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.
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.