social status difference and defeats the purpose of the Act. negative consequences as the students start feeling inferiority complex or are discriminated by teachers and others students. Government should make adequate arrangements to ensure that discrimination does not take place in schools while also emphasizing the importance of education for all to the teachers as well as parents of EWS students. Another thought can be to enforce the provisions on private schools through having separate schools for EWS students.

Rationale: Since children from well-off families as well as economically weaker sections attend school together, eventually the latter start feeling inferiority complex because of the difference in the social status of the two groups. This coupled with discrimination by teachers makes things worse as it demotivates such children to continue their studies further.

Also, separate school for EWS students continue to maintain the gap between the rich and the poor, but will definitely help get rid of the problem of inferiority complex amongst the students.

Issues such as child marriage, child labour and gender discrimination play a negative role in increase of education levels. As part of the measures taken for the society as a whole, social practices such as child marriage and social labour should be abolished and appropriate action should be taken in case of violation. Gender-based discrimination should also be discouraged to promote equality between males and females.

Rationale: If concrete steps are taken to address child marriage and child labour effectively, then it will be easier to convince parents to send their children to schools. Further elimination of gender-based discrimination will address the problem of low girl-enrolment and help in promoting equality.

 

Conclusion

It has been ten years since the implementation of RTE Act, but it can be seen that it still has a long way to go to be called successful in its purpose. Even though progress has been made on most of the fronts, there have been many challenges that have worked to negatively affect it. RTE Act has not been up to the mark compared to the promises which it held. The government needs to play a greater role by creating the atmosphere and providing monetary support so that drastic measures can be taken for improvement of child education, and accordingly, create a better future for the individuals as well as the nation as a whole.

*Final year student at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, having keen interest in education sector

References

  • ASER Centre, 2011
  • ASER Centre, 2015
  • ASER Centre, 2019
  • KPMG, 2016
  • 2011 Census of India, n.d.
  • Kothari Commission, n.d.
  • Kumar, 2019
  • Damotharan, 2019
  • Manas Mitul, 2018

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s