The flagship legislation of UPA II – the Right to Education (RTE) act - has fallen woefully short of its promise to ensure free and compulsory education to all children up to 14 years of age. Having basked in the glory of ushering in the landmark law, the government seems to have done precious little thereafter to meets its commitments. Three years on, the ground realities remain grim.
The new incumbent in the HRD Ministry Pallam Raju – who took over from Kapil Sibal who was at the helm when the act came into force - has a new RTE challenge before him. It is five months to the deadline (March 2013, as laid down under the Act), and the preparedness of schools both in terms of infrastructure and teaching staff are nowhere near the targets.
Can Raju bring RTE back on track?
Already, the possible extension of the deadline by two years to 2015 has caused a public outcry, with citizens asking why children should pay the price for the government’s failures. (Read report here)
Outlining the challenges before Raju, national convenor of the Right to Education Forum (an alliance of education networks and civil society groups) Ambarish Rai says, “Even after three years, 96 per cent of schools are not RTE compliant. The government hasn’t even provided drinking water and toilets as per norms and standards of the Act. A big challenge is lack of teachers. Twelve lakh teachers are required to fulfill the pupil teacher ratio as given under the Act. Last year, the government sanctioned six lakh posts for teachers, but the states have not recruited them.”
The absence of a comprehensive teacher training system and the recruitment of unqualified teachers, according to Rai, is also responsible for the poor quality of education in government schools. “Children are leaving government schools and rushing to private schools. Why are we not developing the quality of government schools so that children can come back to government schools,” he said.
While there is no taking away from the increase in demand for education that the RTE Act has spurred, a massive shortfall of government schools (which cater to 80 per cent of the children in India) that can provide quality education could well end up squandering the gains made.
Ahead of the 60th meeting of the Central Advisory Board – the highest advisory board on education - scheduled for 8 November (postponed from the earlier scheduled date of 1 November), experts have written to Raju, asking him not to extend the RTE deadline.
“Extending the deadline will give the wrong signal… This timeline came into place after an Act by Parliament. And Parliament has committed that within three years the RTE will be implemented. If the government extends the timeline, it will show poor commitment and lack of willingness on the part of the state to Right to Education. It will send a bad signal,” says Rai, who is among those who have signed the letter to the minister.
The letter draws the minister’s attention to five questions that need to be urgently addressed. They pertain to the Centre’s monitoring mechanisms to assess the progress of states in implementing the act, assistance given by the Center to states and deterrents for non-compliance at the central and state level.
“We urge you to respect the time-line in the Act and not seek any extension. We further urge you to make every moment of the remaining five months count towards preparing for implementation Rather than delaying the time schedule, in effect rewarding non-performance, we urge you to ensure and extend the RTE for pre-primary and secondary as recommended by the CABE committee.”