Insights into Editorial: The ABC of the RTE
Since its enactment, the RTE Act has been lauded and criticized. But there has been concern not only over its provisions but also about the lacunae in the school education system. However, there are clauses in the Act which have enormous catalytic potential but that have gone largely untouched and unnoticed.
School education in India
According to the 2011 census, literacy rate in India was found to be 74.04 per cent. Among the states, Kerala leads the literacy rate followed by Goa, Tripura, Mizoram, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Sikkim. The lowest literacy rate in India is seen in the state of Bihar.
India has made phenomenal progress since independence in the field of education. Following the Millennium Development framework, by the measure of the Net Enrolment Ratio (NER), India had crossed the cut-off target of 95 per cent, regarded as the marker value for achieving 2015 target of universal primary education for all children aged 6-10 years in 2007-08.
The present education system in India is guided by different objectives and goals but is based around the policies of yesteryears.
- Immediately after independence, a Department of Education under the Ministry of Human Resource Development was set up on August 29, 1947 with a mandate to expand the educational facilities.
- After 1960, the focus on access gradually started moving towards quality. With that vision, the National Policy on Education was formulated in 1968.
- Over subsequent years, several policies have been formulated by the Indian government to ensure that the literacy level is gradually increased with a close monitoring of the quality of education as well.
- Retention of children in schools was of paramount importance in the years that followed.
- With several educational reforms, school drop-out rates have registered a decline with the gender gap of education also showing a dipping.
- More recently, two prominent policies of the Indian government—the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in 2001 and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 have seen education priorities rise amongst households and catalysed improvements in educational performance.
- Education continues to remain a top priority for the Government of India with rising budgetary allocations.
- Steep dropout rates after the elementary level and also at the middle school level and the increasing enrolment gap from elementary to higher secondary are matters of great concern.
- Disadvantaged groups are worse off with the dropout rates for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes higher than the national average.
- High pupil–teacher ratio, lack of professionally trained teachers, and poor level of student learning resulting in weak learning outcomes at each stage of education are major challenges faced by the Indian school education system today.
Some of the Initiatives of Government of India on School Education
The emphasis on education in the Central Budget has been on the rise in the recent years. Several schemes and budgetary allowances have been announced for the education domain.
- The budget has special focus on education of the girl child with the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme and the resolution of providing girls toilets and drinking water facilities in schools targeted to benefit millions of girls hoping to reduce dropouts in the process.
- modernisation of the madrasas
- School Assessment Programmes
- Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya’s Teacher Training Programme which will benefit nearly 20,000 teacher trainees studying in Teacher Education Institutions.
- Setting up of virtual classrooms as Communication Linked Interface for Cultivating Knowledge (CLICK) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and a national e-library.
- The Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2012–2017) targeted to increase the mean years of schooling to seven years and to eliminate gender and social gaps in school enrolment.
- Mid-Day Meal programme to provide free lunch on working days for children in Primary and Upper Primary Classes. The primary objective of the scheme is to improve the nutritional status of children, encouraging poor children, belonging to disadvantaged sections, to attend school more regularly and help them concentrate on classroom activities, thereby increasing the enrolment, retention and attendance rates.
- Under 86th Constitutional Amendment Right to Education was added to the Indian Constitution (Article 21A).
- National Scheme for Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education (NSIGSE) to reduce the drop-outs and to promote the enrolment of girl child belonging mainly to SC/ST communities in secondary schools.
- Scheme for setting up of 6000 Model Schools at Block Level as benchmark of excellence.
- National Means Cum-Merit Scholarship Scheme(NMMSS)
- Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) to achieve a Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of 75 per cent at secondary stage and universal retention by 2020.
Right to Education Act:
The RTE Act is a game-changer in that it establishes that the onus to ensure free and compulsory education lies on the state. However, there are several challenges existing in our education system.
A focus on below three of these provisions can result in an immediate and noticeable impact.
- Focus on retention
Tracking dropouts and preparing and mainstreaming them into age-appropriate classes has been subsumed into existing scheme activities. Even seven years after its enactment, there are still children on the streets, in fields and in homes.
Strategies to ensure retention need to change from the earlier approach of enrolling the un-enrolled. As children out of the fold of schooling are the most hard to reach, such as girls, the disabled, orphans and those from single parent families, the solutions have to be localised and contextualised.
- Pupil-teacher ratio
The most critical requirement, which has also got the least public attention, is the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR). It is impractical to expect quality education without this.
- According to the Education Department’s data, under the Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE) database 2015-16, 33% of the schools in the country did not have the requisite number of teachers, as prescribed in the RTE norms, for PTR at the school level.
- The percentage of schools that were PTR-compliant varied from 100% in Lakshadweep to 16.67% in Bihar.
- All other forward-looking provisions of the Act such as continuous assessment, a child learning at her own pace, and ‘no detention’ policies are contingent on a school with an adequate number of teachers.
- No meaningful teaching-learning is possible unless trained teachers are physically present at school.
- States shy away from recruiting or posting more teachers keeping in mind higher salaries and finances, but PTR at the school level is the most critical of all inputs.
Teacher provisioning should be the first option to fund as no educationally developed country has built up a sound schooling foundation without a professionally-motivated teaching cadre in place.
- Think decentralisation
The third provision is that the academic calendar will be decided by the local authority, which, for most States and Union Territories, is the panchayat.
- This provision recognises the vast cultural and regional diversities within the country such as local festivals, sowing and harvesting seasons, and even natural calamities as a result of which schools do not function academically.
- It is socially acceptable that priority will be given to such a local event.
- Not all festivals and State holidays declared by the State headquarters may be locally relevant.
- So if panchayats, perhaps at the district level, decide the working days and holidays, this would not only exponentially increase attendance and teaching-learning but also strengthen local panchayats, being closest to the field, to take ownership of their schools.
- They would be responsible in ensuring the functioning of the prescribed instruction days.
For inexplicable reasons, the educational bureaucracy has not allowed the decentralisation of academic schedules even in districts.
Open-minded adoption of these provisions, keeping the child in mind, can go a long way in radically transforming our school education sector.