Monday, March 11, 2013

Govt mulls over extension of Right To Education Act deadline

The Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry is showing signs of relenting to the pressure to amend the Right to Education (RTE) Act .

With the deadline to meet infrastructure standards looming and almost 34 per cent of the schools not complying with the Act (as per latest government data), the Centre is now mulling an extension of the three-year deadline. According to sources, the ministry wants to give the states another two years to get the job done.

The RTE Act specifies a time frame of three years for all existing schools to meet several input parameters. According to Section 19 of the Act, non-compliance would lead to revocation of the school's recognition and subsequent closure. Any change in the deadline, which expires on March 31, 2013, will require an amendment to the law.

Mail Today was the first to report the possibility of a deadline extension in its report on September 16, 2012. With time running out, the state governments have been mounting pressure on the ministry for deadline extension. Bihar along with Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and a few Northeast states are facing the most difficulty in meeting infrastructure norms and standards, especially the pupil-teacher ratio (1:30 for primary school and 1:35 for upper primary school) specified under the law. Most of these are government schools.

The biggest problem is training large number of untrained teachers. Currently, there are 6.7 lakh teachers in government schools who are untrained. Some states have inadequate capacities for pre-service teacher training and the problem has been aggravated with recruitment against vacant positions and requirement of additional teachers.

Although the ministry wants to give another two years, the final call will only be taken by the National Advisory Council (NAC) on RTE Act, which will meet in December, after the winter session of the Parliament.

"The three-year time limit could be a problem and the ministry is not denying that, but any decision on extension of deadline will only be taken after the NAC has met," said a senior ministry official, who did not wish to be identified.

"Empirically, the backlog is quite evident. But the deadline extension does not have to be the same for all. Maybe, there could be different window for different states depending upon how much work they have completed," a NAC member said.

The delay in meeting infrastructure norms and standards has primarily happened because most of the compliance work only began after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the RTE Act.

Though the onus of implementation was with the states and the ministry cannot be held responsible for the unfulfilled target, taking a call on amending the Act will not be easy for the centre. According to educationist and NAC member Vinod Raina, the government is stuck between the devil and the deep sea.

"If they don't amend the Act, then many schools will be violating the law. But moving an amendment can invite political damage as these days anything and everything is dubbed as government failure," he said.

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