(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 11, 2010
Education Act: Goals to be Achieved
ON April 1, the Right to Education (RTE) Act finally became law, after an umpteen number of hard struggles. Yet it has a lot of loopholes, which may mar its very purpose.
This law has a long story behind it. Over half a century, countless number of men and women fought for such a law. The cry was intertwined with the freedom struggle, but the imperialist government rejected the bill Gopal Krishna Gokhale moved in this regard in the imperial council. This was also a dream of the founding fathers of Indian constitution. The law, now in existence, is thus only because of the strenuous efforts of our freedom fighters.
The act has the following provisions.
1) Every child in the 6-14 age group will be provided 8 years of elementary education in an age-appropriate classroom in his/her neighbourhood.
2) The state will bear any cost that prevents a child from accessing a school and shall have the responsibility of enrolling the child as well as ensuring attendance and completion of 8 years of schooling. No child shall be denied admission for want of documents; no child shall be turned away if admission cycle in the school is over and no child shall be asked to take an admission test.
3) All private schools will be required to enrol children from weaker sections and disadvantaged communities in appropriate classes to the extent of 25 per cent of their enrolment. These children will be treated on par with other children in the school and subsidised by the state at the rate of average cost per learner in government schools.
4) All schools will have to follow the norms and standards laid out in the act and a school that does not fulfil these standards within 3 years will not be allowed to function. All private schools will have to apply for recognition, failing which they will be penalised to the tune of Rs one lakh and if they still continue the violation, they will be liable to pay Rs 10,000 per day as fine.
5) Norms and standards of teacher qualification and training will be laid down by an academic authority. Teachers in all schools will have to fulfil these norms within five years.
The law says free and compulsory education is only for 6-14 years, i.e. from standard 1 to 8. Though this age group is crucial in a child�s life, we also need to look at the other side. In today�s world, no child can survive in a school without doing pre-primary education while education during 14-18 years of age is the gateway to higher education that decides one�s career. That is why the Left movements have been fighting for education for 0-18 years. The question of who a child is, remains ambiguous. The government which has accepted anybody less than 18 years of age as a child at various points, now refuses to accept it when it comes to providing education.
Common school education system aims at providing equal education with equal opportunities with similar infrastructure and facilities in all schools. Kothari commission said the unhealthy social segregation between the schools for the rich and those for the poor should end in order to strengthen social unity and provide equality of opportunity to the deprived sections of society. It also said primary schools must be made common and it must be obligatory for all children, irrespective of caste, creed, community, religion, economic condition or social status, to attend the primary schools in their neighbourhood.
The provision of 25 per cent reservation in private schools for poor children looks good on the surface but does not lead to a common school model. Moreover, the infrastructures of many of these private schools leave a lot to be desired. With poorly paid teachers and cage like spaces, they look more like poultry farms than educational institutions.
As for the government schools, a
report from the
The above report also reveals that most of the schools lack adequate teachers, proper buildings, playgrounds, chairs, tables, libraries and other infrastructure facilities. While this is the case in the state run government schools, the conditions in central government funded schools like the Navodaya Vidyalayas and Kendriya Vidyalayas as well as in private schools catering to the affluent are to the contrary. They have proper infrastructure, faculty and equipments to provide quality education. There can be no question of subsidising these private schools by the state.
Thus there can be no compromise on the common school issue. To implement a common school system which is the need of the hour, and to ensure universal enrolment, we need a large number of government or aided schools with hostel facilities, particularly in tribal areas. Every habitat must have a school up to class 12 within the prescribed distance. Though this part of the law does offer some solace, one has to guard against the substitution of private institutions for a common school system.
Two main impediments in the path of universalisation are dropouts and child labour. The government has to attend to these issues immediately.
The enrolment ratios in primary
education, both gross
and net enrolment ratios, have improved over the years. The
enrolment ratio in primary education was 94 per cent in 2007, according
Global Monitoring Report. But perhaps the most worrisome is the poor
rate. Only 66 per cent of the children enrolled in class I survive up
As the document of the SFI�s 13th all-India conference points out, the dropout rate is especially higher among girls, STs and SCs, the most downtrodden in our society. Unless the various factors that lead to their dropout are addressed, we cannot retain them in schools. Some of these are flexibility in school timings (modelling the academic session by taking into consideration the agricultural practices of the region, giving holidays during peak agricultural activity etc) and curricula to make schooling more relevant, linking schooling with employment opportunities, remodelling the teaching activity in the schools to generate interest among the students etc. Provision of schools within walking distance, of childcare facilities like cr�ches and mid-day meals in all localities, increasing the number of women teachers, other supportive schemes, reducing the private costs by providing free textbooks, uniforms, etc, will also ensure a lowering of dropout rates. Poverty is the most important factor determining many of a family�s decisions; this must not be forgotten while discussing other factors. The declining job opportunities in rural areas because of the neo-liberal policies is forcing large-scale migrations from villages, adversely affecting the children�s education and often forcing them to drop out. Also, poverty forces many children to work. But the experience shows the mid-day meals scheme has contributed to a reduction in the dropout rates, as families are assured of at least one meal for their children.
Take the instance of Virudhunagar, a district in south Tamilnadu. It is known for fireworks industry using child labour. The national programme to eradicate child labour did have, to an extent, a positive impact in the district. But, sadly, no fund was allocated for this programme in the past one year and this has led children to beg for food in the streets. Ironically, one could find the children begging for food on the same day the RTE Act was passed. It is evident that the government�s insensitivity was the sole reason for this tragedy.
The act does not specify qualification norms for teachers, nor does it institutionalise a primary teachers cadre. Teacher qualifications and pre-service training must be as per the NCTE Act, with dignified pay scales and service conditions as per the latest pay commission. The concept of parateachers, guest teachers and other categories of teachers must be done away with. Parateachers should be upgraded through specialised training within a specified period to ensure their full absorption within the regular national school system. The act does talk of filling the vacant teacher posts but there is enough reason to suspect the regime�s seriousness in this respect. With the onset of liberalisation, the government has nearly stopped opening new teacher training institutes; profit motivated private sector has taken over the teachers� training. Unless this issue is addressed, quality of teachers in the country will continue to remain poor.
Finance is essential for any plan, and RTE is no exception. The question of who is responsible for funding is being debated for over 16 years. The ratio of centre-state responsibility was earlier 75:25, which later became 65:35 and now it is 55:45. It is evident that the centre is trying to shirk its responsibility and overburden the states while the latter do need the centre�s support to varying extents. It�s high time the centre realises its responsibility and acts accordingly to implement the RTE in its best sense.
The law also needs to be changed so as to hand over the control of panchayat level schools to the local bodies. This will allow democratic control of local people over schools.
It is indeed positive that we now have this law. But we cannot sit and relax. The struggle has not come to an end. In the first place, this law has to be implemented fully to the benefit of the people. Secondly, the loopholes are to be removed and the positive suggestions from the Left movements incorporated. Only then can we be sure that this law will serve its purpose.