Right To Education: Almost 10 Years On, Major Loopholes In The Act Haven’t Been Addressed

With the coming of the Right to Education Act in 2009, we have seen a tremendous change in the Indian education system in terms of availability of schools in far-off areas and and an increase in national enrolment rates in schools.

As quoted in the Educational Statistics – At A Glance report published by the MHRD in 2016, the Gross Enrolment Ratio for all persons in elementary education increased from 81.6% in 2000-01 to 96.9% (provisional figure) in 2014-15.

Through this article, we will try to see if RTE has actually been able to achieve the objective it was sought out for, specifically in regard to provisions made for ‘out-of-school’ children.

In the RTE, Section 4 mentions, “…where a child above six years of age has not admitted in any school or though admitted, could not complete his or her elementary education, then, he or she shall be admitted in a class appropriate to his or her age.”

Starting from here itself, the glimpses of confusion can be observed. It’s easy to comprehend the age group for the kids who have never been admitted in any school, i.e. 6-14 years.

However, as we start to understand who to be counted as a dropout, many challenges emerge. After the coming of the RTE Act, the MHRD accepted to consider any child absent for more than 45 days from school to be counted as a dropout. Nevertheless, there is still no universal acceptance of this.

For example, in Karnataka, a child is considered a dropout if absent for more than 7 days, in Gujarat the timeline is 60 days, in Maharashtra it’s 15 days, in Rajasthan it’s 90 days, so on and so forth. More can be read upon in the research report by Centre for Policy Research published in July 2016 named A Pilot Study Of Estimating Out-of-School Children In India.

For now, let us ignore the difference of criteria used by states to define dropout children and move to percentages reported by government surveys. Educational Statistics – At A Glance, published by the MHRD in 2016 reported that “the annual dropout rate at primary level has come down by 1.28 percentage point (from 5.62% in 2011-12 to 4.34% in 2013-14) (Provisional figure) for all category students.” Though this reduction in drop out rates in a good sign for the education system in India, nevertheless, we are still far from achieving the goal of ensuring education for all.

Let’s dive a little deeper and understand the reasons which are leading to this situation in the first place. Many surveys and research missions have been conducted by different agencies to grasp the same. Few of the reasons cited are the occupation of the parents/guardians specifically for seasoned workers, daily wage workers, corporal punishment in schools, dependency on children for income generation, to take care of younger siblings, distance of the school and others. One of the more interesting reasons noted is the children’s disinterest in going to school as pointed out in the National Sample Survey Of Estimation Of Out-of-School Children In The Age 6-13 In India draft report by the Social And Rural Research Institute.

This is again something which we could dig deeper into to understand the whys. More light on this has been provided in the working paper named Out of School Children in India: Some Insights on What We Know and What We Don’t by Kiran Bhatty, Radhika Saraf and Vrinda Gupta from Centre for Policy Research.

It will be interesting to see how we can now overcome these obstacles and ensure that each and every child’s Right To Education is safeguarded. Here’s hoping that we will be able to find some answers in the much awaited National Education Policy of 2018.

Please note, Government of India has approved the extension of the tenure of the committee for submission of draft till December 15 2018.

Fingers crossed!

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Books for Life/Flickr.
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