By Aparna Wanchoo:
India became one of the 135 countries to make education a fundamental right of every child when the act came into force on 1 April 2010. The unprecedented move of this landmark law being enacted was seen as one that could, if implemented rightly, solve major issues concerning the education of the underprivileged. But it faced some conventional complications of implementation and some fundamental flaws, which restricted the law from yielding maximum advantage.
The title of the RTE Act incorporates the words ‘free and compulsory’. ‘Free education’ means that no child, other than a child who has been admitted by his or her parents to a school which is not supported by the appropriate Government, shall be liable to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing elementary education.
‘Compulsory education’ casts an obligation on the appropriate Government and local authorities to provide and ensure admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by all children in the 6-14 age groups. With this, India has moved forward to a rights based framework that casts a legal obligation on the Central and State Governments to implement this fundamental child right as enshrined in the Article 21A of the Constitution, in accordance with the provisions of the RTE Act.
Notwithstanding the above stated provisions, some main drawbacks of the law can be enlisted as follows:
– Quality of education: The quality of education provided by the government system is not good. While it remains the largest provider of elementary education in the country, forming 80% of all recognized schools, it suffers from shortages of teachers, infrastructural gaps and several habitations continue to lack schools altogether. There are also frequent allegations of government schools being riddled with absenteeism and mismanagement and appointments are based on political convenience. Despite the allure of free lunch-food in the government schools, many parents send their children to private schools.
– Unrecognized schools:Â It is apparent that in the HRD Ministry’s view, unrecognized schools are an unmitigated evil. It is estimated that out of 12 lakh schools in the country today, almost a fifth are unrecognized. What the government seems to have forgotten is that these schools have been filling in for the non-existent government schools. The rush for admission to unrecognized schools is due to the fact that standards in government schools are dismal. The reality is that we have good and bad unrecognized schools. A comprehensive study of unrecognized schools in Kerala some years ago concluded that, in general, children received a good education from well-qualified teachers, the only criticism being that the teachers were not adequately paid. What the RTE Act has done is to put all unrecognized institutions, the good and the bad, under threat of closure. Today, between 35 million to 60 million children are not in schools. If the number of schools comes down, as it certainly will, due to closure of schools that do not comply with the stringent infrastructure standards, the nation’s goal of ensuring universal literacy would suffer a massive setback. The RTE Act formulations are based on the unrealistic and absurd premise that recognized schools would not only be able to accommodate the students from schools that close down but also have room for new entrants.
– Likelihood of corruption: Finally, a deeply disturbing aspect highlighted by many school managements is that the RTE Act, by giving absolute power to the Education Department and local bodies to make or mar schools, will become the ideal tool for large-scale, systemic corruption. Even when there was no specific law against unrecognized institutions, the ubiquitous school inspectors had to be “appeased” despite the school doing nothing illegal. Now with the RTE Act in force, the inspectors will have a free rein to force school authorities to do their bidding – a grim portent for the future. It is not difficult to foresee a large number of undeserving schools getting recognition and a good number of meritorious schools shutting down.
– Education after elementary stage: While there is no denying the self-evident truth that a poor child is entitled to the same opportunities as a rich one, it is worrying that the authors of the Act have not visualized or catered for the long-term consequences of this revolutionary diktat. The first big unanswered question relates to the fate of children from the weaker sections after they complete their free elementary education in the elite schools, where the tuition fee would be more than the annual income of their parents. Predictably, these children will have to leave these schools and slip back to schools of questionable standards, which are bound to be psychologically traumatic.
– Teachers: Teachers are the cornerstone of good quality education and need to be paid market-driven compensation. But the government has gone too far by requiring high teacher salaries averaging close to Rs. 20,000 per month. These wages are clearly out of line, when compared with the market wage of a teacher, for most schools in most locations in the country. A better mechanism would have involved schools being allowed to design their own teacher salary packages and having autonomy to manage teachers. A major problem in India is the lack of incentive faced by teachers either in terms of carrot or stick. In the RTE Act, proper disciplinary channels for teachers have not been defined. Such disciplinary action is a must given that an average of 25 percent teachers are absent from schools at any given point and almost half of those who are present are not engaged in teaching activity. School Management Committees need to be given this power to allow speedy disciplinary action at the local level. Performance based pay scales need to be considered as a way to improve teaching.
The above stated points can be viewed as some of the prime shortcomings in the much important Right to Education act.