We Want Good Grades

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 became effective from April 1, 2010. It is one of the most ambitious and commendable pieces of legislation piloted by the present Government.  The Act promises free and compulsory education to children from the age of 6 to 14 years.  As Dr. Amartya Sen has observed that the imposing tower of misery which rests in the heart of India has its sole foundation in the absence of education.

Caste conflicts, religious tensions, lack of work culture and precarious economic conditions, all centre on this simple fact. According to the Nobel Laureate, the ‘ Right to Education’ offers a much awaited social recognition of the centrality of literacy as a basic human capability.

India fares poorly in the basic human capability index.  A quarter of our people are illiterate.  There is a disturbing gap between the literacy of men (75%) and women (54%).  No industrialized country has a literacy level below 80%.  China has more than 90% literacy rate.  There is an important link between healthy human capital and rapid economic development as evident from the empirical results on comparative growth of East Asian, South Asian and African economies.  The right to education is a significant first step in our country.  It commits to provide elementary education to every child.

Often our good policy, projects and programmes suffer from tardy implementation. We need to guard against this noble vision meeting the same fate.  It is with this commitment that the Public Interest Foundation has decided to adopt this programme as part of its work agenda.  The Act emphasizes that the local government should monitor the enrolment and compulsion of elementary education to all.  The Act has dealt, in great details, with the normative standards for a school and also the upgraded skills for teachers.  It envisions inclusive education through special provisions for children belonging to the weaker sections, disadvantage groups and also physically challenged children.

The challenges of implementation are many.  There are numerous players identified in the Act for effective delivery.  The role of the local governments is crucial to the success of the programme.  More than identifying financial resources the delivery mechanism of reaching out to the children and their parents is a gigantic task.  The capacity of the State Government to mobilize resources before qualifying for central assistance will depend on political commitment.

The Public Interest Foundation has evolved a framework that will identify critical measurable milestones at the kick off stage. The mammoth task has been broken into specific steps for effective measurement and analysis. The objective is to appreciate the intermediate steps for the successful launching of the programme. In our view there are critical issues relating to governance, finance, technology, database lining and infrastructure for the take off.

The Act envisages the constitution of a ‘National Advisory Council,’ to oversee the implementation. The union government has already announced the composition of the Council. A similar body is envisaged under section 34 of the Act at the state government level.Only few state governments have taken this important first step towards the implementation of the Act.

The mobilization of the programme to some extent has been possible as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has been subsumed in this large national goal. As per theAct,the estimates of the capital and recurring expenditure would be prepared under the overall guidance of the union government. The contribution from the state governments is through consensus building. Further, section 7(3) stipulates that funds should be released to state governments as grants-in-aid in consultation with state governments. There is a better estimation at the central level regarding the requirement of the funds. The Finance Minister recently   announced that the Government would allocate Rs. 231,000 crores over the next three years for the implementation of the act. However, there seems to be a lack of progress in consulting with the state governments, agreeing on a mutual acceptable formula for providing central support and a time table for the release of funds. We already hear dissenting comments from the state governments regarding funding the implementation of the act; for example, the recent comments by the minister from U. P.  So this area clearly requires a push from both, the central and the state governments.

The local governments are to monitor admission and imparting of elementary education. They are expected to maintain the record of children from birth till the age of 14 for free and compulsory education. This data is to be annually updated and kept in the public domain.  This record is the basis to establish the outcome of the act. While statistics are available from the supply side i.e. how many schools, the number of children attending such schools etc, this record from the demand side, i.e. the number of children in different neighborhoods and their status vis-a-vis their attendance at school, is not uniformly available.  To set up a mechanism to gather this data, publish it in the public domain and update it regularly, is a major challenge for the local and state governments. Given the level of competence and the inadequate staff support of the local bodies, there are serious concerns about the delivery.  This also throws up an opportunity to leverage the technology to set up a database nationally and monitor the status of the school attendance transparently and in a timely manner.It may become feasible with the support of appropriate technology and infrastructure.

Section 23(1) of the Act stipulates that the state government would appoint teachers only with the minimum qualification as established by the academic authority, to be appointed by the central government. This has multiple layers, with some relaxations for the existing teachers to be trained. The State governments need to estimate the number of teachers required and the central government may relax this requirement if there is a shortage of teachers. However, the objective of the section is to ensure qualified teachers. Given that the quality of teachers is the single most important variable in determining the quality of education; this is an important step. It requires the correct standards to be set up atthe national level, implementation of the policy at the state level and the establishment of a teacher training infrastructure to train the existing teachers.

The Foundation is committed to co-operate and contribute, so as to convert the noble objective into reality. The metrics developed by the Foundation would greatly rely on the monitoring infrastructure system of the union and the state governments. While it is not necessarily the most comprehensive chronicle of all steps, it certainly offers a beginning and can be leveraged for gauging delivery. PIF proposes to bring out the assessment of progress in the public domain so as to effect mid-term correction incase required.