School results are in…

The preamble to the historic ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009’ (RTE) reads ‘… An Act to provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years.’ So how realistic is the target set-out by this Act?

Since the very inception of our Constitution in 1950, Right to Education was kept under the category of Directive Principles of State Policy. These Directive Principles act as important guidelines towards making laws to establish a just society in the country. But unlike Fundamental Rights, these are non-justiciable rights of the people.

In 2009 the historic legislation of the ‘Right of Children to Free & Compulsory Education Act’ was enacted, and thus moving it to the Article 21 of the Chapter III of the Constitution. With the RTE Act (RTE) coming to force on the 1st of April 2010, India has joined the league of over 130 countries all over the world which have legal guarantees to provide free and compulsory education to children.

In April 2011, we are going to complete one full year since RTE Act came into force. Thus as would be expected, various credible institutions have come out with analytical reports on the performance of the RTE Act in the year 2009-2010. ASER the research division of the NGO Pratham working primarily in the sector of promoting elementary education, has come out with the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2010. This report evaluates the execution of the RTE Act on various parameters like pupil to teacher ratio, teacher to classroom ratio, school facilities, student-teacher attendance etc. Based on thirteen such parameters picked up from the RTE Act when various states were ranked for their compliance with the RTE norms, this report revealed that Puducherry, Kerala, Daman & Diu, Gujarat and Punjab complied the highest as of now with the various RTE norms; whereas the seven North-Eastern states ranked the lowest. But one of the main criticism of the RTE that comes out through this report is that the Act does not account for the outcome achieved and end-result aimed to be achieved through this legislation, which is of qualitative rise in the learning level of the targeted children.

Yet another important report of 2011 which provides a quality peep into the execution of RTE Act is the District Information System for Education (DISE) flash statistics on the progress of the universalisation of elementary education in India for the year 2009-2010. As far as the DISE reports are concerned, it analyzes the implementation of the RTE Act across all the states of India taking into account various components like access, infrastructure, teachers and outcomes. States were ranked in order of their compliance to these components by DISE, Puducherry, Karnataka, Kerala, Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Tamil Nadu ranked the highest, whereas Bihar, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh ranked the lowest. The points of concern that got highlighted through this report are that since 2005 many important indicators of universalisation of elementary education have stagnated. The National Apparent Survival Rate and the Retention Rate at primary level has been stagnant at 70-78% since 2005; Transition Rate from primary to upper primary has also come to a stand-still at 83-84% since 2005. Moreover the discrepancy in the performance between the better performing states and the not so-well performing states on the above mentioned parameters is quite large.
The Public Interest Foundation filed applications under the Right to Information Act, 2005 to all the 28 states seeking information on the level of execution of the RTE Act within the states. Some the states that wrote back informing on the status of its implementation were Delhi, Uttarakhand, Kerala, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand. An analysis of the data provided by these above mentioned states shows that in none of the above states the ‘state advisory council’ has been constituted as yet; data mapping exercise for the neighbourhood schools has only just started in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, whereas others states have not even begun with this basic exercise; even on the front of preparation of financial estimates within the states required towards the provision of the fundamentals of this RTE Act have not been prepared by Jharkhand. This goes on to suggest that little has been achieved in terms of concrete steps towards adoption and implementation of the RTE Act at the level of state governments.

Further, closely following the trail from the above reports another alarming pattern that calls for urgent attention and re-addressal within the RTE Act is that besides having parameters to measure the inputs made available to ensure the universalisation of elementary education, there is an unequivocal requirement for ensuring the quality of the outcomes achieved through this Act.  Quality of outcomes refers specifically to the learning levels of the kids, the difference which has come about in retention and survival rate of kids, and whether or not the coming about of this act has had any positive impact on the transition rate of kids from primary to the upper primary levels. That is to say that a direct co-relation needs to be established and strictly monitored periodically as to how does input in terms of infrastructural guarantees, accessibility to neighbourhood schools, availability of qualified teachers assures that the certificate issued on the finishing of eight years of free and compulsory education actually reflects on enhanced reading and writing skills of the children between the age of 6 to 14 years.

Another point of caution in relation to this Act is that these parameters of retention, survival and transition of school children need greater monitoring and improvisation in regards to government managed schools rather than private schools. Private schools already have an established way of operating which is performance and efficiency oriented, along with a defined group of end-users who are more or less satisfied by its demand-supply mode of operation. RTE Act as a tool for quality intervention should focus more on the defined area of government schools because this is where more of enrolments are happening in the not so-well performing states in terms of literacy rates like Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. A focussed target based approach towards working efficiently to address these problems of survival, transition and retention of children in government schools will not only help in improving the national literacy rate but will also go a long way in bridging up this huge gap which exists in the performance between the well performing states and the not so well performing states in terms of the parameters used to check the implementation status of the RTE Act.

Thus the assessment of the year ‘one’ clearly shows the huge gap that still needs to be covered if we are to translate the historic vision of this Act of elementary education to all children between 6 to 14 years, into ground reality. First and foremost there is an urgent need to expedite the execution of the provisions of this act, which is primarily the responsibility of the central government and the state governments working alongside the local authorities. Secondly, there needs to be an in-built mechanism to ensure that the adoption of the provisions of the act is done with reference to a concrete end-goal. And the concrete end goal needs to be ascertained in terms of the minimum learning level that we aim to achieve for the targeted children at the end of the eight years of elementary education; the rise in the survival & the retention rate of the children at the primary and the upper primary level that we are targeting towards through this Act; the increase in the national transition rate of the children from the primary to the upper primary level which can realistically be achieved through the inputs being fed into the system by the means of the RTE Act.

(This article was published in Financial Express on 18th March, 2011)