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Right to education? Dropout rate increases to 13.1% from 2.8% when child turns 15

By Piyush Arya* 
"Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family." - Kofi Annan
The Right to Education (RTE) Act guarantees every child within the age group of 6 to 14 free and compulsory education. The Act received legitimacy in 2002 when it was inserted into Article 21A as a fundamental right. Further, in 2009 it obligated the state for the right to education. 
Schemes like mid-day meals were also enacted to incentivize parents and children to come to school and have nutrients for sound physical and mental health. RTE would also help reduce child labor from Indian society and go a long way to removing India's poverty. 
RTE successfully increased the enrollment in upper primary (class 6-8) by 20 percent between 2009-17. It also helped in achieving high enrollment among girls and has reduced the overall dropout to half. As per the last census, India's literacy rate stands at 74% overall, and that of males and females stands at 82% and 65%, respectively.
These stats paint an excellent story for RTE; however, the picture seems not so great if we look at details. Schools lack necessary facilities such as separate toilets for female students or potable water, especially in rural areas. Many areas lack schools in their vicinity, which forces the students in these areas to remain out of schools.
Quality of education is a primary concern under the RTE Act. Pratham, an NGO, that releases the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), reports various findings related to RTE. ASER 2018 reported that more than 50% of class V students could not read and comprehend text prescribed for class II students. RTE also doesn't have any laws talking about punishment in school. Several students have been severely punished by teachers and school staff. This, too, is one of the factors which leads to increased dropouts amongst students.
Looking at the enrolment data in the age group of 6-14, we don't see a significant increase in enrolment over the years after 2009. However, if we look at the attendance in private schools, it has dropped slightly. Looking at some stats from the infrastructure side, schools with drinking water and toilets have increased significantly. However, schools with computers are still relatively low and stand at approximately 21%.
A look at teachers' stats shows that 93% of teacher candidates failed the National Teacher Eligibility Test in 2012. A lot of teachers remains absent during school hours. Unavailability of qualified teachers leads to an increase in the student-teacher ratio lowering the quality of education. The primary reason for low availability is due to low pay being offered to them. Statistics show that around 10 lakh posts for teachers are vacant.
RTE mandates teachers to conduct elections, conduct surveys, and perform disaster-related activities, which further reduces their efficiency. According to reports, teachers were involved 81 percent of the time in non-teaching activities in 2018. If teachers are relieved of the burden of election duties, they can devote up to four times more to teaching, as per the report, "Involvement of Teachers in Non-Teaching Activities and its Effect on Education."
The Act covers only students belonging to the age group of 6-14 years. Owing to this policy, we see dropout rates increase to 13.1% from 2.8% when a child turns 15. The change is necessary as when the age limit was proposed in 1995, it was sufficient to have education till 14 years. 
However, the rapidly changing environment of education till 18 years is also short and should be even extended further. No detention policy has made the motivation levels of students relatively low. This could be why when students reach the age of 15, he cannot cope with education levels, and the stress of failure forces them to drop out.
The private schools which admit students under the Act are exposed to a discriminatory treatment by their managements. Activists working for the RTE Act's improvement tell us that separate classes are often held for the students under the RTE. Few schools have crossed all the limits and have started to schedule their classes in different time slots in different rooms. Government is also partially responsible for this as the reimbursement of the fixed cost mandated to these schools is not done regularly.
While implementing the RTE Act, private schools adopt discriminatory treatment. Only 12% of these schools are RTE compliant
Schools often find it economically suited to deny the students under RTE a fair treatment. The Government also does not cover the additional costs such as uniforms, stationery, and other items that sometimes go way beyond poor parents' reach. This often leads to denying a deserving student of a means to achieve education.
Even after several years of implementing the RTE act, only 12% of the schools are RTE compliant. The Government also has been allocating only 3-4% expenditure of GDP every year for RTE. This has been lower as compared to the target of 6% defined by the Kothari Commission.
To improve the RTE Act and the education levels in India, Government needs to take steps soon. Awareness about the Act should be the primary strategy, with both students and parents being made aware of the rights and schools be made aware of the sanctions that can be imposed in case of non-compliance.
The Government should focus on increasing RTE's gambit from 6-14 years to 3-18 to make it more inclusive. Expenditure on education should be increased to levels suggested by the Kothari commission to increase penetration and quality of education.
Further, tests to check the primary education according to the age-groups should be made compulsory to ensure the education is being provided to the students, with the detention being permitted only in extreme cases. The Government should also focus on improving the infrastructure and timely payments of the fixed amounts per student to schools.
RTE has seen some progress on most fronts; however, the quality of education has not improved significantly. The Government needs to play an essential role by creating a system and providing support as education would help us create a better future for the individuals, society, and the nation.
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*Student, Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A), wants to spread awareness about critical issues and achieve equality among India's people

Comments

Anonymous said…
What is the source for the information regarding the dropout rates increasing from 2.8 to 13.1%?

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