My domestic help Rina has a seven-year-old son. She enrolled him in a private school in the neighbourhood instead of the government primary school. At the government school she could benefit from the Right to Education (RTE) Act which guarantees eight years of free, quality education to all children aged six to fourteen years. Instead, she shells out nearly Rs 800 a month for fees plus a good chunk on miscellaneous – books, uniforms, school activities, etc.
Though the money is a factor, she believes that her son will be able to read and write better if he goes to a private school. The 2014 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Survey shows that children in government schools perform worse than in the private schools.
But there is also a contrary study that shows that the difference in performance is evident only in the first year; in the subsequent years, the performance of students in government schools was at par with the private schools.
The enrolment in private schools has increased in the last eight years: From 18.7% in 2006 to 30.8% in 2014. This could be attributed to the mushrooming of low cost private schools that bait unsuspecting parents with ‘English medium’. ‘English’, as against a regional language, is considered a sure shot means to employment. It’s another matter that these schools, most often, do not appoint teachers fluent in English, making the quality suspect.
While the low cost private schools are lax in the quality of teachers appointed, in the government schools, there is a huge problem of under-staffing and poor training of teachers (there is no similar data available for private school).
Five lakh sanctioned teacher posts are vacant and 6.6 lakh in-service teachers are untrained. The RTE Act has set a pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) of 30:1 but 37% of the government primary schools do not conform to this. The average PTR ranges from 10:1 in Andaman and Nicobar Island to 53:1 in Bihar. Not only is there a need to train the untrained teachers, there is a need to appoint 10 lakh new teachers.
Then there is the non-teaching activities that the government teachers are expected to do as a part of their job. The RTE Act specifies that no teacher is to engage in non-teaching related activity unless specified by the Act. The 2014 DISE data suggests that 2.48% of teachers were involved in non-teaching tasks for a cumulative of 16 days.
While this is a significant improvement from 2011 where 9.6% of teachers were involved in non-teaching tasks, the RTE Forum study 2015 shows that all the states reported their teachers were engaged in the non-teaching tasks other than those specified in the RTE Act.
Teachers are key to good schooling. In the current scenario we need more teachers and trained teachers. This would require money and government’s intention to implement RTE which can be measured by the budgetary allocations for RTE (through Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) is disappointing.
The fund sharing patterns indicate that the central government is shifting the fiscal responsibility towards state governments and the state governments instead of improving the system, on the pretext of low turnout, are shutting down thousands of government schools.
Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra are the frontrunners. Shutting down schools on any pretext shrinks the ‘free education’ space and is not in spirit of the RTE Act.
The outlay for RTE is woefully inadequate; it is less than 3.5% of the GDP as against the 6% commitment in National Education Policies. Moreover, in 2014-15 only Rs 54,925 crore was approved under SSA, a drop of 22% from 2012-13.
But there is hope if our tax systems are in place. The 2014 Global Monitoring Report notes that India is among the few middle income countries with potential to mobilise domestic resources for education through improved taxation.
Systemic inefficiencies in tax collection impede effective taxation. For instance, majority of tax revenue foregone is due to exemptions from custom and excise duties to the tune of 5.7% of GDP. If 20% of this is earmarked for education, which amounts to an additional US$22.5 billion (Rs 1.43 lakh crore), it would increase education funding by almost 40%.
Education is a social public good and the RTE Act has reinforced that; 199 million (about 20 crore) children are in school and studying. According to Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD), in 2013-14 of the 13.24 lakh children enrolled in primary education, 48% are girls, 20% are Dalits and 11% are Adivasis and out of these 14% are Muslims.
However, various estimates suggest that 60 lakh (Government of India) to 170 lakh (UNICEF, 2014) children continue to be out of school.
Some modifications to the tax system could help get more children to schools, more teachers in the classrooms and better infrastructure. Without any of these the right to education will only remain a paper tiger.