RTE Act: targets met and what remains

HRD minister MM Pallam Raju sounds positive on meeting the RTE deadline but will the Act be able to achieve what all has been missed in the last two-and-a-half years in less than five months?

jasleen

Jasleen Kaur | November 12, 2012



The newly appointed HRD minister MM Pallam Raju has ensured that the deadline set under the Right to education (RTE) Act will not be extended. While addressing the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) meeting, Raju said, “We should push harder for meeting the set deadline”.

Although Raju’s assurance is a positive sign, it is equally important to be realistic about the achieving the desired goal.

RTE Act has been a flagship legislation of UPA. It promises free and compulsory education to all children up to 14 years of age. Former HRD minister Kapil Sibal has been active in ensuring that the legislation is passed and implemented. Now it is the time for Raju to take charge. But with just five months in hand, Raju has a huge challenge before him.

The Act sets March 2013 as the deadline for
1.    All private unrecognised schools to get recognition
2.    Schools to meet the infrastructural requirements
3.    And appointment of teachers in all schools to meet the required student teacher ratio

But most schools across the country are still not RTE compliant.

The Act says that no school other than the one established, owned or controlled by the government will be opened or allowed to function without the necessary recognition, beyond March 2013. According to a report by National University of Educational Planning and Administration, there are more than 26 lakh children studying in such schools. Apart from few states, no other state has really worked to handle this issue.

While more than 4.96 lakh classrooms and 6 lakh teachers’ posts have been added and the centre’s outlay for the RTE-Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has risen from Rs 13,100 crore to Rs 25,555 crore (the data was given by the HRD ministry after reviewing two years of RTE), over 12,000 new schools remain to be opened, over 2,50,000 additional classrooms and large number of toilets, drinking water facilities, and ramps are being constructed under the SSA as also by other national programmes for sanitation and drinking water supply.

Several states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh are lagging in meeting deadline for implementation of the RTE Act. They have failed to achieve targets of required student teacher ratio and school infrastructure.

Surveys show that dirty toilets in schools force children to urinate outside even in the national capital. There is a huge shortage of teachers and those who are teaching are not qualified enough. The HRD ministry has added more posts of teachers and some teacher training programmes have been started but it is not meeting the required qualities.

Various elements of the act, like formation of School Management Committee (SMC), are not taken seriously by the schools as well as by the states. SMCs ask for the participation of the community for monitoring schools. On paper, states have formed SMCs but in reality there is no serious involvement of the community.

Schools, both in terms of infrastructure and teaching staff, are nowhere near the targets. Even those in the national capital lack basic amenities like drinking water and toilets.

The Act has certainly created sensibility about the importance of education in states. Ever since it has been implemented, the enrolment rate has increased and the annual average dropout rate at the primary level has dropped from 9.1 in 2009-10 to 6.9 in 2010-11.

But all these numbers do not reflect the quality of education that is imparted to children.

National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), which is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Act, believes that the trend is towards improving access to education but the process is slow and that the Act has not been rolled out to its fullest. There is lack of infrastructure and there are problems like corporal punishment and poor midday meal which dissuade children from going to schools. The commission has witnessed many such cases during public hearing where children have to walk long distances to attend schools.

Experts say even though money has been invested in the education sector, of late, the funds have not been utilised properly. Surveys say children are not learning what they should.

It is good that the minister is trying to be positive but it is equally important for him to understand the ground reality. What remains to be seen is that will the Act be able to achieve what all has been missed in the last two-and-a-half years in the next less than five months?

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