The Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act was enacted by the Indian Parliament. This amendment provided for insertion of article 21A in the constitution, by which it was made obligatory for the state to provide for free and compulsory education to all children of the age six to fourteen years. This amendment envisaged a consequential legislation stating the modalities and intricacies of such a novel and innovative step. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act was passed in 2009, to fulfill this requirement of legislative direction.
This right made education a fundamental right of children and put the onus of providing education on the shoulders of the appropriate government. With this piece of legislation a new ray of hope shone for the millions of children in India who do not, or rather cannot, attend the schools. Human rights activists were filled with hope as they felt that this move had the potential to change the lives of innumerable children. Even a basic level of education could help brighten the future prospects of these underprivileged children.
The Right to Education (RTE) stipulates three years to ensure the fulfillment of the majority of its milestones, which terminates on 1 April 2013. The nation has got barely a few months left to fulfill the historic promise made to ensure that every child in the country has a school of acceptable quality. It has been more than three years since the Act was passed, but whether it has been able to achieve its conceived objectives is rather a debatable question.
It aimed at, among other things, providing free and compulsory education to every child, improving school infrastructure, rational deployment of teachers, appointing adequately trained teachers, prohibition of physical punishment etc. Just a basic study of the ground realities shows the true state of the Indian education system. The standards of Government schools are so deplorable that underprivileged children find it more fruitful to engage in menial jobs than to attend these ‘namesake’ schools.
Each of us has witnessed instances of children of school-going age, employed at the local mechanic shop, eateries, railway station etc. On one side are the parents who only care about getting their children admitted in a reputable institution. On the diagonally opposite ends are the children for whom this act is actually put into place. Majority of children in India are those who suffer from such extreme levels of poverty that school seems like an unnatural proposal to them. I’m not sure about how many families in the rural areas of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh would even know about this act.
Thus, the current state of Indian education system is definitely gloomy. In my view the RTE Act has been a disappointment and has failed miserably in its pursuit of empowering children. I have a rather pessimist opinion about the achievements of RTE as well as its future, and feel that the citizens have been miserably let down by it. The ground realities suggest that the RTE Act is definitely not a reality but just a myth propagated by the government to cover up its failures. The state has the obligation to provide its citizens with meaningful education.
Only the government schools can endeavor to provide education to the illiterate and economically poor masses. The government schools- which are responsible for the education of more than 73% of the school-going children – suffer from some integral problems that refuse to let the RTE Act improve education system. But the government schools are in such a bad condition that it is almost impossible for them to provide meaningful education to its students. The government schools are plagued with multiple short-comings, the most glaring of which I will describe and critique here.
All of these short comings have combined to help Indian government schools attain world infamy. Issues plaguing the Education System in India: 1) Infrastructure: Firstly, the government schools are caught short of the basic infrastructural requirements envisaged under the act. 95. 2% of schools are not compliant with complete set of RTE infrastructure indicators. Students do not have sufficient number of classrooms. 40% of primary schools have a classroom student ratio higher than 1:30.. Students of different standards are cramped into the same classrooms.
Many of the government schools do not have supply of clean drinking water neither do they have proper sanitation facilities. In many schools girls are forced to use common toilet facilities, if at all the school has these “facilities”. In fact forty percent of the schools do not even have a common functional toilet and another forty percent of the schools do not have separate toilet for girls. This means that in only twenty percent of the government schools do girls have a separate toilet arrangement.
Such kind of inadequate facilities ompromises the safety of girls in schools, further dissuading their family members from sending them to schools. Sixty percent of the schools are not electrified. The plight of children in such settings is easily imaginable, especially in the scorching summers. Even though the act aims for “all round development” of children, availability of a playground is a rarity in the schools. Another important objective of RTE is to increase access to the disabled children. But the draft report filed by RTE forum shows that half the schools even lack a ramp for access by the disabled.
In fact we see that access to disabled is hindered even in the private commercial schools, and not just in government schools. Such kind of infrastructure shortcomings consigns the “access to disabled” part of RTE Act just to the statute books. 2) Quality of Teaching Faculty: The quality of teachers in government schools is also questionable. The draft report filed by RTE forum reveals shocking figures. 93% of teacher candidates failed the National Teacher Eligibility Test conducted by CBSE. 6. 7 lakh teachers are professionally unqualified and untrained.
Also, 36% of all sanctioned teaching posts are vacant. Such kind of unprofessional teaching staff is a major cause for the failure of the act. Common sense tells that such kinds of teachers are definitely not going to be of much help to the students. To add to the woes is the problem of absenteeism and corruption in the teacher recruiting process. The RTE Act has tried, and achieved limited success, in countering the problem of absenteeism. In Section 24(1) of RTE Act it states that teachers have to compulsorily maintain regularity and punctuality in school.
Section 25(2) prohibits deployment of teachers for any non educational purposes except the “decennial population census, disaster relief duties or duties relating to elections to the local authority or the state legislatures or the Parliament, as the case maybe”. Also Section 28 of the act prohibits teachers from engaging in private tuition or private teaching activity. All these provisions have achieved limited success though there is much scope for stronger enforcement of these provisions. But corruption in the teacher recruitment process continues unabated.
The recent teacher recruitment scam involving former Haryana Chief Minister OP Chautala is just a case in point. The court convicted Chautala and 54 others in the case of illegal recruitment of 3,206 junior basic trained teachers, and held Chautala as the “main conspirator”. Also corruption is widespread in the mid-day meal scheme, launched by the government to attract students to schools. But the quality as well as quantity of this “nutritional support” is questionable. There have been quite a few instances where dead animal bodies have been found in these food servings.
Also a significant portion of food grains sanctioned for this flagship scheme is siphoned off and sold in the open market and children are forced to make do with the meager quantities that they get in the name of proper nourishment. What it shows is corruption spread across the rank and file, from the politicians and IAS officers to the ordinary school peon. Strict deterrent measures have to be urgently taken to protect the credibility and effectiveness of schools. Also the existing teachers should be provided with periodic training so that they can adapt to the changing needs of the present world.
With the kind of teaching staff we have presently, the objectives of RTE Act remains a distant future. 3) Corporal Punishment: The RTE Act also prohibits corporal punishment. But it is common knowledge that any average mischievous kid who goes to school, has at some point or other faced physical punishment, be it in the form of a slap or cane beatings. In fact 99. 86% of children report to have faced some kind of physical punishment in school. Periodically, the ugly face of this practice reveals itself when the newspapers cover a case of brutal beating or, even worse forms of torture.
There was this case in Kolkata where a child was made to drink her own urine as a punishment for bed-wetting. Another horrifying case was reported from M. P where a class IV student was beaten to his death just because he broke a bucket belonging to the school authorities. Thousands of such cases go unreported every year. Such kind of punishment/torture acts as a strict deterrent to kids voluntarily wanting to go to schools. Also such kind of torture so early in their life could easily adversely affect the mental state of kids. Under such circumstances parents are anxious about the safety of their kids and keep their kids away from school.
It is essential to make the students comfortable in schools, and for that to happen such kind of mental torture has to go. 4) Charging of Capitation Fee: Section 13 of the RTE Act disallows the schools from collecting any capitation fee or subjecting the kids to any kind of screening process. But Indian schools still, out rightly, go in for both of these. Most of the quality schools have strident admission tests for kids, and the deep-pocket parents have the option of by-passing such procedures by giving donations or granting other allurements to the school authorities.
Capitation fee is also a regular feature in the fee structure of most schools, though under different titles. In a case reported in national media on October 9th, 2012, a parent from a Mumbai school filed an FIR against the school for charging capitation fee. The parent alleged the school charges building fun, book money etc. Such kind of cases just highlights what everyone knows to be true i. e. schools do blatantly charge capitation fee and still go scot free. 5) Lack of Quality School Education: Shortage of seats in schools providing quality education is another major obstacle in the progress of RTE.
The number of aspirants far outnumbers the number of seats available. Under such demand-supply mismatch the most disadvantaged people often belong to the under-privileged sections of the society. Parents are forced to adopt unethical practices to secure admissions in premium institutions. Parents having that extra dime often get the seats by providing the allurement of donation. Such a situation results in status quo in the society, where people belonging to poorer sections do not have any chance of coming up the social ladder.
By denying quality education to kids from poor families, the society takes away from them one of their most potent weapon in a world based on exploitation. In an investigation undertaken by the news channel IBN7, it was exposed that nursery seats are on sale well before the admission session in the national capital. The investigation had exposed that as much as Rs. 2-3 Lakh was being charged for each nursery seat. What is even more shocking is the fact that seats for poor kids were being sold for lakhs of rupees and the Delhi government had said that it cannot do much.
Such kind of hand-washing by the government does not cut much ice. If the government truly cares for these kids, then it is imperative for them to increase the number of quality schools, so that every child born in our country, in reality, has education as an inalienable and fundamental right. Also some of the provisions of RTE are out rightly retrogressive. For example the provision which makes it mandatory for the teachers to pass the students in every class up till 8th class just lowers the quality of students that the primary school delivers.
Also it results in increasing laxity on the part of teachers, aggravating the impact of this provision. Section 16 spells out the need for compulsorily passing a child up until completing his/her elementary education. In such a situation of guaranteed success hoping that children will strive for excellence is living in an unrealistic world. Do you think that David would actually go-through the pain of even lifting and flinging the stone towards Goliath, if he was assured of his victory? In many a cases it is the fear of failure that propels you through the steps of success.