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Draft education policy 'ignores' 4 crore out of school migrant, abandoned children

Counterview Desk
The Right to Education (RTE) Forum, India’s foremost civil rights organization advocating right to education has opposed the recommendation of the draft National Education Policy (NEP) released recently that teaching requirements of schools should be met by peer tutoring, educated members of the community and volunteers.
Pointing out that “this goes against the provision of the RTE Act that the system should depend entirely on fully paid, qualified and well trained teachers for providing free and compulsory quality education”, the RTE Forum, which has released a note on the draft NEP, regrets, the draft document “does not contain any effective and viable measure for bringing out-of-school children to school.”
Also opposing the draft NEP seeking to provide freedom to private operators to open and run schools and to determine the school fee structure, even as setting a “very high store by philanthropy to open and run schools”, the RTI Forum says, the corporates have “invested very little in the field of education” and philanthropy has “virtually disappeared from the country.”
Opposing the existing multi-layered school education system in India, which has discrimination built into it, the RTE Forum insists, “The only way to remove this built-in discrimination is the introduction of a Common School System (CSS) in the country”, which was recommended by the Kothari Commission and reaffirmed in the National Education Policies of 1968 and 1986, as amended in 1992.”
It regrets, “However, there is no mention of it in the draft NEP.”

Text of the note:

The Document makes some very important suggestions which we heartily endorse and would like to be put into practice as soon as possible. The most important among the recommendation is the extension of free and compulsory quality pre-primary education for all 3 to 6 years old children, and the inclusion of this measure as an integral part of the RTE Act.
The other important positive recommendation is the provision of free and compulsory quality school education to children in the age group 15 to 18, that is, to universalise free and compulsory secondary education.
However, we think that the time limit i.e. 2030 set by the Committee for Draft National Education Policy for providing free and compulsory education is too long. We are already lagging behind almost all developed countries and many developing countries in universalising school education. We believe that the new deadline should not be longer than five years.
As regards extension of free and compulsory education for children in the age group 3 to 6 years, we believe that every public primary school should make in its premises arrangements for teaching pre-primary classes. We also think that in order to start the integration of pre-primary education with the primary one, the Government should carry out, on a priority basis, a programme for training teachers to enable them to apply the curriculum and pedagogy suited to the requirements of the children in the age group.
The non-educational requirement of the children in the age group of 0 to 3 years should continue to be taken care of by the Anganwadis. For this purpose, the Anganwadis should be thoroughly revamped and universalised within the time period of five years. The provision of nutrition and health services to the children in the age group 0 to 3 in the Anganwadis should be made a legal right.
This report suggests drastic restructuring of the school education system and governance. Some of the suggestions like creation of school complexes and conversion of the 10+2 system to 5+3+3+4 system are innovations which may take years to implement. Besides, their implications are not clear at this stage. These suggestions have definitely some merits. 
 At the same time, there are many problems in the manner in which they are recommended to be implemented. In the opinion of the RTE Forum, there are urgent priorities in the field of school education which should have the first claim on the attention and political will of the Government and the resources of the country. These are:
  • Full implementation of the RTE Act as it is: More than 4 crore children are still out of school. Only 12.7% of the elementary schools comply with all the infrastructure norms of the Act. Thousands of teacher vacancies are to be filled and a large number of teachers are to be trained. 
  • Universalising secondary education: For this purpose, a set of norms will have to be established; a large number of schools have to be built and equipped; additional teachers have to be recruited and trained. 
  • Universalization of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) within a finite time frame
The Government will be hard put to mobilise manpower and financial resources required for the above purposes. Therefore, the question of spending resources for the other recommendations of the Committee, which have very uncertain implications, does not arise.
The RTE Act represents the highest stage reached in the evolution of the education policy in India. Elementary education is now a fundamental right and a legislation has been enacted to ensure it. The Act confers a legal right on children. On the other hand, the Policy document does not confer such rights. It can be selectively implemented and most parts of it may remain unimplemented under some excuse or the other.
Moreover, the RTE Act reflects a holistic approach, obliging the State to act on all the relevant variables simultaneously in order to reach the objective of universalising quality education within five years.
The Policy document departs from the RTE Act and dilutes the legal commitments in it in several ways. For example, it dilutes the timeframe of the RTE Act. Now, the goal of universalization has been shifted to 2030. It is true that this includes universalization of pre-primary and secondary education. But given the urgency of the situation, there is no reason why school education in India for children within the age group 3 to 18 years cannot be implemented within the next five years or so.
Secondly, the Policy document unjustifiably and without any basis of facts, declares that the norms and standards of the RTE Act give salience to quantity at the cost of quality and emphasise equity and access at the cost of learning.
The fact is that the RTE Act has both qualitative and quantitative norms. Its so-called quantitative norms are the basic minimum. And even these remain unimplemented largely because of lack of resources. The problem of equity has to be addressed as it is ubiquitous in the Indian school education system. We also believe that quality is inextricably linked to equity. Finally, we are still far from dealing with the problem of access in elementary education, given the vast number of out-of-school children. 
Thirdly, the Policy document suggests flexibility in the application of the very limited norms and local determination of norms than those applicable to all the schools. This takes away from the children their legal right to some of the most essential requirements for pursuing their education.
The document is most deficient on the question of resources. It makes no attempt to put a price tag on the inputs which are required for the implementation of its recommendations and calculate on that basis the additional cost for the universalization of quality school education. It pays lip service to the target of 6% of GDP being devoted to public expenditure in education. 
 It suggests a target of doubling the existing proportion of the central and state budgets being devoted to expenditure on education, during the period of the next ten years. This is too long a period. Besides, it does not indicate how the State Governments, which fall short of this target, are going to be persuaded to reach it. 
It is not the learning crisis that besets the Indian school education system but the crisis of the school system itself
The document tries to bring out the so-called learning crisis that prevails in the school education system in India. We do not agree that the problem of learning can be solved in isolation. It is not the learning crisis that besets the Indian school education system but the crisis of the school system itself. The crisis can be resolved only through a holistic approach as provided in the RTE Act of acting on all the variables simultaneously.
We are opposed to the recommendation in the document that teaching requirements of schools should be met by peer tutoring, educated members of the community and volunteers. This goes against the provision of the RTE Act that the system should depend entirely on fully paid, qualified and well trained teachers for providing free and compulsory quality education.
We believe that the Committee’s recommendation will reverse the recent progress made in eliminating informalisation of school education.
We regret that the document does not contain any effective and viable measure for bringing out-of-school children to school. Reliance on outside voluntary agents on a part-time basis, like social workers etc. is not the proper solution to this problem. We require full time and qualified teachers supported by parents to deal with this problem.
In our effort to bring all the out-of-school children to school, we must pay special attention to children of migrant workers, street children and other categories of children abandoned by their parents.
We welcome the statement in the Document that the system of para-teachers, teachers for contract and teachers appointed at lower salary will be dispensed with. We would only like to urge that in implementing this recommendation, it should be ensured that the teachers in these categories have adequate time to look for new opportunities and adjust in life.
We also welcome the proposal in the document that all private colleges providing teachers’ training, which constitute 92% of the total number of teachers trained in the country, should be closed.
However, we believe that this cannot be done in a precipitous manner. The implementation of this suggestion must precede or go side by side with setting up a large number of training colleges and strengthening the existing ones in the private sector. Without ensuring this, there will be a discontinuity in teaching which the nation can ill afford.
The Committee recognises the role of the system of research, training and standard setting consisting of the State Councils of Educational Research and Training (SCERTs), Cluster Resource Centres (CRCs), Block Resource Centres (BRCs) and District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs).
However, the Committee should have also recognised how these institutions are decaying for the last few decades and how this decay has reached a point where they have practically ceased to serve the purpose for which they were established. The Committee should have calculated the cost involved in revamping these institutions and persuaded the Government to commit itself to provide the required resources.
The system of regulation suggested in this report weighs heavily in favour of the private schools which are supposed to be regulated. It provides for the schools putting the information on its structure and operation in the public domain and parents’ choice of schools based thereon, serving the purpose of regulation.
The parents of the vast majority of the children going to schools have no choice as they send their children only to Government schools, as they cannot afford to pay the fees of the private schools. Besides, in the field of school education, demand far exceeds supply, particularly in the segment of secondary education. 
There have hardly been any public spirited private operators in India. Even after the Corporate Social Responsibility Act, they have invested very little in education
In such a market, even the parents who are economically better off cannot exercise a choice of schools. We believe that in addition to the introduction of transparency in the form of putting in public domain full information about the school, there must be a strict regime for regulation based mainly on the criterion of compliance with the norms and standards and enforced through inspections and penalties.
The draft Policy Document seeks to provide freedom to private operators to open and run schools and to determine the school fee structure. The Committee separately invites the corporate sector to invest in education. It also sets very high store by philanthropy to open and run schools.
Experience shows that there have hardly been any public spirited private operators in India, that the corporate sector, even after the Corporate Social Responsibility Act, has invested very little in the field of education and that philanthropy on any significant scale has virtually disappeared from the country.
To rely on these agencies for strengthening the public education system is only an indirect means of encouraging the further privatisation and commercialisation of the system. In our view, education being a public good, it is the responsibility of the Government to finance, open and operate schools.
We are not in favour of a review of the RTE Act to decide what amendments to introduce in it or replace it by a new comprehensive legislation. Most of the provisions of the RTE Act have remained unimplemented in spite of the fact that the five year period prescribed for it was over at the end of March 2015.
Secondly, the Committee itself has accepted that it needs to be expanded by the inclusion in it of free and compulsory education for the children in the age group 3 to 6 years and 15 to 18 years. Implementing these provisions is going to be a huge task.
The priority therefore should be to take measures to introduce these minimum but long pending and absolutely essential changes and provide resources and create manpower to implement the Act fully. The question of reviewing should arise only at the end of the new time limit.
Even after the RTE Act is extended to pre-primary and secondary education and the revised Act is implemented within a new timeframe, school education in India will remain a den of discrimination and a source of perpetuating and accelerating economic and social inequality in the country.
This is principally because of the continuance even under the revised RTE regime, of the existing multi-layered school education system in India which has discrimination built into it. The only way to remove this built-in discrimination is the introduction of a Common School System (CSS) in the country.
CSS was recommended by the Kothari Commission and reaffirmed in the National Education Policies of 1968 and 1986, as amended in 1992. However, there is no mention of it in the draft Document.

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