Wednesday, March 13, 2013

RTE provisions hinder children’s access to better life

RTE provisions hinder children’s access to better life

JS Rajput | Agency: DNA | Friday, August 24, 2012

Not a single day passes without tragic instances, in which children suffer inhuman atrocities at the hands of elders. Student crushed by school bus, eight dead and many injured in school building collapse; child dies after falling from a gaping hole in school bus; student suffers physical damage by teacher; hospital refuses to continue life saving treatment to child as father could not pay Rs 200 — all this on the same day! As if this is not sufficient, media reports death of a teenage girl who was reportedly raped by her teachers. There are other serious concerns as well: 35% of the world’s malnourished children are in India — i.e. 43% of the children in the country. One can see them in hotels, factories, building sites, hazardous work stations and even on the busty crossings of New Delhi. For policymakers and senior bureaucrats, these are mere ‘matters of detail’ in which they are not interested.
Unfortunately, it is this apathy that de-motivates even the most enthusiastic of men and women imbued with the spirit of serving others and devoting their time and energy for a cause dear to them. If the government had given due priority to universal elementary education and improving the quality of teachers, much of the sufferings of young children could have been minimised. Everyone laments the depressing conditions of the majority of the government schools. However, it creates no impact on anyone who could change the approach and attitude towards the children enrolled there.
Officially they would give you very impressive details of umpteen schemes launched for children welfare, including committees and commissions. The most exciting thing that was supposed to happen for decades together did come up for implementation on April 1, 2010: the Right to Education Act (RTE). Alas! What a damp squab it has proved to be. Not even many teachers know about it. It’s most discussed and debated provision relates to admission of 25 % children from the economically weaker sections in Class I or nursery. Private schools are determined to flout it and are likely to succeed. However, the crux of the genuine concern for children lies elsewhere. According to government reports, 58.16 lakh children are enrolled in 13 lakh schools, learning from58.56 lakh teachers. Further in 2010-11, as many as 9,07,951 posts of teachers were vacant in primary schools. In most of the states, 25 percent of the teachers are para-teachers, mostly without any teacher training. In such conditions, it is futile to expect that the much-hyped reforms like continuous and comprehensive evaluation are implementable in the majority of the government schools. The sad state of teachers’ preparation is well known and under such deficiencies it is not surprising that learner attainments are low. The RTE Act prescribes certain specific norms for infrastructure that must be available in a private school before it is accorded approval by the government. On these norms, over 90% of government schools would fail if inspected genuinely. Also, those who are not running fancy high-fee-charging public schools but are running private schools through community support on meager resource basis would have to wind up their ventures. One wonders when the central government would realise its folly of impracticable provisions that could lead to a state of utter chaos and confusion. It would become a fertile ground for corruption. A child who is not in school or not getting good education is likely to suffer on so many counts in his childhood itself. If the society and the system of governance leave millions of children to their fate, the measure of cruelty inflicted is enormous.
Children suffer physical, emotional and mental cruelties in various ways, and from varied quarters. Though good education and good teachers alone cannot remove all these, this effort could make a big dent in the positive direction. While one must appreciate good work form every quarter in this area, the national responsibility, it is worthwhile to recall the statement Gandhiji made in court after he was arrested on March 10, 1922. His words appear to me very relevant in the context of the suffering children: “No sophistry, no jugglery in figures can explain away the evidence that the skeleton in many villages present to the naked eye. I have no doubt whatsoever that both England and the town-dwellers of India will have to answer, if there is a god above, for this crime which is perhaps unequalled in history.” It, however, remains a fact that the crime that he had referred to in 1922 continues to be committed with greater machinations and without any scruples. The sensitive link between man and man stands shockingly snapped.
The writer is a former Chairman of National Council for Teacher Education and director of NCERT

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