As lawmakers, it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that each child born in our country has equal access to the nation’s resources, irrespective of their social or economic background. The Right to Education (RTE) Act was designed keeping this purpose in mind. It was meant to ensure that a child’s economic status does not deprive them access to the country’s educational resources.
It has been over a decade since the RTE, which mandates free and compulsory education for children from the age of 6 to 14 years, was passed. And while it has been able to do a lot to further the cause of education among India’s most impoverished children, a lot still needs to be done. My proposed amendment to the Act aims to cover more children under the RTE Act by increasing the upper limit of the age from 14 years to 16 years.
To understand why this may not just be important, but crucial to bettering the RTE Act as it is today, let me share a few statistics. The implementation of the Act in 2010 played a significant role in increasing the enrollment rate in primary schools and decreased the drop-out rates of students up to middle school or 8th grade. However, there has been a sharp decline in the rate of retention in the upper primary levels.
It is quite apparent from the data provided in the table that a significant percentage of students choose to drop out of schools when they fall out of the age limit prescribed in the RTE Act. Additionally, the dropout rate is particularly higher amongst female students, as the patriarchal set-up of our society continues to discourage investment in female education. Increasing the upper limit to 16 years of age will not only help reduce this dropout rates but also ensure that children stay in the system until matriculation.
It is also important to note that in our country, public examinations/board exams are only carried out in the 10th and 12th grade, and it is this certification that holds weightage in the job market. I do acknowledge that in order to take classes for 11th and 12th grade, we need teachers specializing in the relevant streams. Still, the same is not true for the 10th grade, then why are we continuing to deprive students of attaining higher certification?
The proposed amendment will not only help increase the retention of students in schools but also meet the larger goal of the act that ensures education is made available to all children equally.
It is the unfortunate reality of the day that we still lack the educational infrastructure to provide for free compulsory education to all children and that the existing schools are egregiously under-supplied with qualified teachers.
Under these circumstances, the bill focuses on providing increased access to children within the existing educational infrastructure, and this access would also provide the children with the opportunity to gain free education up until the level of their first public examination. Getting a certification that gains social validation would also incentivize the students to continue with their schooling.
The fact of the matter is that we need to be doing a lot more with regard to fixing our education system, to ensure a prosperous future for our children. Until we can achieve that goal, this bill is an effort to get the best possible results within the existing environment.