By Ravi Prakash:
In August last year, the TOI reported from Varanasi, that none of the students of class I, II and III had school text books. The whole of July had gone by without anything being taught in schools and the students spent most of their time playing. Varanasi is just as an example; the situation across the country is equally disappointing.
According to the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009, every child in a primary school should have text books available on time i.e. at the beginning of the academic year. But the reality is far from what the Act stipulates. In fact, most children do not receive school books and even those who do, don’t necessarily get all the books and rarely at the beginning of the academic year.
The numbers are dismal. A RTE Forum survey in, 2014-15, in 457 schools across 10 states (Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal) showed that textbooks were not available in 50% of the surveyed schools. A 2013-14 DISE data showed that around 27% of government primary schools did not receive books at all in the academic year; Kerala (70.72%), Delhi (49.33%) and Chandigarh (43.76%) are the worst performers in text book distribution.
Looking at the learning assessment survey through the lens of these numbers sheds some light on why children in government schools lag behind their grade appropriate learning. It is hard to imagine that a child without text books would be able to achieve any level of learning. There are also other factors at play, but the non-availability of text books is most critical and hinders quality.
There are many systemic issues that affect distribution of textbooks on time. The 2014 NCERT report cites late issuance and inadequate supply of textbooks, delayed admission of students and lack of transport facilities as some reasons for the delay. The RTE Forum’s National Stocktaking Draft Report, 2015 suggests a coordinated effort to improve the distribution of textbooks in all schools. Delhi, Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana and West Bengal reported the most delays in distribution of books. It noted that, ‘textbooks are the basic tool for learning for students, without which no quality education can be provided’.
The worst impact of the lack of availability of books is on the children from the marginalised communities and first generation learners who are either, most often, not aware of this entitlement or lack the confidence to demand it. Children belonging to marginalised communities do not have access to books at home and hence are at a disadvantage when compared to a child accessing books as part of their social environment. For first generation learners, the school is where they see books for the first time. And, in this scenario, receiving textbooks late, puts them at a disadvantage and impacts their learning capability.
RTE is a hope for the nearly 20 crore children enrolled in primary schools but if textbooks do not reach them on time, it will impact the quality of education and would result in children dropping out of school in larger scale. Oxfam India has been demanding quality education for all children as a right. In this regard, let’s find out whether all children in nearby government schools received free textbooks. If not, let’s write to the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) and take it up jointly. After all, it’s every child’s right! #Haq Banta Hai.
Ravi Prakash works as the programme coordinator (education) at Oxfam India.