Mathew C Ninan, May 26, 2012 :The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009 is hailed as a historic initiative of the Central Government.
The Act envisages that all the children from age 6 to 14 will be provided free and compulsory education by the Government. So far, so good.
Now let us examine the implementation of this Act. Like all pious government initiatives, this one also appears to be flawed in its implementation.
However laudable the objectives of an Act be, if its implementation is erratic and haphazard, it will defeat its very purpose. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in its eating.
The central govt has gone to town with the claim that they have made a law that was waiting to happen for the last 60 plus years, ever since the adoption of our Constitution.
The State Governments not to be left behind have climbed on to the bandwagon with equal alacrity. The officials of the Education Department have suddenly surfaced as the saviours of the poor children from the deprived sections of society.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of this new law. All children between ages 6 and 14 have to be educated, free of charge by the government. Obviously, this means Class I to VIII. What about pre-school education for these children?
Pre-school education is available in all nook and cranny of our country. It may range from traditional ‘anganawadis’ to modern ‘nursery schools’. This aspect has been forgotten or ignored by this law. Such pre-school is necessary for working parents’ children in particular, if we are talking about the deprived sections where both parents will have to go out to work to eke out a living.
This is the first major flaw in this law. Its fall-out is obvious. Schools of the new variety have pre-school as part of the school. The children who are in pre-school progress to the primary section of the school. In this scenario, how can the school provide 25% of seats to children who knock on their doors at Class I? The School may not have any vacancies.
If one scans the newspapers every day, you will find lots of numbers being trotted out. The education department officials announce the number of seats each school has to set apart to meet the 25% mandatory free admissions.
Look at the list of schools. Nearly all of them are private unaided English Medium Schools. How come RTE applies only to this category of schools?
Is there not a tinge of hypocrisy here? People who do everything possible to throttle English Medium Schools and Private schools are talking about 25% free seats only in these schools.
What about Kannada Medium Schools? What about Government schools themselves? This clearly exposes the intentions of all those involved zealously in the implementation of RTE.
Providing free and compulsory education to all our children is indeed a laudable idea. Every school must participate in this in an equitable manner. However, the government cannot abdicate its own responsibility by palming it off to the private schools with the promise of a reimbursement of fees.
Everybody knows that gradually this reimbursement will become a trickle and getting it will be like chasing a mirage.
RTE has in a way exposed the hollowness of the prejudice against private schools and English medium education. Parents want to educate their children in English medium private schools.
The Government should ponder over this preference, and take corrective measures to make the government schools perform as effectively as private schools or better than them. It happens in many other countries. The Government run schools are equally respected in developed countries like USA, UK, Germany, France, Japan, Singapore etc.
Why are they not trusted in India? In the present context, the government and its officials are openly conceding that there are no takers for their schools. What a shame!!!
Why can’t the government create schools like Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas, Morarji Residential Schools and the like to cater to these sections of our population? They are all successful experiments in this direction.
Why should 100% of the RTE burden be passed on to the private unaided schools when the ‘all-India’ survey shows that only 17.3% of all primary aged children attended private schools in India in 1995-96 (Sixth All India Education Survey -NCERT, 1998).
So the fundamental question is one of morality. Is it fair on the part of the government to pressurise the private unaided schools to bear the entire burden of RTE? Is it fair to fix a certain fee unilaterally and say that the children who come under this category must be provided everything without asking the government to pay anything beyond the amount fixed and promised?
How did the government fix the yearly expenditure per student at Rs 11,848 per year? Will they assure the private schools that they will fix this amount more rationally? Will they also assure the schools concerned that this amount will reach them without a hitch, and without their having to run from pillar to post?
Will the government also give a guarantee to the schools, especially those affiliated to the ICSE and CBSE that the education authorities will not harass these schools in the name of RTE on a regular basis?
In other words will the govt show its sincerity by reimbursing these schools based on the fee structure and facilities of the schools concerned? This is the logical position to be taken by the govt if it is earnest about the implementation of RTE. The worth of a law is tested in the crucible of its honest implementation.
Let RTE not be used as yet another weapon by the powers that be to browbeat the private schools in our country. If that happens, RTE will be another nail on their coffin.