The ‘poor’ anganwadi centre, which represents the last mile extension of one of the greatest child centric and community welfare interventions under Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) that began in 1975, has been in the eye of storm for quite some time over issues of corruption, inefficiency and some people of late have even questioned its need in the first place. With convergence being the new order, the anganwadi is losing its original character, vibrancy and community involvement.
Even though ICDS reaches only 40% of the children in India, the scheme remains one of the biggest hopes of holistic development of small children in a country grappling with issues of malnutrition, public healthcare hiccups and swatches of inequality contribution and continuing need has not ended. So, while there is a renewed focus on early education and care with growing clamor for bringing preschool years under the ambit of right to education, there is a need to look at the larger canvas of education.
Well that was message coming out from discussions in the RTE Forum’s 9th national stocktaking convention of the RTE first ever plenary on early education on March 13 in Delhi. According to Prof Zubair Meenai, Director Centre for Early Childhood Development & Research of the Jamia Milia Islamia University, ICDS shouldn’t be diluted with undue focus on pedagogy and learning. He also expressed apprehensions about the newly proposed umbrella ICDS where everything will be clubbed together. “We must realize that things can be taken away and therefore we must know how great service ICDS is doing in terms of addressing malnutrition and protection of underweight and deprived children and mothers. That aspect must be kept in time while we revisit the framework for convergence,” he added.
RTE Forum, which has formed alliance with Campaign Against Child Labor (CACL) and Alliance for the Right to Early Childhood Development on creating a political agency around child rights and making education a poll issue in the just announced national elections, used the annual convention to enlighten activists and partners on the ‘real’ education narrative so that they in turn can convince the political class and electorate. The day-long discussion has some expert keynotes, which provided insights and perspectives to this whole issue.
Economist and JNU professor, Praveen Jha, who has worked in the area of budget analytics including education finances and allocations, lashed out the Niti Ayog experts by calling them illiterate in terms of economics for saying outcomes have no relationship to inputs. “Most OECD countries and even BRICKS nations are spending many times than we do on public education and the fact is our spend on education has reduced over the last a few years if inflation is taken into account. In terms of GDP it has come down below 4%. All this points out to non seriousness. Surprising, budget for teaching training/adult education is not given this time while as we need to strength it,” he added while calling Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan a scam to eliminate RTE Act.
Prof Venita Kaul, former director of Center for Early Childhood Education and Development (CECED) at the Ambedkar University, Delhi while speaking at the convention said she was very confident and hopeful as a member of CABE subcommittee on inclusion of preschool years in RTE Act after it was recommended. “I don’t know why it hasn’t happened, when the state education ministers in committee endorsed the proposal,” she revealed. Prof Kaul said professionalization of preschool sector and development appropriate curriculum was a pressing need as substandard private schools are proliferating everywhere. She also called for redesign the ICDS for changing parental mindset and making RTE inclusive.
Another academician Prof Geeta Menon from Jamia Milia Islamia University spoke on adolescent life and secondary education and argued for envisaging the kind of teachers and teachings that are needed to support 14-18 years of education in schools other than board examinations. “ Standardized, homogeneous, norms based engagement won’t do. We need to prepare this age group of children for social cohesion, peace, upholding constitutional values and importantly create mental safety in their minds,” she added while referring to a social context in the country where 90 districts are affected by left wing extremism, strife affected traumatized children in addition to girls, tribals and other disadvantaged young adults who need to be assured. She said that education has to be looked through the lens of SDG goal framework.
RTE Forum has decided to approach contestants and take a pledge to them for safeguarding rights of children. Ambarish Rai, Forum’s national convener while referring to a recent statement by former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan to BBC Radio said equity and education are linked issues and politicians need to realize that they can’t camouflage people’s issues and create a cloud of artificial poll issues. “We are determined to raise questions and ask for accountability over failure of RTE Act. We need commitment from politicians and support from public to save education dream of millions of children in this country,” he added.
Rajan had said post 2008 capitalism is breaking down because it is not providing equal opportunities, “Now, if you really want to succeed, you need a really good education. Unfortunately, the very communities that are hit by the forces of global trade and global information tend to be communities which have deteriorating schools, rising crime, rising social illnesses and are unable to prepare their members for the global economy.”
NDA Govt Report Card on Education vis-à-vis BJP Manifesto 2014 as prepared by RTE Forum
The BJP’s Election Manifesto 2014 Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat Sanka Saath Sabka Vikass made a number of commitments on education. This year’s Status of the Implementation of the RTE Act is in the backdrop of that commitment where the performance of the national government has been compared to 2014 levels. And the report card is damningly disappointing.
The share of RTE compliant schools has increased by only 4% to 12.7% in last four years while as Teacher vacancies have increased to 10.1 lakhs. The percentage of contractual teachers has marginally fallen from 14.4 to 13.1%. BJP had said nice things about quality of education which included effective implementation of RTE Act and universalization of secondary education and skills development. Under focus on children the lead partner in the present government had said that it would give teachers the highest priority . They had said that teachers pivotal role will be reworked for a culture of teacher training.
Making education stress free and reduce the burden of books was yet another promise in the manifesto. RTE Forum report card while acknowledging reduction of overall 10-15% of curriculum says that social sciences faced the highest cuts. Technology use was another commitment in manifesto and the report says there is no significant improvement in computer access to students.
While the manifesto also talked about languages, budget analysis by EQUALS and CBGA shows that Indian Sign Language Institute is yet to find adequate allocation. Also, Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act passed in 2016 rules haven’t been notified and RTE Act not amended to include this Act.
BJP had promised 6% of GDP in 2014 manifesto. The report card says India spends under 3% if one includes both centre and states. It adds that current per child expenditures in educationally lagging states continues to fall short.
And to cap it all BJP failed to set up promised National Commission on Education and also a National New Education Policy.