The wrongs of the Right to Education : The Tribune India

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The wrongs of the Right to Education

In August of 2009, Parliament passed the historic Right to Education Act (RTE) to make elementary education the fundamental right of all six to 14 year olds.

The wrongs of the Right to Education

In August of 2009, Parliament passed the historic Right to Education Act (RTE) to make elementary education the fundamental right of all six to 14 year olds. The legislation stipulated several norms to ensure that children get not just access to school, but also quality education. It also set the deadline of March 31, 2015, for all state governments to achieve a range of goals. These included mapping of all out-of-school children and bringing them to school, un-crowding the classroom by ensuring not more than 30 students per teacher at the primary (classes I to V) level and 35 students per teacher at the upper primary level (classes VI to VIII).

School managements were required to provide a decent atmosphere to children by ensuring potable water, functional toilets, boundary walls, ramps, playgrounds, libraries and electricity. Getting professionally trained teachers to make schooling pleasant was another big goal. 

Five years were given to states to meet the targets after the Act came into force on April 1, 2010. As the March 31 deadline awaits expiry, 3.45 crore students remain out of school, school infrastructure targets are far from being met, 5 lakh teacher vacancies still exist and contract hiring of teachers continues. 

Though enrolment in schools has improved and is today 1,990 lakh (of the total 2,330 lakh six to 14 year olds), the RTE remains more a right to school than to quality education in the wake of massive teacher vacancies and lack of trained teachers.

That explains why learning outcomes continue to dip and lesser class V children are able to read school texts prescribed for class II children, or even do simple maths. With the RTE deadline set to be missed, doors are open for parents and wards to move courts against the Centre and state governments for failing to deliver a fundamental right to elementary education guaranteed by Article 21A of the Constitution.

Already, the National Coalition for Education and RTE Forum have filed a PIL petition in the Supreme Court, seeking directions to states to deliver children their “justiciable” right and to school managements to pay penalties (Rs 1 lakh a school for violations and more if violations persist). The court has issued a notice to all states and 17 states have replied with detailed affidavits. 

Unrecognised schools 

Government schools dominate elementary instruction delivery and over 80 per cent schools are in rural areas. Data shows eight out of every 10 schools imparting elementary instruction are financed by the government, though trends indicate a mushrooming of private unaided schools.

The Act mandated that all schools should be regularised by March 2015 and unrecognised schools be shut down, but 21,351 such schools continue to be in operation. The mapping of these schools began in 2010.

About 80.20 per cent are government schools, 2.52 lakh private unaided schools and 68,000 private aided schools. Mirta Ranjan of RTE Forum, a group which privately monitors the progress of law, says, “Unrecognised schools are a major cause of concern, so is the closure of schools. Our studies show that since the RTE Act came into force, around 1 lakh government schools have been closed down, mostly because these had fewer enrollments. There is no formal system to determine the number of school closures. Our state units have reported closures that flout the spirit of the law which meant to end non-regularised instruction and not instruction itself.”

Dearth of teachers 

Academicians and activists agree that teacher-related indicators are the biggest concern. Schools are short of around six lakh teachers despite the Centre sanctioning additional posts to meet RTE targets.

Primary level pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) are unacceptably high in Bihar, Delhi and Jharkhand, where over 40 per cent schools are non-compliant with the PTR requirement of 1:30. At upper primary level, the PTR is 1:35, but 15.35 per cent schools across India remain non-complaint. This percentage was 27.46 in 2013. 

The number of districts not complaint with PTR norms is 219 (almost half), with most being in Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, MP, Maharashtra, UP and West Bengal.

As far as teacher quality goes, it can be judged from the fact that lesser number of teachers are receiving in-service training. In 2011, 40.21 per cent teachers received training as against 22 per cent of 77.21 lakh teachers in 2014. “In government schools, this value decreased from 36.77 per cent in 2013 to 31.45 per cent in 2014. In private unaided schools, the value was just 3.32 per cent in 2014,” National University of Education Planning and Administration  survey (NUEPA) says.

Contractual teacher employment is also a challenge, with 5,08,000 such teachers in the system. “Contract teachers constitute 6.45 per cent of all teachers. Government managements have the largest number of contract teachers at 9.71 per cent,” an HRD Ministry official admits. 

Contractual teaching is pushing RTE targets behind. About 80 per cent of regular teachers are professionally trained as against 55 per cent contract teachers.

Prof R Govinda, Vice-Chancellor of NUEPA, states, “Teacher education is our biggest challenge. We are the only country in the world which has left teacher training to the private sector. Of the 15,000 teacher training centres in India, over 95 per cent are privately managed. Countries like Finland that report the best education indicators offer free teacher training in the government system. Another worry is the poor quality of instruction at our many small schools with enrolments under 100 students. These schools continue to languish due to lack of investments and multi-grade teachers. States must pay attention to details like how to create a good library or a good laboratory.”

More and more privately trained teachers are flunking the national Teacher Eligibility Test conducted by the CBSE twice annually. The tests began in 2010 to meet RTE stipulations of minimum teacher qualification for school instruction. On an average, only about 8 per cent candidates have been passing the test. This encourages contract employment, which then adversely impacts learning outcomes.

More facilities, but not enough 

The government’s latest review of RTE indicators celebrates the fact that an increasing number of schools now have buildings. As per the latest NUEPA report, a significant achievement in most new schools is the presence of buildings. Between 2003 and 2014, 1.98 lakh primary schools have opened, which is 24.41 per cent of the total primary schools in India. More than 95 per cent of these have buildings.

However, Annie Namala, an RTE activist based in Delhi, says, “In Delhi, an average government school section seats over 100 students. Many slums don’t have school for even one lakh children. In Bawana and Khada areas, schools run in makeshift structures and the RTE promise of transporting children to school is nowhere. The most vulnerable populations — children of construction workers, ragpickers and nomads — are not even on the radar.”

Gaps in claims and ground reality are shocking. In 2014, after conducting household surveys to map out-of-school children, state governments put the figure at 17 lakh. Census 2011 puts this at 3.45 crore.

Not all is grim though. For instance, the ratio of primary to upper primary sections in schools has declined from 2.23 in 2010 to 2.06 in 2014, indicating that infrastructure is being created at classes VI to VIII level to absorb students finishing class V.

“In 17 states, this ratio is less than the national average. These include Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. Assam, Goa, Meghalaya and Bengal need much improvement,” says the HRD ministry survey. So far other RTE targets go, even the simplest ones like ensuring 100 per cent schools with drinking water, separate functional toilets for girls and boys, boundary walls, computers, etc. have not been met.

Dropout challenge

One of the essential requirements to achieve universal elementary education is to retain students. The ratio of class V to class I students is a crucial indicator. Though it improved from 88 per cent in 2013 to 93 per cent in 2014, it is hardly encouraging. 

The annual dropout rate in primary grades is 4.7 per cent as against 3.13 per cent for upper primary sections, the HRD survey reveals. While the dropout rates at primary level fell from 5.6 per cent in 2013 to 4.7 per cent in 2014, the corresponding rates for upper primary classes VI to VIII rose from 2.65 to 3.13. 

This means more children than before are leaving school after completing class V. 

“The overall retention rate at primary level is 82 per cent. This is 80.68 per cent for SCs, 67.68 per cent for STs and 78.06 per cent for Muslims,” a ministry source points out. 

25 per cent norm ignored

The RTE Act stipulates that 25 per cent seats in all private elementary schools must be reserved for economically weaker section (EWS) students. However, a study by IIM-Ahmedabad, Central Square Foundation and Accountability Initiative reveals that only 29 per cent of the 21 lakh seats reserved for EWS students have gone to them. Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have fared well on this indicator, filling 92 per cent, 88 per cent and 69 per cent, respectively, of EWS seats. Andhra has filled just 0.2 per cent, UP 3 per cent, Tamil Nadu 11 per cent, Karnataka 19 per cent and Gujarat 25 per cent.

“Where 1.6 crore children should have benefited under the law, only a fraction have. State rules and notifications in this respect are not yet clearly defined,” observes Ashish Dhawan, founder and CEO, Central Square Foundation, which released the report ahead of the expiry of the RTE Act deadline. 

Non-reimbursement of amount by the government to private schools is coming in the way of achieving the reservation target. Yamini Aiyar of Accountability Initiative explains, “Private schools often face the problem of delay in reimbursements. Also, there is no uniformity over which fee is to be reimbursed — only tuition fee or even the cost of books, uniform, etc.”

School indicators: 72,435 single-classroom schools across india

Classrooms: Of a total of 14.48 lakh elementary schools, 1,04,307 (7.2 per cent) are single-teacher schools with enrolment of less than 15 students across all eight sections. In 5 per cent of all schools, there is only one classroom. This translates into 72,435 single-classroom schools — a statistic that has the HRD Ministry worried. Even today, an average elementary school has only 4.8 classrooms. This is worse for government schools where the number of average classrooms is 3.2 as against 5.8 for private schools. 

Teachers: The average number of teachers per school is three. This number is 1.3 at the primary and 5.3 at the upper primary level, indicating lack of recruitment or teacher interest at induction levels.

Student-classroom ratio (SCR): The number of children per primary classroom in India has improved from 39 in 2006 to 29 now. HRD data shows Bihar (SCR 57), Chandigarh (42), Delhi (40), Dadra and Nagar Haveli (36) and Daman and Diu (36) have a long way to go to achieve the RTE stipulation of SCR 30 for primary and 35 for upper primary sections. The country as a whole is lagging on this target, with 159 of the 662 districts non-compliant and one in three schools non-complaint.

Instruction: Another major target — minimum 200 days of instruction at primary and 220 days at upper primary levels — has not been reached. Over 72,000 primary schools are below the 200 mark and 25 per cent upper primary schools are behind deadlines.

Student strength: The National University of Education Planning and Administration (NUEPA), under the Ministry of HRD and conducts annual school reviews to monitor RTE indicators, confesses, "About 30.45 per cent of the 14.5 lakh elementary schools have enrollment of less than 50 students." 

Cut in SSA Budget

The last Union Budget saw 23 per cent cut in funds for the flagship Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), which is the vehicle to fund RTE requirements. Majority of the education budget goes into teacher salaries, etc. leaving little for plan expenditure to improve teacher training facilities.

Where States Stand

The HRD Ministry (through NUEPA) is annually releasing education development index (EDI) data to indicate where states stand on RTE targets. The index uses four board indicators to rate states — access, infrastructure, teachers and outcomes. The latest data shows states are at varied levels of development. 

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