RTE – a half baked, half hearted Act

22 Apr

The recent furore over the Supreme court judgement on the RTE Act has exposed another fault line in an act that is riddled with loopholes. While its original intent is truly noble – to include the disadvantaged in the process of education, it does so by riding rough shod over private rights and ignoring the real issues in the sector.

The massification effort has nominally created a large number of government schools, and government data indicates that student enrollment in primary education is near cent per percent. Then, what problem is the act trying to solve? The problem that needs solving is the quality provision of education to the masses at the primary level.

Recent quality assessments have clearly shown that government schools have seriously underperformed. Teacher absenteeism, discipline issues, poor quality facilities and teaching are among the various factors that have been on the agenda for decades and have not improved. Our much vaunted demographic dividend rests on the shoulders of these primary schools. If they do not deliver a generation well versed in basic skills (reading, writing, arithmetic, application, communication) then it will be almost impossible for the secondary and higher education system to deliver skilled and self-sufficient youth. The RTE acknowledges the need to include the private sector in the solution and has unilaterally co-opted them in the process. Now this puts the government schools in direct competition with the local private schools and challenges them to justify their value addition.

However, this is act also being used as a tool for social engineering. While, again, the intent is noble, the journey is anything but, for the people pay the price. It is easier for the incumbents than for the new comers who have a generation of catching up and hierarchical hurdles to jump. In this, they will need to be supported both inside the classroom and outside. It is an additional economic burden that the private schools will have to bear, and an emotional burden on these entrants. While it may seem unreasonable to some, it is the price we pay for rapid growth and a desire to be egalitarian.

The desire to be egalitarian too seems to be half hearted as the recent ruling has shown. Not only are the unaided minority schools left out of the ambit, other elite schools too have loopholes that they can take advantage of and not admit the weaker and backward sections. Because education is a concurrent subject, the act has an excuse for the loopholes it leaves. The states are supposed to define the rules and implement it in their own way. Thus, the reservation which was meant to be for the economically backward seems to have been defined more on caste and religious lines than economic. Could it be reservation by another name?

From the point of view of schools, there is only one category of schools that will not find it difficult. These are the ones in the middle of the ladder who have decent infrastructure and  tightly manage their costs one way or another. If their fees were lower than the compensation offered by the state (and there are a few of these) then this a windfall, an additional revenue stream. For an education philosophy that claims to be against profits (thankfully this is changing), this is an interesting fall out of the RTE act.

Most other schools are troubled. Many schools that currently served local poor communities do not have the infrastructure prescribed in the act. Nor do they have the funds to provide these facilities and will be at the grace and mercy of the government and their inspectors to continue their low cost-low fee operations.

Elite and high achieving schools of course have a different range of challenges, and all of these are people challenges. While this will take time, and the children will have to go through their own journeys of finding friendships across class and economic barriers, the schools will face the additional burden of supporting the disadvantaged outside the classroom. The biggest advantage any child at any school has, is educated and concerned parents, who support classroom learning with their inputs, both on content and study tools.  Students who are first generation learners will need to be mentored both by their teachers and by their peers and this will require additional funds not provided in the act. Nor has pastoral care been included, nor is there any indication of the intent to retain these students in school.

And this is the fatal flaw here, the half heartedness. It wants to open doors but not all of them. It wants students to enter, but does not plan for them to stay. It wants quality, but does not bother to define it in ways that will matter to the student’s progress. It wants a shared platform, but pays lip service to well being, ignoring the costs of provisioning. It seeks to educate the student but without thinking through the student experience.

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One Response to “RTE – a half baked, half hearted Act”

  1. R.Geetha May 4, 2012 at 6:34 am #

    Government wants the students to enter it and stay in it, till 8th class (age 14 years) government is providing free education. After that, what will happen to the education of these children? Elite and high achieving schools should not feel the additional burden of disadvantaged students. There should be statutory sanctions against schools which harm these students emotionally (Delhi schools were mean and segregated the disadvantaged in allocating them afternoon sessions). Concerned parents should be concerned about the whole generation of kids who are growing up with their own children. First generation learners need extra care and coaching; while the government is doing its duty, teachers and schools must put some extra efforts to make these kids arise; we must remember that we belong to a poor nation and we need to work harder.

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