By Krishangi Singh:
As a graduate student, my life is nestled around Delhi University, one of the major educational destinations around the country. Students from all walks of life come here to get the best higher education, and to make something of themselves. Yet, one walk down the busy streets of near-by markets and you can spot dozens of young children trying to coax you into buying stickers or bookmarks. They understand nothing about a formal education. They are illiterate and have never set foot inside a school.
Conveniently, people come and go from here with their fancy degrees, but no one pays attention to providing basic education for these children.
So why aren’t they being educated under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act), you may ask? As the name describes, it entitles all Indian children to a free and child-friendly education without any exception. With such an elaborate plan in place to educate all the children of the country and a special act to support it, where is it that we have lacked in these five years?
As the deadline for the complete implementation of the Act comes to an end, there is a need to evaluate how far the implementation has come since its’ inception 5 years back. The Act has a time-bound structure to ensure swift implementation and timely reviews. The first three years, since 2010, were dedicated to establishment of neighbourhood schools with infrastructure, maintaining pupil teacher ratio and facilities mandated under the schedule in the Act. It also allots five years for recruitment and training of teachers.
The three-year phase of the Act has already ended and the five-year plan ends in the upcoming year. But statistics indicate that the country has reached nowhere near its proposed target.
Around 37% primary schools have a pupil teacher ratio adverse to the national norm of 1:30. The share of untrained teachers has actually increased, as 5 lakh sanctioned teacher posts remain vacant and 6.6 lakh in-service teachers are untrained. Contract teachers with low salary are still being recruited instead of regular and trained teachers even after prohibitory provision made in the Act, which is bound to affect quality of education.
One can easily imagine the reduced quality of education when one teacher is asked to monitor close to 30 students and in many cases, asked to teach subjects he/she does not have any qualification in. It is like asking a chef to cook desserts for an entire party without any help, when he/she actually specializes in salads.
Thus even as we see an improvement in this area when counting numbers, the quality of education has not improved as drastically as expected after RTE. Infrastructure is again a major hindrance when we discuss the loopholes. DISE report 2012-13 claims that merely 8.28% of total schools fit in for the basic ten parameters of school infrastructure.
It is not difficult to imagine how many students must end up dropping out because the schools have no place for them to sit, play or learn. Unavailability of toilets is again a menace that makes students refrain from attending school.
In terms of social inclusion of children from minorities such as Dalits, Muslims and Adivasis, the girl drop-out rate is significantly high. Only 44% of the target for training out of school children was achieved in 2013-14.
The statistics clearly reveal that there has been some improvement, but certainly, there is a long way to go. If 66% of drop out children are still to be reached, it’s a cause to review the manner in which the Act is being implemented. Even if a single child is left without education, it is a cause to review the implementation of the Act at large.
On paper, the Act contains a very inclusive approach to ensure education for children from all parts of the society. It also provides various government bodies with pathways to lead towards ensuring education to all, across social and economic barriers. Here, we get an opportunity to evaluate how to approach the section of students still left untouched by the light of education. We need to ensure that no more children sell tit-bits on roads to find two square meals when they should be at school learning what a square is.
This is why we need to talk about RTE and talk about it till everyone knows how much ground is left to be covered.