Monday, May 6, 2013

Three years on, education as right a distant dream

Three years on, education as right a distant dream

14th April 2013 12:00 AM
The completion of the mandatory three years for the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act on March 31, 2013, could have been an occasion of great celebration of the fulfillment of the dream of universalisation of education. But that was not to be. The outcome was on expected lines as the MHRD could not create conditions necessary to ensure motivation among teachers and total participation of parents and community since the Act was implemented in 2010. It was clear to all that the MHRD at that stage was interested only in media hype. State governments were reluctant and the Central government was following its age-old pattern of acting Big Brother who holds the key to treasury. The infrastructure norms prescribed, though desirable, took no notice of the existing conditions and thus were found totally unrealistic. While the government claims that 59 per cent schools have met the required teacher-taught ratio of 1:30 in primary schools and 1:35 in elementary schools, many have their doubts. Same applies to the official claims of existence of ramps for the disabled children in 62 per cent schools and separate toilets for boys and girls. People are more inclined to accept the projections of voluntary agencies that only 7 per cent of schools teaching from classes I to VIII have met the RTE Act norms. Kapil Sibal, who outsmarted his Cabinet colleagues in hogging media space, lost interest once he was shifted full-time to the telecom ministry.

The Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) that met on April 2, 2013, has not given any new or innovative ideas that could generate confidence among people that targets would be achieved in, say, next three years. Private schools, particularly in villages and small towns, shall be under constant exploitation from education department functionaries for failure to meet the prescribed infrastructure norms. Many of these may close down, leaving children in lurch.

Current HRD minister Pallam Raju has inherited a complex legacy. Many of the HRD bills are pending; Aakash tablets are now remembered only sporadically; the deemed universities—the first to be corrected by Sibal—are continuing ‘as usual’. The greatest challenge before Raju is that schools require 12 lakh more teachers and out of the serving teachers, 8.6 lakh are neither trained nor qualified. What could be the meaning of the RTE Act in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal with 3.06 lakh, 2.6 lakh and 1.04 lakh vacant teacher posts respectively? Despite all claims, there is no enthusiasm among bureaucrats to ensure that the children in government schools get their rightful due. If it were not so, why are para-teachers being appointed in lakhs when trained teachers are available? The Teacher Eligibility Test has become a farce which must be given up and focus shifted to genuine teacher preparation institutions. Fake and commercially run institutions should not be permitted to train teachers. The National Council for Teacher Education has the necessary provisions in the Act and it had successfully regulated poor quality institutions in 1997-98. Even universities like Annamalai, Kurukshetra, Bhopal and others offering poor quality correspondence courses of teacher education were made to fall in line. The quality of institutions and the work culture there would determine the quality of school teachers. That in turn determines the ‘cognitive and skill capital’ of India.

The national obligation to provide elementary education to every child requires committed focus on three components: availability of a well-equipped school that is fully functional, an environment that attracts the child not to drop out and attainment of required levels of learning and skill acquisition. These were put as access, participation and attainments in the National Policy on Education 1986-92. The essence of that formulation remains valid even today.

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