“We were asked to massage a teacher’s legs. If we refused, he used to beat us. There was a toilet for teachers, which is the one we had to clean.” – Naresh, a 12-year-old Dalit boy, Bihar.
“My mother told me not to go to school. She said ‘There is no one to take care of the goats so you take care of them.’ After my parents bought a goat, I dropped out to look after it. Now we have nine goats. I never liked going to school. I can’t read or write. I told my parents I don’t want to go to school and they said okay. I couldn’t learn despite studying hard.” – Rani, 10-year-old girl, Andhra Pradesh.
“I didn’t go to school even one day. My brother said it’s too far, and asked me not to go. No one came from the school ever to check upon me. Other children from the neighbourhood who went to the special school with me were also enrolled in that regular upper primary school but they never attended either.” – Shaheen, 13-year-old, Sari Weaving Muslim girl, Uttar Pradesh.
All of them have two things in common.
They were all admitted to elementary schools under the Right to Education Act, 2009 passed by the Parliament.
And, they are all dropouts. The Right to Education Act was passed in 2009 to combat illiteracy and disparity in the Indian education system. The objective of the Act is to ensure that all children between the ages of 6 and 14 are provided free and compulsory primary education.
The Act has worked in terms of enrolment/admittance of students. Enrolment percent in elementary schools has been recorded to be as high as 96%. Yet, according to UNICEF, 80 million children out of the 200 million odd admitted in elementary schools are likely to drop out. That’s right. 40 percent of the children between the ages of 6 and 14 would not even complete their elementary education.
According to this infographic, dalits, tribal minorities and adolescent girls are much more likely to drop out of school. For a nation that strives for aggressive development, we don’t seem to care much about our young, especially the deprived young, comprising of dalits, tribals, minorities and adolescent girls.
Naresh was made to massage the teacher’s legs and wash the teachers’ toilet. Because he is a Dalit.
Rani dropped out of school to help support her family.
No one from Shaheen’s school bothered to check on her even when she did not attend class for a single day.
All of them are the deprived young. And all of them a part of the staggering 80 million children estimated to drop out of the elementary school program.
The RTE is a well thought out, carefully prepared, solid piece of legislature, on paper. Why do we still have as many children as the entire population of Germany dropping out of primary schools? The answer lies in failure in implementation of the said Act. Here are a few instances as to what the Act prescribes as opposed to ground reality.
According to RTE
Schools are supposed to keep an adequate check on the attendance of each student. If a student is irregular in class, it is the duty of the teacher or the headmaster to ensure that they go and talk to the parents of these children about sending them to school regularly.
However, different states have different definitions of regular attendance. For instance, Andhra Pradesh deems three months of continuous absence as the child dropping out, as per the guidelines laid down by the Centre. Karnataka on the other hand, has a range of 7 days to 60 days to deem a child as having dropped out. This disparity makes the overall picture unclear. Some headmasters even admit to inflating the attendance figures in the wake of pressure from Ministry officials to present a favourable report.
Mid Day Meal Scheme
According to RTE
Mid day meal scheme was thought to be a great incentive to ensure regular attendance. The idea to provide one square meal to a child if he/she attends school was seen as a masterstroke when it was put into action. It also accounts for over 30% of the total expenditure allocated to RTE.
Only 60 percent of children receive mid day meals on any given day. It is also noted that, more often than not, on checking the school register, the figure of the number of meals is often inflated and the number of meals served often exceeds the number of children who attended class on that particular day.
Fair Treatment and Access to Education
According to RTE
All children enrolled under the said act are to be treated equally and fairly. No distinction in the quality of education imparted to the students must be made on basis of the caste, religion or gender of the students. The Act empowers every child, irrespective of their social background, with the right to be educated free from all encumbrances.
Discrimination is one of the strongest reasons as to why children drop out. Be it marrying off the girls at an early age, or not paying attention to dalits and minorities, or even humiliating them in front of the entire class for belonging to the minority, the fabric of patriarchy and caste influences all aspects of life, education included. The teachers, who play a big role in moulding the way a child’s thought process, are also not free from this bias and often provoke and punish students on the basis of their societal standing.
Naresh, Javed (link to Muslim article), Rani, Shaheen and the Ghasiya (Link to Dalit article) children, among many million others have either dropped out, or are at the brink of dropping out of their elementary education program. A major chunk of these children would eventually fend for themselves, or support their families, thereby becoming a bunch of statistics in a graph measuring child labour in the nation.
For them to not get swallowed up by this great social evil, RTE must be implemented much more stringently and effectively, in a prompt and fastidious manner.
Or else, what is the use of an Act that is just a paper tiger with papier-mâché fangs?