ByÂ Aditi Thakker:
The Right to Education (RTE) Act passed in 2009 brought India in line with over 100 countries around the world that provide free and compulsory education to children. However, is the RTE seeking to create only a partially literate population, or a genuinely educated and employable one? The idea of RTE is noble, that every child between the ages of 6-14 should receive free and compulsory education; however the provisions in the Act contain enough loopholes for exploitation.
The Act prescribes that every child has the right and obligation to go to school. However, is it logical to have the no holding back (failing) policy, no board examination policy and the policy of admitting children into class not according to academic standard but according to age? In a country with a burgeoning population, having policies that merely assist in inflating the literacy rate rather than educating the population can be dangerous. Should the Right to Education be called just the Right to go to School instead?
The fact that now education is free and compulsory for every child is good news for many, but not at the cost of its quality. The RTE and its application so far implicitly emphasise quantity over quality. Regulating dropout rates is essential, agreed. But to have no way of assessing a child’s knowledge and mandatorily having to pass them to a higher class, knowing that they are not competent enough to study in a higher class is a recipe for disaster. Why is the Act only concerned with retaining children in school and not about checking if these children are actually learning anything during their time in school? The Act’s no fail policy has clearly failed. The students are no longer as serious about learning, because they know they will pass anyway.
The lack of examinations and subsequently that of healthy internal academic competition may deprive students of essential incentives to study hard and actually learn. Whether you study or not, attend school or not, you will pass on to the next class. These provisions are not doing much more than institutionalising activities that were rampant anyway. Those who want to go to school and study will keep doing so, unless they are disillusioned by the fact that some of their classmates pass on to the next class without lifting a finger; while the ones who are not interested in studying will just enroll for the ‘aathvi pass’ label. I do not advocate expelling children who fail to meet minimum standards from schools. However, if some of them do need to retake a year in order to be academic equivalents of their peers, it should not be mandatory to promote them regardless of their academic standing. This just means additional pressure on teachers, and the possibility of a decline in their teaching standards.
In addition to other ludicrous policies, the RTE fails to ensure attendance in schools. One interpretation of the current provisions could be that a child may enrol in school at the age of 6, not attend class, not worry about examinations or the prospect of failure, enrol in the next class the following year and repeat the same pattern until he or she is enrolled in Class VIII. We now have a child that circumstantially or willingly, hardly ever attended school or studied, but has passed Class VIII and forms a part of the country’s literate population. Without any substantial attendance or exams, and possibly without much knowledge gained, a piece of paper will declare them educated. How is the future of such a child going to be much different than one who did not go to school at all? A certificate doesn’t help if the child is lacking evidence of skills and knowledge to gain employment.
Making education accessible to all children in India is a first step; however the act requires several amendments addressing the no fail policy and no examination policy, to check literacy inflation. On a more practical thought, the government needs to ensure that a standard level of teaching is met all over the country. Merely passing laws is not going to do the job, until the situation on the ground changes.