April 3, 2013:While the implementation of the right to education (RTE) act has not been satisfactory in terms of admission of students from the underprivileged sections of society in many parts of the country, there is another area of concern relating to the infrastructural facilities in schools. When the Act came into force in April 2010, it mandated that all schools should set up the necessary facilities for education in three years.
These included buildings, an office for the headmaster, one class room for every teacher, drinking water facilities, separate toilets for boys and girls, a kitchen, boundary walls, a playground, a ramp for disabled students and adequate number of teachers. According to reports a large number of schools have failed to provide these facilities by the deadline of March 31 this year, and therefore they face the threat of closure.
The government has refused to extend the deadline. Union HRD minister Pallam Raju has said that 90 per cent of the schools have met the required norms. He also said that some government schools were also among those who are yet to put up the required infrastructure. But data from many sources and anecdotal evidence show that the 90 per cent figure quoted by the minister is an exaggeration.
Some estimates have put the level of non-compliance at between 40 and 50 per cent. The minister did not make it clear whether the funding for the defaulting schools would be discontinued and they would be shut down. This should not happen because millions of students would then be left without schools, defeating the very purpose of the universal and compulsory education programme.
The government should have monitored the progress of schools in building the necessary infrastructure in the last three years. Even in many schools where the facilities have been provided they are not up to the required standards. The minister has said the enrolment rate has gone up to 96 per cent. While this is welcome, if it is correct, this will benefit students only if the quality of education, which depends much on the infrastructure and facilities available in schools, is good.
Students are found deficient in basic literacy and numeracy skills even after years in schools. The minister has himself admitted that shortage of teachers is a serious challenge. While most aspects of the implementation of the programme need to be strengthened, more attention should be paid to the basic requirements.