How The Right To Education Act Is Failing India’s Children

When it was introduced, the Right To Education (RTE) Act was visualised to be a game changer for society. However, the intended outcome never really materialised. There have been several problems associated with this policy ever since its implementation.

And funding is at the core of them all. As per the RTE Act, state schools are directed to keep a 25% quota for students from low-income families (i.e. families earning less than 1 lakh p.a.). These students are entitled to free education up to class 8. And when we say free, we mean that students don’t pay even a rupee for school fees, uniforms, study material, facilities or transportation. All these costs are borne by the school that in turn receives money from the government. And that’s where the problem starts.

The Right To Education Is Failing. Here’s Why

There is an apparent budgetary issue with RTE schools, as the ‘free education’ clause means schools cannot legally ask students/parent for anything monetary. And even though money to run the institutions comes from the government directly, it’s quite inadequate. The Ministry of Education provides Rs.17000 per student for study material, uniforms and other school facilities. But the schools’ expenditure on the same is close to Rs 28,000. So, who pays the extra Rs 11,000 per student? This additional cost goes out of the school’s pockets with no reimbursements from the state.

In the past years, schools have made several pleas to the government to either increase the budget or pay off previous years’ expenses. All futile. What choice are they left with then? Schools are obviously going into losses and in order to recover that, they resort to other means. They exploit the money out of the students by not allowing them to sit for exams or participate in cultural activities.

Such cases happen more often than you think. Recently, parents of a student from Delhi Public School in Pune were asked to pay Rs.13000 per month in the name of stationary and other costs. In Kharghar’s Vibyor High School asked RTE parents to pay Rs 38000 as activity fees. In Bhopal, The School Education Department cracked down on 7 schools forcing parents to pay Rs 1,500 every month, despite enrolling their children under the RTE Act. According to a study conducted in Bengaluru, 92 out of 100 RTE parents confessed to having paid Rs 9.32 lakhs to schools for textbooks, uniforms, and other activities.

The terms are simple. Pay up or fail. But do they make the RTE any better?

Even if we do believe that illegally demanding money is the last resort for schools, it doesn’t make situations any better for RTE students. These students coming from low-income backgrounds simply cannot afford to pay. Even with free education, it’s hard enough to convince parents to send their child to school, giving them a cost to bear will completely discourage them from educating the child.

Low-income parents simply feel that sending the child to work is a more feasible option than sending him to school. But having to pay up is not the only reason for such embarrassing stats. The quality of education in RTE schools brings no pride either.

Low funding has a direct bearing on the quality of education in schools. Money is needed to hire experienced teachers and then train them, to hold extra classes, provide additional assistance and tests for students. But RTE schools don’t even have the money to hire credible teachers. They simply can’t afford the salary expectations that come with experience. So they hire fresh graduates, some of them without a degree in teaching. As a result, the teaching technique is so bad that students don’t end up learning much. For example, a recent study states that 62.5% of RTE schoolteachers have such poor training skills, that 25% of class 8 students are unable to read even a class 2 textbook.

Weaker students who can’t match up to the learning/grasping speeds of their classmates aren’t given any additional assistance at all. Schools can’t even pay teachers extra salary for extra classes; forget bringing in assisted learning technologies. And there’s no chance of hosting skill tests to measure students’ calibre because there’s no money for that either.

What about the pass rate then? Well, classes where the ‘no detention’ policy doesn’t apply, only 50% of the students end up passing the year. Failed students are of course disheartened and embarrassed to show up with a fail certificate. It’s shocking to think how many students then decide to drop out of schools instead of working hard on improving their grades. According to an ASER report, a low pass rate led to a student dropout rate of 47.9% in 2016.

That’s a huge number to emanate from a faulty budget system, wherein monetary shortcomings of the government are passed on to the school and from them to the students, eventually forcing the child to quit.

If schools don’t have money to educate the child, how can they even afford infrastructure? Forget luxury, even basic facilities are amiss in these schools. Reports show that approximately 49% of RTE schools don’t have a running water supply, regular cleaning and proper windows and doors. The same report revealed that 20 out of 28 schools in the Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh did not have separate toilets for girls and boys. Why is this important? Because girls, when menstruating, need access to proper sanitation. It’s bad enough that illiterate families view periods as taboo, girls shouldn’t find the inconvenience of unhygienic toilets, a reason to skip school.

Moreover, schools have now become stringent over provisions of lunches too.

Other facilities like transportation and schoolbooks are also conveniently ignored due to funding issues. Some schools don’t even have electricity. Student’s sit in candlelight, or worse, in playgrounds, under trees to study. As for study material, figures from the District Information System for Education reveal that about 27% of Government-run elementary schools in the country did not receive books at all in the year 2013-14. In Delhi, as many as 49.33% of schools didn’t receive books and in Kerala, this number went up to 70.72%.

Parents are also rarely reimbursed for transportation to schools. And travelling to some schools is not as simple as hopping into an auto. In some villages, schools are so inconveniently far from homes that children have to navigate several kilometres of rocky roads on foot every day. In Irukkam, a coastal village of Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh, over 150 children, spend two hours every day travelling by boat across the Pulicat Lake to reach their schools. And all this for what? To sit on broken benches in torn uniforms, without proper books in hand, listening to a teacher preach half knowledge?

With sub-standard teaching, stagnant syllabus, lack of playgrounds, low-quality laboratories, and other facilities, children aren’t learning much. It is eventually, the students who are suffering in a half-baked initiative.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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