The Government of India enforced the Right to Free and Compulsory Education for children on April 1, 2010 through the Right to Education (RTE) Act, which required that all children between the ages of 6 — 14 years must have the right to free and compulsory elementary education at a neighbourhood school. The act was aimed at underprivileged families and disadvantaged communities, who may not have equal opportunities while getting admission.
When we see our own schools and others ensuring that 25% of students are admitted from disadvantaged backgrounds we assume that the RTE act is running efficiently and the schools are flawlessly providing quality education to all their students. It was only until I started an analysis as part of my internship with Oxfam and read the “Model Rules” of the RTE, that I realised there was much more to this right than just admitting 25% of students from a disadvantaged background into private schools. It was then that I discovered the difference between the right to schooling and the right to learning. The involvement of the family and community in child friendly education, establishment and proper training of School Management Committees (SMCs), training of teachers, curriculum and completion of elementary education and various infrastructural requirements are stated in the Model Rules, to ensure that all schools, specially the government ones, are run properly. I understood then that only when a combination of all the stated Model Rules are implemented that the Act could be seen to be properly enforced.
When I first started my analysis of the immense excel sheet covering more than fifty different aspects for each school, I began to break it up to do a state-wise analysis to see whether the rules were being implemented. In some states, such as Bihar, clear trends were visible. In terms of exterior, external infrastructure and easily observable factors such as distance of schools, the schools in the observed data sets were in high if not complete compliance with the Model Rules. For example, all schools abided by the ‘distance of school within 1 and 3 kilometre’ rule. It would seem as if Bihar is the model state! However, a look at the internal infrastructure such as percentage of schools having all the prescribed facilities of toilets, drinking water and others, level of teacher learning material, teacher training and SMC requirements, revealed that Bihar was far from being a model state. Similar cases were prevalent in the schools of other states as well. Schools are therefore focusing on what is visible and can be easily monitored, but not on what is not so easily visible or monitored.
If people thought that filling the 25% quota for the “disadvantaged communities” was enough, they are under a serious misconception. In terms of teacher training, the highest percentage of schools where teachers are trained on all aspects (such as inclusion, RTE, SMCs, CCE etc.) is 42% in Chhattisgarh. Most other states have a below-10% level of teacher training which is truly appalling. In spite of the policy of liberalisation in India, it is only in a very small percentage of schools where every student has access to textbooks, notebooks and stationary. There still exist cases of discrimination and corporal punishment in some schools which should be completely eradicated.
Doing this analysis and seeing whether or not ALL rules were indeed being properly implemented was a big eye opener. Right to Education is really just a Right to School as of now. The Annual Status of Education Report by the organisation Pratham states that most children of class five are unable to read or write or perform simple arithmetic for their level, a truly shocking discovery. This shows that just the presence of buildings, and schools showing that they abide by a certain number of the RTE rules is inadequate because real education is not being provided. Real learning is not taking place because it is not just the result of the presence of a school, but by what is taking place inside. What happens inside the school is determined by the quality of teachers, the availability of learning material, the availability of water and sanitation and other such factors. The RTE, although brilliant on paper or when spoken about, still has a lot of work left to be done regarding its implementation. The growth and development of India is meaningless when basic education is not being provided to all.