HRD ministry says it needs more than Rs.42,000 crore every year to smoothly operate the flagship programme
The 12th Five-Year Plan documents underline that although the number of elementary schools has increased to 1.3 million, many schools lack the basic infrastructure facilities required under the Right to Education Act. Photo: Mint
Updated: Sat, Aug 31 2013. 12 30 AM IST
New Delhi: Despite several recommendations by Congress president Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) to improve Right to Education (RTE) outcomes, the human resource development (HRD) ministry seems to be going slow on it, citing lack of money.
The RTE Act, which came into force on 1 April 2010, mandates schooling for children in the 6-14 year age group. However, the NAC has pointed to the need for an institutional audit of the RTE’s implementation, seeking a review of enrolment, education infrastructure, vacant teachers’ posts, and training of teachers.
The HRD ministry on Friday gave a presentation to the NAC on the action it has taken on its recommendations. But the council seems to be dissatisfied with the progress and has asked the ministry to come back to it with more details and specific plans, two officials familiar with the development said.
“The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and RTE budget that the government is giving us is at least 40% less than what we require, that too at a time when states have been demanding more financial support,” said an HRD ministry official, requesting anonymity.
The SSA is the main implementing vehicle for the RTE Act. In the 2013-14 budget the Union government allocated Rs.27,258 crore for implementing the RTE, compared with Rs.25,555 crore the year before.
The HRD ministry says it needs more than Rs.42,000 crore every year to smoothly operate the flagship programme.
“The NAC recommendations are good and can improve the outcome of the Act, but at the current junction, we have to be realistic about what can be done and cannot be,” the official quoted above said.
The council, in recommendations made on 10 January, suggested forming an inter-ministerial coordination system involving three ministries—HRD, women and child development, and panchayati raj—for better implementation of the RTE Act and an institutional audit of 1.3 million schools to monitor, address grievances, and bring accountability to the system.
“The auditing of more than 1.3 million schools as suggested by the NAC is time-consuming as well as resource-heavy. The ministry does not have that much of finance to do it from the word go,” the ministry official said.
In its presentation, the HRD talked about the progress made on the NAC’s recommendations. “The presentation highlighted the achievements made in respect of improving access, equity and quality in school education through SSA. It highlighted the decline in dropout rates, enhanced enrolment of girls, SC (scheduled caste), STs (scheduled tribe) and minorities,” a release by the council said.
But “the HRD’s presentation in the meeting did not have any specifics on which of our recommendations were being accepted or rejected. So, we have requested them to appraise in a more detailed manner,” a council member, who attended the meeting and did not want to be named, said.
The HRD ministry official quoted earlier said the ministry is in favour of interministerial coordination for better implementation and added it has held a few rounds of interactions with four other ministries for RTE and mid-day meal schemes.
The 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17) documents also underline that although “the number of elementary schools has increased to 13.04 lakh (1.3 million), many schools lack the basic infrastructure facilities required under the RTE Act. For example, the retention of girls in schools remains difficult given that over 63% of rural schools have no usable toilet facilities for them.”
In its recommendations, the NAC also suggested ending discrimination in schools, including preparing teachers to handle such issues, and budgetary provisions to promote equity and inclusion. The RTE reserves 25% of seats for underprivileged students living in the vicinity of schools.
Parth J. Shah, president of the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), a non-profit group working in education, said RTE has made huge progress in bringing more students to the classroom but there’s a need to focus on quality. “Unless, you focus on quality, the education outcome will remain questionable,” he said.
He also said that while 25% reservation for underprivileged students in private schools is important, the government cannot ignore the realities of state-run schools. Several organizations including CCS and the Central Square Foundation, a philanthropic venture capital fund, launched an RTE portal on Thursday to track the implementation of the Act.