The deadline toward the implementation of mandatory norms of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act) concluded on 31 March 2013 with the Ministry of Human Resource Development declining the request of some states to extend the deadline. The Act, which is a milestone in the history of elementary education in India, reflects a paradigm shift to a rights based approach towards education. Even so, reports suggest that hundreds of schools in the country are yet to implement the fundamental requirements of the Act.
The RTE Act prescribes basic norms and standards for all schools to comply and cater to the educational and overall needs of all children in schools irrespective of their social and economic backgrounds, gender, abilities or competencies. The Public Interest Foundation undertook a study to determine the level of involvement of all stakeholders and an update on the present status of implementation of the Act in schools in three districts of Uttar Pradesh (UP), namely, Bareilly, Bahraich and Mau on the basis of the total number of Out-of-School-Children (OoSC) falling in the eligibility age group, from the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2010.
The stakeholders who participated in the study consist of teachers, head masters, parents, students/ children, school management committee (SMC) members, and representatives at the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) from all three districts. Six schools from five blocks in each district were proportionately drawn from both rural and urban areas. The data was collected through interviews of students, teachers, SMC members and other stakeholders; observations drawn from school visits; and focused group discussions held with parents of enrolled students.
A key observation of the study states that majority of parents and SMC members view the RTE Act as a catalyst which facilitates the availability of schools in proximity to children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups. Even so, this viewpoint accelerates the want of desire in emphasising the quality of education in these common schools. The collective conscious in the public sphere has been predominantly captured in the critical Section 12 of the Act, which demands recognized schools to reserve 25 per cent of their seats for children from less-privileged backgrounds. This linear narrative potentially subverts the discerning endeavour to constantly improve the quality and standard of education, especially at the elementary level in India.
The field study noted that 25 per cent reservation norm in private schools for weaker sections and disadvantaged groups residing in respective districts has seemingly been ignored from being enforced. Although, all three districts have neighbourhood schools (both primary and upper primary schools (UPS)) there is discrepancy in terms of prescribed distance. The concept of ‘neighbourhood schools’ is in nonexistence in few panchayats as primary schools are not located within a distance of 1 kilometre from the community as observed in Mau and Bareilly. There is a need to allocate additional funds to ensure implementation of multifarious aspects of the Act.
There is a swelling demand to thrust attention on infrastructure expansion in all the districts under consideration. The survey indicates that schools in the districts are making progress in enabling infrastructure growth with all weather-pucca buildings, boundary walls, provision for kitchens to cook and serve Mid-Day-Meal (MDM), HM’s office rooms, libraries, playground and the like. Even so, the concerns are raised when the quality of present state of infrastructure in all three districts is assessed against the satisfactory requirements under the RTE Act. Some of the decisive issues in this regard include multiple classes being held in one classroom, lack of access to sanitation facilities and regular potable drinking water in schools. These deficiencies could adversely implicate the success of the RTE Act and most importantly, could prove fractious to the value of learning environment.
SMCs have been formed in all schools. They are the primary arrangement to efficaciously monitor the advancement in the implementation of the Act. Even as they were understood to be aware of their roles and responsibilities toward the school, there has been some serious scepticism with respect to their proficiency in the monitoring of the RTE Act. It has been observed that sensitization towards the creation of School Development Plans (SDPs) is still deficient, demanding the need for training and awareness to be provided to the parent community, especially on the holistic benefits of education.
Local authorities have been undertaking activities such as maintaining records of all children (who had dropped-out or never enrolled, children who belonged to the weaker sections, and children with special needs (CwSN)), participating in meetings of SMCs. Even so, these authorities are not absolutely active in their participation in school-mapping, child-mapping, holding awareness activities for sensitizing the parental community and collaborating with school and SMCs, particularly in Mau district.
The admission procedures in most schools have been found to be transparent and in adherence to the State norms. But there has not been any publication of any school records, admission registers or enrolments on any public portals by any of the stakeholders. Adequate funds have been provided by State government under Sarva Shiksha Abhigyan (SSA) to most of the schools as per their needs and requirements. Provisions of Teacher Learning Material (TLM), free textbooks, uniform, scholarships, equipment and supplies for children with special needs (CwSN) etc. have been made available to a credible degree. Noticeable in most schools of the three districts is that over-aged children, those admitted late, drop outs or never enrolled children and CwSN have not been integrated into the common classroom. Special trainings for mainstreaming of OoSC and ageappropriate admission still demand specific attention. This proves to be a disturbing factor to potent inclusive education system that the Act is expected to achieve. Adequate number of teachers remains a concern in almost all schools at both primary and UP levels, especially for specific subjects. All teachers have been observed to have minimum eligibility qualification, attend trainings organized by District Institute for Education and Training (DIET), and are recruited as per rule. In the district of Bareilly, the SMC respondents informed that the teachers take private tutorials.
The study extensively reflects on the issues that continue to create impediments to the qualitative process of learning assured in the RTE Act. The issues pertaining to enrolment, access, school infrastructure and other services such as quality teachers, management and monitoring system exist in the state educational system require in depth assessment. In addition, it is relevant to bridge the gap between the rural and urban areas particularly in maintenance of records, appointment of teaching staff, infrastructural development and challenges to enrolling of children and reducing dropout rates. With the central government refusing to extend the deadlines, the future of the implementation of the Act in the country lingers in obscurity.
By Nripendra Misra, Director, PIF & Annapoorna Karthika, Research Associate, PIF.
This article was published in Hindustan Times on 3 June 2013.