How DU, IIT students found out that RTE is just a trophy act

When the news is bad or doesn’t fit a pre-determined agenda, it can be rest assured that the powers that be will either bury the message or shoot the messenger.

So when an NGO submits a report on how abysmally Delhi has fared in its implementation of the Right to Education Act, it is dismissed as an anti-government ploy.

But an independent study being conducted by students from Delhi’s top colleges – not as part of their academic curriculum but as an exercise to see first-hand how far the government has delivered on its promise to ensure quality education to every child – will be difficult to dismiss as just another ‘NGO report’.

Fifty students from colleges including Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi School of Economics, Lady Sri Ram and St Stephen’s have conducted an in-depth study of government schools in six districts of Delhi. From each district 200-odd families – residents of a slum or a resettlement colony - were interviewed on school infrastructure, quality of the mid-day meals, water and toilet facilities, teachers, cleanliness, the role of principal and so on.

A student conducting the survey. Image courtesy: Pallavi Polanki

The trends emerging from the six surveys, which will be converted into six reports that will be published in mid-March, are anything but encouraging, say students.

“It has been three years since the RTE Act was passed and it is very shocking that the national Capital is one of the worst performing states when it comes to RTE implementation,” says Abhishek Upadhyay, an electrical engineering student from IIT-Delhi and also coordinator of the project.

The surveys have been conducted in Rithala (North West), Nizamuddin and Malviyanagar (South), Timarpur (North), Daryaganj (Central), Munirka (South West) and Trilokpuri (east).

Commenting on some of the early trends, Upadhyay says: “Mid-day meals are a big concern in schools in all areas, except in South Delhi. In many schools, children are bringing their lunch boxes. Cleanliness is another major issue. While there are separate toilets for girls and boys, they are not clean. Schools have infrastructure but their maintenance is poor.”

South Delhi, he says, stands out for its better performance in infrastructure and quality of teaching staff. “South Delhi has performed better than all other districts. But most districts are doing really badly. As for quality of teaching, the less said the better. Where children are going for private tuitions, they are able to read or write. If this is the scenario in the Capital, other states have very little to model themselves on,” he says.

But as Upadhyay, points out, the project was equally about getting out of their comfort zone and confronting the reality that majority of Delhi’s residents are living in localities and getting education which is much poorer in standard than what they are used to. So what did India’s most privileged – products of some of the country’s best educational institutes – make of their visits to government schools, where India’s most disadvantaged go to study.

Jyoti Shorewala, 22, is a Masters student at the Delhi School of Economics, was part of an eight-member which surveyed two bastis comprising largely Dalit migrants, in Timarpur, North Delhi. The team interviewed 250 families and visited four government schools in the area.

“Tirmarpur is just a couple of kilometers from the main campus of Delhi University (DU)... When we spoke residents from the slums they told us that a Class IX student can barely write his name. This is the plight of students who go to government schools in this area. Will they ever get a chance to study in a university? How will they compete with students coming from good schools, private schools,” says Shorewala.

The experience, says Shorewala, who went to Delhi Public School in Ghaziabad, has fundamentally altered her perspective on why disadvantaged children fare poorly. “I always felt that their parents didn’t consider education important. But that is not the case. A lot of parents want their children to be enrolled in private schools even though it is expensive. But they encounter so many procedural hurdles. The government departments are not helping them in getting the documents. And the attitude of private schools towards such children is very discouraging and totally uncalled for. They definitely want a better life for their children, but due to social and economic problems they are finding it hard.”

While some things have changed post the implementation of the Act, Shorewala says lack of awareness about the various provisions of the RTE Act – not only among parents but also school authorities themselves – remains the big challenge. For instance, the survey found that none of the schools had even heard of, let alone formed, School Management Committees (SMCs).

“The intent behind the SMCs was to bring parents on board and make them part of the decision-making process. But such committees are non-existent. Schools are not even aware of it. The Act says that schools have to form SMCs, arrange for awareness programmes and and enroll parents in such committees. But that is not happening,” says Shorewala.

Asked about infrastructure standards in the schools, Shorewala says: “As per our data, we found that 50 per cent of the parents said they were satisfied. The reason why I think 50 per cent said they were satisfied is because they have no other option. Parents are not aware about quality of the mid-day meals that is being served or about the lack of cleanliness in the schools. Many said that children were carrying lunch and water bottles to schools to avoid the mid-day meals because there have been cases where students have fallen ill after eating the meals.”

The six survey reports will be published in March by Joint Operation for Social Help (JOSH), a youth initiative that has been running an RTE public awareness project in East Delhi.

Upadhyay guarantees that the reports will be hard-hitting and revealing. “All those involved in this project are smart and energetic students. Our expectations are high.” The project, he adds, has strengthened their commitment to working in the field of primary education.

“A lot of advocacy will need to be done to improve the implementation of RTE Act. We hope that if this exercise is repeated every year we will be able to find cause-effect relationships that could help identify areas that need the most attention.”


Published Date: Jan 22, 2013 03:49 pm | Updated Date: Jan 25, 2013 03:43 pm