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Right to Education Act "isn't inclusive", it segregates Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim children, is undermining govt schools

By Rajiv Shah
Taking strong objection to the Right to Education (RTE) Act, a new book, seeking to provide a future vision of different social sectors, carries a strongly-worded paper which says that the much-celebrated law has not only failed to provide universal access to free education. Worse, it argues, within five years of its implementation, the legislation is being effectively used to "weaken the public education system further."
Running into 683 pages, the book, "Alternative Futures: India Unshackled", has been edited by two well-known environmental experts working on development, environment interface, biodiversity policy and alternatives, Ashish Kothari and KJ Joy, and carries 35 articles by top experts in their field.
The one on education, "Future Learning in Indian Schools", by Rajesh Khindri and Tultul Biswas, both of whom have worked on pedagogic issues at several places, including the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme, Madhya Pradesh, disagree that the RTE Act is "inclusive", it seeks to provide 25 per cent seats of private schools to be earmarked for children who cannot pay.
"We won't go into the issue of percentages, numbers etc.", say Khindri and Biswas. "In many states, governments are trying to ensure that this quota is utilised to the maximum -- which results in shutting/scaling down or merging of government schools", adding, "In actual fact, it (RTE) seems to have pushed the government schools towards further hegemonising, catering to the system (of parents) that has no social or political voice to influence the school in any way."
They add, "And, on the other hand, private schools try to ward off this intrusion by trying to segregate these students in separate classes or even separate school shifts, by insisting on various kinds of additional expenses that the family has to incur in terms of dress, shoes, books, excursion fees... and by use of social exclusion through the medium of instruction."
To substantiate, the authors give data, pointing towards how the reality "continues to remain grim", more than 47 lakh children out of school in rural areas and 13 lakh in urban neighborhoods.
"The scenario", say the authors, "Appears even more alarming when viewed through the caste or religious lens." A report prepare by the Social and Rural Research Institute suggests that "three out of every four children out of school are Dalit, Muslim or Adivasi. A closer look at the available data reveal that over 32 per cent of those out of schools are Dalits and over 16 per cent belong to the Adivasi communities."
The authors add, "According to the same report, 4.43 per cent of Muslim children were found to be out of school, significantly higher than the national average of 2.97 per cent across relations."
"Thus", they say, "Although official figures claim that only six million children remain out of school and the dropout rate in schools has started showing a drop, an analysis of the profile of children still out of school reflects the fact that we are far from achieving the goal of inclusive education."
Khindri and Biswas say, things have reached such a point that there is even segregation among private schools: "Now there seems to be a continuum starting from the extremely high fee paying private schools affiliated to international boards that charge several thousand rupees per month, down to private schools that charge that charge hundred rupees a month and are meant for populace that can hardly spare that much."
They add, "Government schools, situated at the lower-most fringe of the continuum, have today become extremely homogeneous as they as they increasingly serve only children from the scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs) and girls, with few children from the other backward castes (OBCs) and those belonging to the general category."
This situation, the authors say, stands in sharp contrast to what had happened during the first 40 years of Independence, when "large public sector enterprises and inclusive townships provided a space wherein children (and families) from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds log d side by side and this provided an environment rich in diversity, in settlements as well as learning spaces."
The authors regret, "That has also shrunk drastically and almost disappeared today".

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