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On 12 April 2012, in its historical decision the Supreme Court (SC) of India threw its weight behind the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. The court upheld the constitutional validity of RTE Act that guarantees children free and compulsory education from the age of 6 to 14 years of age. The judgment makes it mandatory for the government, local authorities and private schools to reserve 25 percent of their seats for ‘weaker and disadvantaged sections’ of society. The decision has wiped away many apprehensions regarding the future of the Act.
It has been welcomed by academicians, politicians, journalists and others. The Union minister for human resources development Mr. Kapil Sibal, articulated, “RTE can be a model for the world”. While there has been enthusiastic praise of the judgment, concerns related to quality, finance, ensuring of 25 percent reservation in private schools and change in classroom structure cannot be thrown into the winds. The amount put aside by Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is only Rs. 25,555 crores for 2012-13, which falls short of the recommended financial requirement of Rs 1.
82 lakh crore. From where will the rest of amount come? According to Kapil Sibal (2012) more than 90 percent of households will have to enroll their wards in government schools. Thus 90 percent of households’ wards will have poor access to education; if at all they are enrolled in schools, as the quality of education in government schools is a matter of serious concern. There is no clarity on how 25 percent reservation in private schools will be filled. There may be more than one private school in a neighborhood, so how will they decide who will go where? How will reservation in private schools be monitored?
The 25 percent reservation in private schools will dramatically change the structure of classrooms in schools. Whether diversity of classroom will create democratic learning environment and enhance teaching learning process or will it put children from ‘weaker and disadvantaged sections’ in discomfited position? Concern of Quality Education One of the primary objectives of Right of Children Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 is improving quality education. The quality of elementary education, particularly in government schools, is a matter of serious concern.
The quality of school education depends on various variables which includes physical infrastructure, method of teaching, learning environment, type of books, qualification of teachers, number of teachers, attendance of teachers and students and so on. There has been substantial progress in increasing enrollment with national average now at 98. 3 percent (2009-2010) according to official statistics. However, the attendance of pupils in class rooms has declined. In 2007, 73. 4 percent students enrolled for Standards I-IV/V were present in class, which has fallen to 70.
9 percent by 2011 (EPW, 2012). Fayaz Ahmad (2009) came with the findings that despite lack of staff in government schools, teachers remain absent on rotational bases. He adds that due to vacancies for teacher, absenteeism of teachers and poor infrastructure in government schools classrooms are multi-grade, i. e. one teacher attending to children from different grades in a single classroom. The attendance of teachers and students in schools is directly related with the quality of education. Furthermore, mere enrollment of children in school does not fulfill the aims of RTE.
Amman Madan (2003) argues ‘the question of reform in Indian education has usually been conceived of in narrow ways – putting children in school and getting schools to function efficiently’. Despite high enrollments in schools 50 percent of children studying in the fifth grade lack the reading skills expected of children in the second grade (Annual Status of Education Report, ASER 2010). Ensuring 25 percent Reservation The RTE, Act, 2009 clause, 12 (1) (c) mandates for private schools to admit quarter of their class strength from weaker section and disadvantaged groups 1.
The constitutional validity of this clause was challenged in the apex court of country. However on 12, April 2012, a bench of Chief Justice S . H. Kapadia, Justice K. S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar upheld the constitutional validity of the Act. In response to the Supreme Court order, HRD minister Kapil Sibal said, “I am very happy that the court has set all controversies at rest. One of the biggest controversies was on whether the 25 percent reservation applies to private schools or not… that controversy has been set to rest.
”2 Reacting to the 25 percent reservation Krishna Kumar (2012) penned down “most ambitious among its objectives is the social engineering it proposes by guaranteeing at least 25 percent share of enrolment in unaided fee-charging schools to children whose parents cannot afford the fee. ” Both Krishna Kumar and Kapil Sibal did not give indepth critical insight to the provision. The questions like, what will be the mechanism of selection process of 25 percent children from ‘weaker and disadvantaged sections’.
Some private schools are very reputed and provide very high quality of education and some are either at par with government schools or little ahead. There is a hierarchy of private schools which are stratified in quality education. Who will go where what will be the criteria for that? Furthermore Indian society is patriarchal in nature, boys are even served good food in comparison to girls how one can expect parents or guardians will send a girl child to these private schools, if at all they agree to send a girl child to school. The reservation benefits will go to a particular gender of society.
This will further reinforce and reproduce gender bias and social inequality in society. Thus RTE itself creates a vacuum for “reproduction of culture”. Fayaz Ahmad (2009) underlines, parents prefer schooling for their girl child but prefer government schools for them in comparison to a male child. The important finding which has been revealed by Fayaz Ahmad (2009) is the enrollment shown in schools was higher than what actually it was. This was done to get mid-day meals for more and more children so that teachers can save some money to bear other hidden expenditures and avoid wrath of authorities for poor enrollment.
Despite employment of Resource Persons and Zonal Resource Persons by Jammu and Kashmir government in the department of school education ,who are obliged to ensure smooth and normal functioning of schools, such kind of loopholes are observed, how can the government ensure that private schools will follow the provision of 25 percent reservation. Change in the Structure of Classroom and Beyond. The RTE Act directed all schools, including privately -run schools, to reserve 25 percent of their seats for students from socially and economically backward families.
That means, quarter of students in classes will be from marginalized section of the society. This will change the structure of classes. Krishna Kumar (2012) maintains “a classroom reflecting life’s diversity will benefit children of all strata while enriching teaching experience. ” He further adds “classroom life will now be experientially and linguistically richer. It will be easier to illustrate complex issues with examples drawn from children’s own lives. ” He rightly articulates that class room will reflect diversity and will be experientially and linguistically richer.
But his argument that classroom diversity will benefit children from weaker section of society is hypothetical and ambiguous. School education can’t be separated from its social context, those who teach and learn carry with them attitudes, beliefs, habits, customs, orientations which differ from class to class. The elite schools have their own culture which suits to children of upper class. The teaching-learning environment at these schools suits children of upper class while children from weaker section may find themselves alienated from the schools.
Bernstein (1971) while examining the mode of communication of working and middle class argues that both have different mode of communication and most of the teachers in schools belong to middle class which gives edge to middle class children in learning. Bourdieu(1977) empirical research in France explores that performance of a child in school on his access to cultural capital. He maintains that children of upper classes are able to understand contents of knowledge better than their counterparts belonging to marginalized sections of society. The present experience of India with mixed or diversified classroom is not encouraging.
The children from marginalized sections of society are discriminated in the classroom on the bases of gender, caste, and ethnicity. Despite Indian constitution strictly prohibits discrimination on the bases of caste and other social backgrounds and makes it a punishable act yet children from marginalized sections are discriminated in schools. How can discrimination of ‘weaker and disadvantaged sections be prevented? There are various theoretical and empirical studies which have come up with that children from lower classes are at a backfoot in schools in the learning process.
They are more vulnerable when enrolled in elite schools. Conclusion Indian children now have a precious right to receive free and compulsory education from the ages of 6 to 14 years of age. The government will bear all the expenditures of schooling. The act has mandated for private schools to reserve quarter of classroom strength for deprived sections of society, which will change the structure of classrooms in elite schools to school who are not yet enrolled. However, there are many apprehensions with regard to achieving desired goals through RTE.
By pressing for 25 percent reservation for the ‘weaker and disadvantaged sections’ of society, government has acknowledged poor quality in government schools where more than 90 percent of households in the country will have to enroll their children even if 25 percent reservation is implemented in true sense. This means that there will be further diversification of society in India. There are also concerns whether those enrolled in private schools will cope and adjust with education system and culture of elite schools.
There are many other loop holes which are pressing and challenging in the way of RTE: quality education, funding, teacher skills and enhance of reservation policy are some major concerns. Despite the flaws in the way of RTE Act, it is important to simultaneously ensure proper implementation of the Act. —————————————- Footnotes 1. The Gazette of India, http://eoc. du. ac. in/RTE%20-%20notified. pdf 2. Dhananjay Mahapatra & Himanshi Dhawan(2012) Times of India, RTE:Govt Subsidy to be based on KV expenditure, New Delhi, 13 April. References.
Ahmad, Fayaz (2009) “ A Sociological Study of Primary Education Among Girls: With Special Reference to Block Hajin of District Bandipora” Dissertation, Barkatullah University. Annual Status of Educational Report (2010): “Annual Status of Educational Report ( Rural) , assessed 21April 2012: http://www. pratham. org/aser08/ASER_2010_Report. pdf Bernstein, B (1973): “Class Codes and Control: Applied Studies towards a Sociology of Language”, London, Routledge Kegan Paul. Boourdieu,P (1977): “ Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction”, In Karabel, J and A.
H, Halsey, (ed), Power and Ideology in Education. OUP Economic and Political Weekly (2012): “The Right to learn: Two Years after the Right to Education Act, the government needs to focus on quality”,16 April, Vol XLVII No 16. Kumar, Krishna (2012): “Let a hundred children blossom: A classroom reflecting life’s diversity will benefit children of all strata while enriching teaching experience. ”, The Hindu, Delhi,20 April 2012. Madan, Amman (2003): Education as Vision for Social Change, Economic and Political Weekly May 31, 2003 pp.
2135-2136 Sibal, Kapil (2012): “Admitting kids from weaker sections while not lowering quality of teaching will be difficult for pvt schools, but it can be done: RTE Can Be A Model For The World” The Times of India, New Delhi, 20 April. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, popularly known as the Right to Education (RTE) Act, came into being in India from April 1, 2010. The Act introduces a number of changes in education delivery through schools in India.
Many of the changes are simply revolutionary, and if they are implemented properly will vastly improve the system of imparting education in the country. The Act is a landmark in the history of education related legislation in India. However, some of the provisions of the Act, although included with noble intentions, will have unintended consequences that might counter some of the advantages of the new system itself. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, as published in the Gazette of India [No. 39, Dated August 27, 2009] makes for interesting reading.
I present below a critique of some of the salient provisions of the Act, and elucidate how these provisions also have unintended consequences that have not been addressed. Along the way, I also provide suggestions on what could be done better. Category 1: Decisions relating to screening and failing students (Section 16) No failing allowed: Section 16 of the RTE Act states that no child shall be failed in any class or expelled from school till he or she completes elementary education (defined as education imparted from Class 1 to Class 8).
The Act also provides for special training for students who are deemed to be deficient and deserving of extra help. The Government reasons that failing a child is wrong, no matter the level of learning deficiency the child exhibits with respect to his or her peers. Any such deficiencies, the Government thinks, can be made up through special training provided by the school authorities under Section 4 of the Act. The intention of this rule is no doubt to support those children who are not able to attain the level of performance required to gain admission into the next class.
Through this provision, the Government wants to reinforce that performance standards are relative, that failing a child is an unjust mortification for the child’s persona, and that a child younger than 14 is too young to be explicitly classified as deficient compared to his or her peers. While all these reasons hold good, a number of issues remain unaddressed: Skill development: While it is true that failing a child may well cause the child to intensely doubt his or her abilities, the Government fails to appreciate that failing a child also serves as a protective mechanism.
Under the mechanism of failing, a child whose skills are clearly deficient with respect to his or her peers is held back in the same class and denied promotion. Failing therefore also acts as a protective mechanism, allowing a child to spend more time in the same class to make sure that he or she gains skills commensurate with his or her peers, and acts as a crucial aid in skill development. Under the new system, however, the child graduates to the next class regardless of performance or skill level in the previous one.
The system then provides for special attention (through Section 4 of the Act) for such a child in the higher class to make up the deficiency in skills and ability. The critical question is – can a child who is unable to bear the workload of a junior class now deal with the workload of a senior class in addition to taking special classes? The embarrassment of failing, which under a system of failing a weak student is corrected at the first stage of inadequacy, now carries over into senior classes.
This only accentuates the embarrassment that a child faces because of an increasingly steep learning curve which he or she finds ever more difficult to negotiate as compared to his or her peers. As a consequence, the child faces academic seclusion in the higher class. No feedback mechanism: Failing also acts as an important feedback mechanism, making the child and his parents and teachers aware that the child is deficient in critical skills. It also acts as feedback for teachers – if more students fail in a teacher’s class than those in other teachers’ classes, the teacher’s methods and effectiveness should be put under the scanner.
However, under the new system, when every child is promoted to the next class irrespective of performance, both parents and teachers in general put in less of a marginal effort to ensure development of the child. The onus to support the child is passed from teachers and parents to schools (through Section 4 of the Act), and rarely, if ever, will teachers be held accountable for falling standards of teaching. Similarly, the incentive for children to learn is diminished, because the fear of failure and the repercussions of non-performance are removed.
No doubt all consuming interest rather than fear should be the motive for sustained academic development of children but a system that ensures less accountability for all concerned (students, parents, and teachers) in no way creates a case for substituting ‘fear’ with interest. The stick has been removed, but where is the carrot? Postponing development does not work: One reason often put forward is that failing creates a frustration and lack of confidence in the child, causing them to drop out of school. However, a child that is deficient in skills will find it even harder to catch on in a senior class.
The frustration and inclination to quit will therefore be even stronger. Ultimately, the child may be inclined to drop out of school in frustration with the system (experienced over a number of years) rather than with just a particular teacher or class. With the latter, there is still hope to bring the child back into the system. With the former, even that is gone. Inability to deal with failure: A child who does not learn the value of accountability, performance, and hard work in the initial stages of its schooling will be ill-equipped to meet these constants of life in later stages.
The child will grow up not with resilience, but with a sense of entitlement, feeling that it is the duty of teachers to provide special training when he or she does not perform. When this sense of entitlement is suddenly removed after 14 years of age, the child may well feel deprived, unsupported, and unable to deal with performance expectations. Rewarding competence is the rule in all professions and vocations – why not embed it into the child at an early age? Category 2: Prohibition on physical punishment and ‘mental harassment’ (Section 17).
Section 17(1) of the Act prohibits physical punishment or mental harassment of students. While a ban on physical punishment is laudable, the one on mental harassment is incompletely defined. What, after all, is ‘mental harassment’? It could be anything from a light admonition for not completing homework to vile abuses meant to strip the student of all self-respect. The Act sheds no further light. The problem then becomes one of establishing the commission of mental harassment itself. When rules are incompletely defined, they are subject to manipulation and misuse.
Consider the plausible scenario when the rule on mental harassment is sought to be enacted. The clear and visible effect is that teachers will not be able to physically punish or mentally berate students. However, there are also some unseen effects. No clear escalation mechanism: One of the unseen effects is that in rural areas and impoverished regions, where acts of mental harassment are most often carried out, these acts are not even reported (except in severe cases). This is because the child risks arousing further displeasure of the teacher concerned, and is not assured of action in any case.
Section 17(2) of the Act prescribes disciplinary action against any teacher violating the rule. However, in a set up where mental harassment is hard to establish, reporting mechanisms are poor, the social matrix favours teachers, and where administrators are already feeling a crunch of available teachers, strong action against the guilty is unlikely. If at all it is to be more effective, the provision needs to be given more teeth – establish a uniform reporting and escalation mechanism for teacher misconduct and ensure that whistleblowers are not at the receiving end of punitive measures.
‘Mental harassment’ not clearly defined: In an urban, metropolitan setting, again the loose definition of mental harassment becomes a problem. Here, students are more empowered, and find it easy to report any behaviour which would constitute ‘mental harassment’ in their opinion. In such schools, errant behaviour from students is encouraged because any admonishment, even if it is meant to serve as a correction, can be (mis)interpreted as mental harassment. This will reduce the effectiveness of teachers to administer suitable admonitory measures to this class of students.
A solution for improvement, then, seems to be introduction of a uniform escalation and protection mechanism for students, along with clearly defining what mental harassment constitutes, allowing students and teachers to be aware of potential violations when they occur. Category 3: Only ‘recognized’ schools allowed to function (Section 18) Schools which do not have a certificate of recognition from the local authority or government shall no longer be allowed to function, under Section 18 of the Right to Education Act.
If such a school is already functioning, the Act prescribes that it be shut down within 3 years if it fails to meet norms. If a new school is set up, it must conform to the norms for a school as laid out in the Schedule of the Act, or be shut down within three years. The norms themselves prescribe minimum teacher-student ratios for different classes, the existence of a permanent building, minimum number of working hours per teacher, and a functioning library, among other things. There is no doubt that a school which provides all of these will be superior in imparting education to an institution which provides only some of these.
However, two main difficulties arise – it is erroneous to conclude that private, unrecognized schools offer a quality of education that is less than that offered by recognized schools, and banning private unrecognized schools further aggravates the problem of scarcity of formal education institutions. Unrecognized schools may be better than recognized ones: In a study conducted on private, unrecognized schools in the slums of East Delhi in 2004-05, James Tooley and Pauline Dixon from the University of Newcastle found that there were more unrecognized schools than government schools in the locality.
In this research paper, the authors found, through unannounced visits, that a higher number of teachers were teaching in private unaided schools as compared to government schools. Further, they found that private unaided schools (including unrecognized ones) had superior or similar inputs than government schools. Most significantly, in this study, Tooley and Dixon found that children in unrecognized private schools scored 72% higher in Mathematics, 83% higher in Hindi, and 246% higher in English than students in government schools.
Students in private unaided schools were found to be more satisfied with facilities being provided to them than their counterparts in government schools. Teachers in these schools reported a level of satisfaction similar to that reported by teachers in government schools. Importantly, even head teachers or principals were reported to maintain closer monitoring on teachers in private unaided schools (including unrecognized schools) than in government schools. Considering that monitoring and continuous evaluation of teachers is an important element of the strategy under the new Act, this last point gains even more significance.
In another study conducted by Tooley and Dixon in 918 schools within a locality in Hyderabad, 37 percent were found to be private unrecognized schools, compared to only 35 percent government run schools. Around 65 percent of school-going children in the area went to the private, unrecognized schools. It may be argued that this study was conducted only in particular areas, and that things might be different in other parts of the country. This notion is refuted by another study done by Karthik Muralidharan and Michael Kremer of rural private primary schools in India in 2003.
This study, as claimed by the authors, is a “nationally representative survey of rural private primary schools in India conducted in 2003”. While conducting this research, the authors found that private schools are most common in areas with poor public school performance. In spite of paying lower teacher salaries, these schools have children with higher attendance rates and higher test scores. The teachers are 2 to 8 percentage points less likely to be absent as compared to public school teachers, and 6 to 9 percent more likely to be engaged in regular teaching activity.
These research studies do present strong evidence for the view that private unrecognized schools are comparable, if not superior, to their government counterparts. The onus is on the government to prove conclusively that this is not so. Until this has been done, closing down the unrecognized schools, even with a 3 year grace period to confirm to standard regulations, might be hasty, unwarranted, and a step backward. Unrecognized schools solve the problem of outreach: Under Section 13(1), the Government has mandated that no school should collect any capitation fee for granting admission to a child.
This move is welcome, and it will ensure that discretionary admissions are not the hegemony of the rich. However, having addressed the symptom, the Government has failed to address the underlying cause. Why do schools demand that capitation fees be paid for admission? The simple reason is that the number of children seeking admission is much higher than the number of seats available. The school therefore sees this as a convenient way of ensuring admission for those wards whose parents can contribute the most to the school financially. The presence of this phenomenon itself indicates the paucity of available education.
The solution would be to either ensure that government schools or private recognized schools can ensure education for every child who seeks it. As this is a huge task and is not easily accomplished in at least the foreseeable future, private unrecognized schools must be a crucial part of the strategy for enabling outreach. Not only will this ensure a lesser burden on the government to set up new schools quickly, but it will also ensure that the overall vision of the Act – basic education for the widest base of children possible – is more convincingly achieved.
We need to create more schools, not less. Private unrecognized schools are not the alternative to recognized institutions – they are the alternative to no education at all! By proposing to shut them down, the government decreases the outreach of education made possible by these institutions. An uncertain future for students: The RTE Act mandates that unrecognized institutions which fail to meet the set criteria will have to close down after a period of about 3 years.
However, apart from mandating that the students in these schools will have a right to seek transfer to other schools within the area, the Act does not specify how and on what basis these students will be given admission in other schools. With recognized schools already straining under the burden of having to support free education for all students who approach them (till their capacity), the room for accommodating more students will be scarce. This itself will create uncertainty for students studying in these unrecognized institutions, and will also create a strain on recognized institutions to accommodate them later.
The only alternative is for the state to open as many recognized schools (of approximately similar capacity) as the number of unrecognized schools that it closes down. A Times of India report cites various studies that show that in Punjab, 86% of more than 3000 private schools are unrecognized and 3. 5 lakh children are enrolled in them. The report also says that in 1996, the Public Report on Basic Education in India (PROBE) survey of UP, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh found that 63% of private schools were not recognized.
According to the report, Andhra Pradesh has 10,000 unrecognized schools, and Delhi has at least 1,500 catering to around 6 lakh children. The report also cites Prof Yash Aggarwal of the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), who in 2000 had said that the number of unrecognized schools in the country was doubling every 5 years and the number of such schools was soon expected to be 1. 5 to 2 times that of government schools in the country. With 10 years already having passed since this assertion, one can assume that unrecognized schools form a large part of the educational backbone of India.
To break this apart and yet keep the neck straight will be a difficult endeavour. Category 4: Prohibition of private tuition by teachers (Section 28) Section 28 of the RTE Act mandates that no teacher should engage himself or herself in private tuition activity. Through this provision, the Government is trying to address the problem of teachers not teaching properly in schools and then requiring students to attend private tuitions to actually learn the subject material.
The intention again is worthy of appreciation – any provision that improves standards of teaching in the classroom and removes perverse incentives for teachers to earn money from their students through unethical means is welcome. A question of money: The primary reason why teachers underperform in the classroom and then require their students to attend private tuitions is the want of additional income, unfettered by a loose monitoring and punitive system. Banning teachers from taking private tuitions does not do away with the cause of the problem.
With the RTE Act enforcing strict norms on the appointment of teachers, some aspirational educationists might well be forced to sit out. It is then possible for their collaborators inside the system to promote the seeking of private tuitions with these private teachers, with of course a money sharing arrangement being worked out between the two. While banning private tuitions by teachers themselves is a welcome step in this regard, this should also be reinforced with a ban on referring students for private tuitions.
Monitoring this will not be an easy task, but then neither will be monitoring teachers to ensure they do not provide private tuitions. It is student reporting that must be the proof of misdemeanour in this case (with suitable verification and safeguards to ensure false reports are filtered out). Banning referral for private tuitions along with private tuitions by teachers themselves will make the legislation more complete. A question of performance: Even if private tuitions by teachers are successfully done away with, it still does not address the prevalence of teacher underperformance and absenteeism.
One may argue that with an alternative source of revenue (private tuitions) now removed, teachers will be loath to take up government school jobs, as the effective income earned is lower. Some capable teachers who would otherwise have taught well in school, and also taken private tuitions, will therefore walk away from a government school teacher job, choosing to dedicate themselves completely to private tuitions. On the other hand, some less capable teachers, who were not teaching well in school but were supplementing their income through private tuitions, will elect to stay on.
With the failing mechanism also removed, the performance evaluation of these teachers will become even more difficult. Underperformance, therefore, will stay, and teacher absenteeism will only increase (especially to pursue other income opportunities). Section 24 of the Act prescribes punitive measures to be undertaken in case absenteeism and non-performance of duties is observed. While it prescribes the minimum duties to be undertaken by each teacher, no specification is made of what constitutes high performance.