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RTE in remote areas? Govt of India "plans" to close down 2.4 lakh schools

By Srijita Majumder*
The Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, came into effect on April 1, 2010, for the first time made it obligatory on the part of the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children from 6-14 years of age in India. The Act, despite its limitations, had progressive elements like neighbourhood schools, community participation, ban on corporal punishment, no detention, continuous and comprehensive evaluation and it hence it appeared that India was not far from achieving universal elementary education.
The Act also had timelines for implementation, input norms like pupil teacher ratio, adequate infrastructure and hence there were a lot of aspirations for its successful implementation within the given timeline.
However, on the anniversary of the Act, if we look at the status of implementation of the act, we get a rather dismal picture. Right to Education Forum, a network of over 10,000 CSOs across 19 states, has been tracking the implementation of the Right to Education Act since its inception and recent trends tend to suggest that the RTE Act is at a risk of dilution. Some of the major concerns of the RTE Forum:
Slow progress in the implementation of the RTE Act
The ruling party in their election manifesto of 2014 had committed to this, however, while in 2013-14, 9% schools in India were complaint with the RTE Act and in 2016-17 there has been a mere 4% increase with only 12.7% schools complying with the Act. Hence, it evident that what was promised has certainly not been delivered.
Declining expenditure on education as a share of GDP
The first education commission in India, the Kothari commission had suggested back in 1966 that at least 6% of the GDP should be allocated for education. However, in 2017, the spending on education was 2.7% of the GDP.
Millions of children are still not in schools
As per the census of 2011, there were 84 million children between age group 5-17 years who were not in schools, while the MHRD report (IMRB) states that in 2014, 6.64 million children were out of school.
Acute shortage of teachers
Teachers play a very important role in shaping the minds of children. However, only 34.4% schools in India having the requisite number of teachers as per RTE norms. Added to this, more than 18% teachers do not have professional qualification. The situation of teacher training is also abysmal. Maximum teacher training institutes being run by private entities.
Online training of teachers through Swayam portal has not been successful with teachers raising the concern that recordings of lectures are not helping to clear concepts as scope for interaction and engagement is missing.
School closure
Large number of schools have been closed down or merged under the pretext of rationalisation and this is a pressing concern in India. The government at present is planning to close down 2,60,000 small government schools and this will have adverse effects on children coming from sparsely populated areas, hilly terrains, confict zones and economically backward families.
Closing down schools or merging them will be a violation of section 3.1 of the RTE Act that ensure free and compulsory education in neighbourhood schools. Over the last few years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of private schools in India. While government schools increased in numbers by less than 2%, private schools increased by 24.28%. On the other hand, enrolment in public schools declined by 8.5%, in private schools it increased by 24.42%.
Removal of No Detention policy from the Act
The year 2019 began on a grim note with the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) of the Indian Parliament passing the second amendment Bill, 2017 in The Right to Education, 2009 on 3rd January, 2019, thereby allowing the states to detain children in class V and VIII or retain the no detention policy. The reason proposed behind scrapping the no detention policy on grounds of adverse effect on the learning level is not backed by any evidence.
However, on the contrary, there are evidences suggesting that since the introduction of no detention policy (2010), there has been a decrease in the rate of dropouts from 8.61% in 2006-07 to 4.34% in 2014-15, retention rate has increased by 9% and the transition rate from primary to upper primary has increased by 7%.
To address these issues and to make education a prime political agenda in the upcoming general elections, RTE Forum along with two other networks: Campaign against Child Labour and Alliance for the Right to Early Childhood Development have launched a national campaign and have released the “Public Manifesto for the Education of India’s children” with major demands that include:
  • Complete implementation of the Right to Education Act 2009 in letter and spirit. 
  • Extension of the RTE Act to include all children from birth to 18 years. A major limitation of the RTE Act is that it includes children from only 6-14 years, leaving out millions of children from its purview and hence the demand. 
  • Revise declining expenditure of education as a share of GDP and bring it to at least 6% of the GDP as recommended by the Kothari Commission back in 1966. 
  • Complete eradication of all forms of child labour up to 18 years. 
Apart from these overarching demands there are other demands like:
  • Strengthening of School Management Committees to ensure community participation in education
  • Address inequality of education and move from a multi-layered education system towards the creation of a common school system. 
  • Social inclusion and provision for safe and secure school environment
  • Curbing the increasing commercialisation and privatisation of school education and strengthen the accountability of private schools
  • Addressing the issue of out of school children 
  • Strengthening of grievance redressal mechanisms.
We still have a long way to go to achieve universalisation of school education in India. Political will and commitment for strengthening of public education through the implementation of the Right to Education Act 2009 seems to be the only way to ensure free, safe, equitable, quality education for all.
---
*Research and Documentation Coordinator, Right to Education Forum

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