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How about an ‘Educate India’ initiative?

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Modi sarkar (government) may have different view or even a pragmatic view on an alternative to rights based approach, but that shouldn’t in anyway belittle Right to Education, which incidentally was brought to life after a long struggle and the 86th constitutional amendment was actually brought by the previous NDA government  under AB Vajpayee. There is a clear need to give supremacy to the RTE Act and reschedule its implementation after due amendments

ON JULY 31ST, ABOUT 17 members of Parliament from both houses (Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha) from across the political spectrum came together in support of renewed efforts to salvage the Right to Education Act, whose dismal and inconsequential implementation across the country, and lack of patronage from the current government at the centre is giving an impression that the landmark legislation is being given a quiet burial. RTE Forum, a conglomerate of civil society groups associated with the cause of Right to Education in 20 states of India, which is acting as a de facto ‘watch dog’ over RTE Act’s implementation, has decided to go yet again to politicians of the country to save the historic legislation. The July 31st interaction with parliamentarians was part of this new approach and strategy.
The MPs sat with the activists for over two hours in New Delhi and indicated that an all party forum may be formed to take up the issues of Right to Education Act. A delegation of parliamentarians under the leadership of former union minister and senior Congress leader & MP Oscar Fernandes will also meet the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and apprise him about the situation with regard to RtE.
The latest annual report of RTE Forum on the status of Right to Education Act says 90% of country’s schools have defaulted on the implementation of the Right to Education Act. And with various deadlines set under the Act having lapsed without moving things on ground, there is a genuine fear that the legislation could become an archival or referral document at best. “Right to education is in danger. We want the government to come out with a statement saying that full implementation of RTE Act couldn’t be done for whatever reasons in the timeframe given, but we are committed and for that we’ll amend the Act and set new deadlines and action plans,” says Ambarish Rai, National Convener of the Forum. Curiously, NCPCR (Child Rights Commission), responsible for monitoring implementation of RTE Act is headless for too long now.
According to Rai, education has become a bazaar (market), adding, “Jiasa Piasa, Vaisa school (As much money you got, you get likewise school). Out of the whole education system or sector, barring K-12, all education is practically in the hands of private providers. Now you want to shut government schools and make education for poor and disadvantaged children out of bounds? Where are the social values and change like inclusion, harmony and equality that education is supposed to bring about?” he asks.
The statistics shared by RTE Forum say that about one lakh government schools have shut ever since RTE Act was promulgated on April 1, 2010. The most number among these schools, about 13000, in the state of Rajasthan, which incidentally also has the highest number of drop outs. On face of it the state government has recently formulated a Policy for Public Private Partnerships in School Education 2015 purportedly to run inefficient government schools efficiently and provide quality education.
The forum has dispatched a letter of protest to the Rajasthan Chief Minister and vehemently opposed the idea fearing an avalanching effect across the country if the state government succeeded in diluting Right to Education Act. The letter to Vasundhara Raje, the Chief Minister says, “Private Schools do not automatically deliver quality education. In fact vast numbers of them do not. There are numerous examples in our country (including in the state of Rajasthan) where government schools are providing education that is of excellent quality- for instance the Kendriya Vidhalayas. At the same time, there is considerable evidence that private schools fail to outperform government schools, in which, as in private schools, the demographic and income background of students is controlled. The recently conducted longitudinal study by the Azim Premji Foundation in the state of Andhra Pradesh, clearly states that “contrary to general perception, fee-charging private schools are not able to ensure better learning for children from disadvantaged rural sections as compared to government schools. The global DFID comprehensive review of the functioning of private schools similarly highlights the ambiguities entailing the true effects of private schools. Private schools are no more innovative than government schools. Indeed, the 2015 UNESCO Global Monitoring Report states that worldwide public schools may have more scope to be innovative with the curriculum while private schools are more wedded to parent demands for good examination results.”
The letter goes on to write, “Given what we know about the clear connection between access to resources for education and learning outcomes, the large number of children out of school in Rajasthan, and the facilities gap in the State, it is unclear why the government of Rajasthan seeks to argue for lowering input costs. One of the key reasons why our education system is underperforming is the extremely low levels of investment in the public education system. Furthermore, we would like to bring to your notice that the expenditure made by the state government in elementary level of education is little above 3 percent of Gross State Domestic Product. At a time when only 7.4 % of schools in Rajasthan comply with the provisions of the RTE Act- what is called for is a massive additional investment in the schooling system in the state and not a false feeling of fatalism that change is not possible.
The growing commercialization and privatization of education has emerged as one of the biggest threats to the principle of the right to education. The last two reports of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education reminds governments that delivering education is a primary responsibility of the state. Indeed, a resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council, which was supported by India in Geneva last week recognized that growing privatization and commercialization of education constitutes a danger to the realization of the right to education. Thus, the Policy of the government of Rajasthan runs counter to international human rights law and to the stand taken by the Government of India in an international forum.
It also runs counter to the Indian Constitution and domestic law, the 86th Amendment of the Constitution and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 that makes education upto the elementary level a responsibility and legal obligation of the state government. As per the recent Socio Economic and Caste Census, 2011, Rajasthan has the highest number of illiterates in the country. Its transition rate in secondary education is likewise below the national average. No educational system in the world in history has ever ensured universalization of education through reliance on private providers. There is no reason to believe that Rajasthan can be an exception to this historical trend.
The proposed Policy violates the provisions of the RTE Act in several ways. For example, it mentions that fees will be charged as per government rates while the RTE Act clearly specifies that education shall be provided free of cost to all children till the elementary levels. The policy proposes that the medium of instruction will be determined by the private entities (point 4. 3. iv) whereas the RTE Act states that the medium of instruction at the elementary level “shall as far as practicable be in child’s mother tongue.” The proposed policy also leaves it to the private entities to provide teaching and non- teaching staff and determine the affiliation of schools (point 4. 3. ii and 4. 3. iv). All of these form a part of the state responsibility as per the RTE Act. The RTE Act clearly provides that all teachers must be trained and that state has the responsibility of training all the untrained teachers within 5 years. The Policy is silent on the issue of teacher training.
From a regulatory point of view, there appears to be a dangerous lack of detail in the Policy document- which may later lead to corrupt practices and poor quality. For example, the Policy provides that handing over of schools to private entities on a first come first serve basis and not necessarily on the basis of proven ability to manage schools, efficiency etc. There seems to be a total lack of transparency in several key aspects such as selection of schools, identification of children, methods of appraisal of PPP proposals and standards to be followed. This makes it hard to understand and monitor what is being agreed upon. Similarly, the policy is silent on the role of School Management Committees which are mandated in all government schools as per the RTE Act and essential for micro level planning and monitoring. The removal of SMCs from its overseeing responsibilities within a school is illegal, undemocratic and detrimental to the prospect of the implementation of the Act. Moreover, the proposed Policy lacks scope for community participation and has no provisions for the larger engagement of the community and civil society within education processes.
Earlier Maharashtra government’s decision on madrasas (taking them out of RTE ambit) has also evoked sharp response. “This will end many a careers and deprive children in madrasas of the midday meals,” says Javed Ali Khan Samajwadi MP.
However, Rajasthan has been the final provocation for activists to seek a political remedy. Former foreign secretary and president of Council for Social Development, Prof. Muchkund Dubey, who also headed Bihar’s commission on common schooling system is of the opinion that only quality education can make India a super power as demonstrated by history in case of Japan, Korea, Scandinavian countries. “Uneducated or undereducated country can’t achieve much. Right to education needs to be implemented from the viewpoint of the children, I am sure we can find answers to many current problems,” he adds.
Referring to ongoing consultations on a new national education policy, activists, also say how can policy be superior to an Act of parliament. “This Act is your policy framework,” they say. According to Ravi Prakash Verma, Samajwadi Party MP unless we have an educated India, others Indias’ like digital India or Make in India can’t succeed. Percolation of education that excludes people won’t do any good.
A set of MPs, at the same time, brought some stark realities of government run education to the fore. According to Ali Anwar Ansari, JD(U), people use fake enrolments to claim scholarships under various schemes. “Children don’t learn because we have practically angootha chhap (illiterate) teachers,” he added. Ranjeeta Ranjan (Congress) said how the administration in her constituency was frustrating and that there is sexual harassment in some KGBVs. BJP MP H. C. Meena said that education and employment are big reason for migration of youth from hills to plains and hilly places should be treated specially to stop this trend.
The other MPs who spoke included Oscar Fernandes (Congress), Mohammad Salim, CPI (M), A. V. Swamy, Independent; Mr. B. C. Mungekar, member, Standing Committee on MHRD, R. Dhruvnarayan (Congress); Mr. J. D. Seelam (Congress); Ajay Tamta (BJP); Ramdas Athawale (RPI); Devi Prasad Tripathi (NCP); Balabhadra Majhi (BJD); Thokchom Menia (Congress).
Reference was made to observation of political scientist and president of Centre for Policy Research, Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s conversations with Tavleen Singh and quoted by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen in an article in the Indian Express where Mehta has said, “ I have never seen Kerala as a “model” (since there were many weak points in its policies), but I have persistently pointed to the lessons to be learned about the rewards of early emphasis on public education and public healthcare for all. In the 1960s and 1970s, when I pointed to the benefits of education and healthcare in raising longevity and the quality of human life, and to the long-run prospect of faster economic growth that human capability development helped generate, I was told that Kerala’s policies were unaffordable because it was one of the poorest states in India. It was not unaffordable, and Kerala has had the highest life expectancy in India for many decades now (in fact, higher than the average of China). And now that the latest data show that this erstwhile poor state, Kerala, has absolutely the highest per capita income in India, can there be a little vindication there?”
To end, school systems in India today are at an important juncture of history. On one hand there are budget private schools that have mushroomed everywhere and are becoming a school choice for many, and on the other hand government schools are getting bad name and shutting down. A third genre of schools, the elitist high end private schools is after middle class money. In absence of strong regulations, budget private schools are doing more harm than good to education as well as its quality. Sooner or later, the country will have to wake up and take a call on common school system. But for now, Right to Education Act needs to be secured and enforced.

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