Has The RTE Act Done Any Good At All? These Videos Show The Shocking Reality

By Rajkanya Mahapatra:

Have you ever seen a long story cut short? Cut so short that it can tell you all you need to know in two minutes? Well, I have and you need to enlighten yourself too.

This video titled ‘Pass Ya Fail?’ Right to Education in India’ – A Video Volunteers Initiative, tells you, like it told me, straight from the kids if the ‘progressive’ Right To Education Act has done more good or any good at all to help these children learn.

The Right to Education Act was envisioned when the Constitution was being constructed but it became a Fundamental right only in 2002, when the Indian Constitution was amended for the 86th time and Article 21(A) became a reality. It was the consequent legislation in 2009 that was passed and came into effect from April 1, 2010 that guaranteed free and compulsory education for all the children in the country who were between the ages of 6-14.

The act ensures admission of children into schools and their fees being paid by the government. Everything from uniforms to textbooks and transportation shall be paid for and looked after by the government. The schools (both government and some private) that are under the RTE Act are supposed to have safe and adequate drinking water facilities for all children, separate toilets for boys and girls, properly trained teachers and a kitchen that would cook mid-day meals. The schools should also be an all-weather building that should be functional during heavy rains and extreme summers/winters.

It might come as a surprise to you, when I tell you that 19% of all the children in the world are in India, also 8 million of them are out of school. The vision behind the act is really noble but having said that we cannot ignore what really happened after those noble thoughts were put into action. The RTE Act crossed a major deadline on April 1, 2013, three years after its implementation, the situation is really grim, where children belonging to disadvantaged communities still have to face discrimination and teachers are inadequate in number and children belonging to two different grades sit and study together, lack of toilets and inedible or insect manifested food are served as meals. Absenteeism has increased too.

There are several problems that need to be paid attention to, enrolment figures in various surveys are high whereas the number of kids who actually attend school on a regular basis and actually learn something is low. According to the ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) 2012, 46.8% children belonging to grade 5 could only read a standard II level text, 24.8% children could do a simple division problem and only 22.5% children could read basic English sentences. These are all India figures, regional variations are high and for some states, the results are extremely upsetting.

The Right To Education Act and the elementary education system has a rather faulty assumption when it thinks that children would enter the elementary education system at the age of 8 and would gradually progress every year to a higher standard and thus would complete 8 years of their primary education. This assumption contradicts the actual picture, when in practice in a country like India, children do not necessarily begin grade 1 at an appropriate age, nor do they systematically progress up the ladder one year at a time. At the all-India level, the age variation in each class is substantial. ASER data shows that large proportions of children currently in school are over age even in grade 1. In 2012, only half of all the children in enrolled in grade 4 in government schools were eight or nine years old.

This in turn aggravates the problems of the teachers who are unfortunately very small in number. Teachers have to teach a diverse class room which has 8 and 9 years old who have different skill sets and thought patterns and an absolutely different level of learning ability in contrast to their bigger peers, who are numbered in the class and are ignored. It is an easier job for the teacher to teach a homogenous group of children, it requires less skill and effort especially when teacher – pupil ratios in some schools are 60:1. There are schools wherein 2 teachers are teaching as many as 188 students!

Watch this video to know some more about the situation:

The Act also aims at providing the means for education (like buildings, facilities, teachers etc.) than particularly achieving educational benchmarks. Important markers of what makes a school under the RTE Act are access to safe and adequate drinking water, separate toilets for both boys and girls and one teacher per class room, a playground, an office for the head teacher etc.

What matters the most now are the levels of sanitation and hygiene that is observed in the schools. 35.1% of schools had toilets but they weren’t usable. 21.3% has no provision for separate toilets for girls and boys and 16.6% schools had no facility for drinking water. 23.9% schools had no library but 61.1% schools did have a playground.

The numbers talk a lot, but they do have nice things to say too, 84.4% schools served the mid-day meals, 48.2% schools have proper and functioning toilets for girls and 73% schools had available drinking water. Due to proper implementation of the act in Kerala, where there are 36 lakh students and 1.5 lakhs teachers, the pupil-teacher ratio becomes 21:1 in that case, which is really good.

The RTE Act has achieved quite a few things too which would tell us that all has not gone into vain, there have been promising developments starting from the government’s budget for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the main vehicle for RTE’s implementation has nearly doubled from Rs.12, 825 crores in 2009-10 to Rs.27, 258 crore in 2013-14. 3.5 lakh schools have opened up in the last decade and 99% of India’s rural population now has a primary school within a one kilometre radius.

Issues related to the 25% reservation of seats for children from disadvantaged backgrounds in private schools, instances of corporal punishment, non-chalant attitude of the teachers and high drop-out rates in schools in rural areas where the parents withdraw the children out from schools so that they can help them work in fields. Several questions have been raised on mid-day meals, on how they are cooked and their quality. Cases of discrimination on the basis of caste is also prevalent in schools in rural areas. All these factors contribute a lot into hindering the progress and the targets that the act wants to achieve.

As prospective voters of the next election in 2014 and the power vested in us to question policies and demanding to modify or rectify them, when it comes to this particular act which is a source of absolute pride for the country, it all comes down to our perspective and our willingness to do something, to change what is not right and what is not working. The Video Volunteers initiative of checking up on how the act has been implemented so far, is an inspiring example. We can only move ahead when we take both the bad and good into consideration. While the list of grievances and complaints are endless, good things are also happening, although insignificant, but it is important to know both sides of the coin and decide for oneself.

On 14th November 2013, Video Volunteers launched a video audit, “Pass Ya Fail”, that documents the ground reality of the functioning of the Right to Education Act. 206 trained community correspondents, using digital video cameras, will document the problems their communities face trying to get access to proper education facilities. These videos will form the base of the campaign “Pass Ya Fail”, an audit of achievements and shortcomings of the RTE Act. In the first phase of the project, 100 videos from 100 districts from across India, will be produced. Community Correspondents will bring information from hundreds of schools interviewing more than 100 teachers — and of course, numerous parents and children — seeing how these schools measure up to the thirteen key provisions guaranteed by this Act.

Through this video audit, Video Volunteers will raise the issues and concerns on the ground backed by visual evidence with the hope that in the course of the year long campaign, organisations working on education and the government itself will take note of these and ensure that the RTE Act, as envisioned is actually implemented.

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