By Abhishek Jha:
When we were in school, changing the world or improving its working was the last thing on our minds. The big worry then was – “will I pass in the Mathematics exam? and who will be the captain of the cricket team?”
Things have dramatically changed in the last decade or so. It is encouraging to see that students from 155 school cabinets in Odisha will be sending a resolution to the state Chief Minister, asking him to make their schools RTE compliant. Children taking charge of their education needs and identifying the problems, show the direction in which education should have gone and did not with the RTE act. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, which came into effect in April 2010, made education free in schools making it obligatory on the part of the appropriate government and authorities to provide and ensure admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by all children in the 6-14 age group.
However, the recent budget cut from Rs 27,758 crore to Rs 22,000 crore in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and from Rs 13,215 crore to Rs 9,236 crore in the mid-day meal scheme, highlight the glaring reality of how seriously children’s right to receive education is being taken.
It is no surprise then, that currently only 8% of all schools fulfil the criteria of RTE. A hasty attempt at fulfilling the pupil-teacher ratio mandated by the RTE has meant that a large number of under-qualified contract teachers have been roped in without serious attempts being made to train regular teachers.
This failure in implementation is what the students in Odisha have joined hands against. The problems that they list range from unavailability of drinking water to lack of teachers to need for exposure visits. And that children between six and fourteen were able to understand that these problems needed to be fixed, and needed a novel approach.
In imitation of the committee of government ministers that determine government policy, each school has a student run cabinet comprising of ministers like the discipline minister, health and hygiene minister, environment minister, etc. called the school cabinet, it is either nominated or elected by the teachers of the school.
As absenteeism increases during harvesting periods, these school cabinets seek to counsel the parents into sending their children to school. This will also ensure that girls, who are more likely to be held back by their parents, get an equal opportunity to benefit from RTE. Moreover, those entrusted with departments such as discipline or environment, are likely to develop leadership skills and will make students self-reliant in managing their own school.
This idea of school cabinets is thus an innovative way of tackling several problems that lie in the way of a holistic and child-centric education of children as envisaged by the RTE act.
However, the obligation to provide teachers and infrastructure is on the government. With the second deadline having passed on March 31, 2015, and a great percentage of schools still far away from becoming RTE compliant, it is about time that the government started acting.