Friday, September 17, 2010

Make RTE work

I would agree what Mr.Ashok Malik says on the RTE and its 25 percent reservation in primary school enrolment. But the supply side is not only abysmal but its very pathetic.

Some excerpts:

  • It is estimated 142 million Indian children are denied access to primary and secondary education due to inadequate schools or social and family conditions. That number is bigger than the entire population of Japan. If 'out of school' Indian children had a country of their own, it would be among the 10 most populated in the world.
  • These children are tomorrow's workers part of India's 'demographic dividend' for the early 21st century. Yet, if they are left uneducated (or undereducated), India will not achieve many of the social and economic goals it has set itself. As such, getting them into the classroom has to be a national priority.
  • For instance, the director of education, government of Delhi, already has wide-ranging powers under the Delhi School Education Act, 1973. The RTE draft rules harden the director's authority still more and give him unrestrained miscellaneous powers. The draft rules in Karnataka allow the state government to "fix the scale of fee...that can be collected by a private unaided institution". Since poor students admitted under the RTE Act won't be paying fees at all, why is this sentence needed?
  • There are other, pan-Indian angularities. The RTE Act is applicable from ages six to 14 or classes I to VIII. Should a municipal birth certificate not be available, how would the age of the child be determined? Some states have recommended legitimate alternative documents. For example, Goa has mandated a baptism certificate.
  • Most states have ruled schools also accept self-declaration of a candidate's age by his parents. Some states have directed that "the school at its expense shall cause a medical examination of the child by a qualified doctor and enter the date of birth as certified by the doctor". All this is liable to create distortions and potentially lead to ridiculous situations such as an eight-year-old in class I.
  • The tragedy is even if all private schools in India became optimally RTE-compliant, it will not mean much. Across the country, 93 per cent of school-going children go to government or government-aided institutions. In Delhi, the number is over 90 per cent. In Maharashtra, as per a government report of 2005, 90 per cent of the state's 67,885 primary schools are run by zila parishads and municipal bodies and charge no fees.
  • If the RTE mission is to succeed, this is where the focus must lie: on augmenting the public school system. If all of those 142 million children currently out of school enrol for admission, India simply doesn't have the school buildings, the classrooms, the trained teachers and as one principal said only half-facetiously the sticks of chalk to cope. A massive supply-side problem is not being seriously addressed. Instead bureaucrats are manufacturing phantoms and pushing private schools, RTE activists and state governments towards inevitable litigation. In the process, one of the UPA government's flagship social sector initiatives is being derailed.

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