John Kurrien : Mon Apr 01 2013, 22:14 hrs
With most schools missing the March 31 deadline, a full-scale review is in order
For decades, we have tolerated schools without drinking water and toilets, with overcrowded and cramped classrooms, with more than 50 students to a class. Even till last year, government schools in the nation's capital operated from tents.
Aimed at improving the quality of elementary education, the 2010 Right to Education Act mandated that all schools had to provide a set of basic facilities. They were also to have at least one teacher for every 30 children in Classes I-V, and one teacher for 35 children in Classes VI-VIII. Every school had to fulfil both provisions within three years — by March 31, 2013. It had been known for some time that this target would not be reached. School report cards containing the latest official data were analysed for the period 2011-12. This analysis examined how many of the approximately 1.5 million elementary schools in the country provided six of the school facilities, as well as the specified teacher-pupil ratios, listed in the RTE Act. Not all the mandated facilities and additional subject teacher requirements were included.
The following figures relate to schools that were compliant with important RTE requirements, but not with all of them. By 2012, only 8 per cent of all elementary schools had provided the six required facilities and stipulated teacher-pupil ratios. There was considerable variation in state performance, with some states well above the national average of 8 per cent. In all the eastern and northeastern states, including large states like Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Assam, less than 2 per cent of all elementary schools in the region had the mandated facilities and stipulated teacher pupil ratios.
We should start planning for new deadlines for universal RTE compliance. Differential target dates might need to be considered, given that there are many states where more than 90 per cent of schools do not have adequate facilities and teachers. Recruiting new teachers will be the most difficult to manage, as it will require considerable funds. At present, more than five lakh schools lack in teachers.
Building infrastructure and hiring more teachers will be tough for private unaided schools. More than 90 per cent of the 2.5 lakh unaided schools in 2012 did not have the requisite infrastructure and teachers. The actual numbers would be worse, as many of these schools do not report their data.
The RTE Act is clear that these schools will be derecognised for not meeting the three-year deadline. While this is the current legal position, these schools may well point to the fact that a larger proportion of state government and municipal corporation schools, as well as government-aided schools, will not be RTE compliant. Moreover, elected representatives and government education officials will not be be penalised for their failure to meet the RTE deadline. Unlike in many private schools, the failure of our government schools does not arise from a paucity of funds, but from the lack of government commitment to implementing the RTE Act.
But derecognising private schools that are not yet RTE compliant is not feasible. Since they teach millions of poor, middle class and rich children, political considerations also rule it out. But the missed deadline is an opportunity to revisit the difficulties of our private schools — some of which are important hubs of innovation — in meeting the RTE provisions.
Almost every aspect of RTE implementation is in a shambles. We are still far from the universal provision of government neighbourhood schools, another target that missed the deadline. The RTE is at the crossroads, and a full-scale review of RTE implementation is now critical. Nothing will improve unless we are prepared to commit the necessary funds, as well as to strengthen and make accountable the academic, planning and monitoring bodies at the Central, state and subsidiary levels of government. A key task would be to strengthen the RTE vision of good quality elementary education by explicitly incorporating learning outcomes. Our children's right to education includes a right to effective teaching and learning, as well as adequately equipped schools.
The writer is a member of ARC (Action for the Rights of the Child), Pune