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RTE report card: Not good

RTE report card: Not good
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The need for development is indeed enormous, but lack of adequate funds has been a big impediment. Dhurjati Mukherjee Notwithstanding that last...

The need for development is indeed enormous, but lack of adequate funds has been a big impediment. Dhurjati Mukherjee Notwithstanding that last month marked the third anniversary of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, there is little to suggest that the implementation has been satisfactory. Enforcement of various norms like infrastructure, pupil-teacher ratio, etc, have been poor while 25 per cent reservation for the economically weaker sections in private schools and forming of school management committees are yet to be put into operation effectively. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court referred to a larger bench a writ petition of the Federation of Public Schools, challenging the constitutional validity of the RTE for reserving 25 per cent seats for the poor in private schools when these were not getting any form of aid from the government. A three-judge bench of the apex court had upheld the validity of the Act last year. The RTE Act maintained that by March 2013 all schools had to provide a set of basic facilities. There should be one teacher for every 30 children in Classes I to IV and one teacher for 35 children in Classes VI to VIII. After examination of the six facilities mandated in the Act, it was found that by 2012 only eight per cent of all elementary schools had provided the required facilities. In all the Eastern and Northeastern States, including the large ones such as Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Assam, only two per cent of all elementary schools had the mandated facilities and stipulated teacher-pupil ratio. Thus, student learning levels have remained disturbingly low as highlighted in the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), and, in fact, fallen in the last few years. Perhaps the provision of infrastructure occupied centre stage in the past three years in government planning in matters related to RTE, and though this is, no doubt, necessary, the effect in learning outcomes has sadly not been witnessed. The infrastructure has been abysmally poor in the rural schools and intervention in a big way was long overdue to make available better provisions such as more airy rooms, toilets with water connections and potable drinking water. However, it is also necessary to focus on the learning methodology to equip students better like their urban counterparts. The need for development is indeed enormous, but lack of adequate funds has been a big impediment. In 2011-12, for example, the expenditure on Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) was 61 per cent and in the last fiscal it may be anything around 65 to 68 per cent. It has been pointed out by experts that for an outcome-oriented education system, there is need for curriculum reform, pedagogical strategy and better interaction between teachers and students. Good communication skills are a vital element of teaching, especially for children, and this essential element is necessary to be a good teacher. Moreover, teachers have to show love and affection for the children of lower classes and win them over to make teaching effective. Basically, the sincerity of teachers and their willingness to improve the system through dedication has been found lacking in various surveys of government schools. There is need for teacher performance monitoring mechanisms, especially in district schools, to ensure that the learning process is yielding results. But, clearly, the impetus has to come from the teachers themselves for which social awareness and motivation needs to be generated. This apart, some sort of autonomy is also needed for these schools. Indeed, the School Management Committees (SMCs) need such autonomy to carry out realistic plans of improvement. Presently these have limited expenditure powers � on average SMCs receive Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 annually. Also, these committees have no powers over education-related functions such as temporary teacher hiring and retention. Importantly, there is insufficiency of teachers as there are many states where around 70 to 75 per cent schools do not have the requisite numbers. This perhaps is due to non-availability of requisite funds to recruit so many teachers and the States would desist from taking on the additional financial burden. As a result, teachers are being recruited on contract in many states. This may not have an adverse impact on the quality of teaching, only if the SMCs are given the powers to recruit them. These contract teachers, who are mostly local recruits, have in most cases not been found to reach the mark. At the same time, according to reports, there is a growing tendency amongst parents to send their children to low-cost private schools and, such enrolment in rural India has been rising at a rate of three per cent per annum. The quality of teaching and the resultant impact on the learner, which is very important at the elementary schools, is being carried out appreciably by these private schools, probably because of strict monitoring. With private schools helping fill the gap in education requirement, some way needs to be found to halt their de-recognition simply because they don't adhere to the 25 per cent quota demand. The government could consider providing some monetary benefits for the 25 per cent reserved seats in private schools for the poor. These schools are very much a part of the system and some way has to be evolved to ensure that they follow the stipulations of the RTE. Meanwhile, Gujarat has developed an alternative model for recognizing private schools based on learning-related performance. Many states are expected to follow suit. Finally, though education as a whole has seen positive outcomes, elementary education needs to be strengthened. Experts have repeatedly emphasized the need for more resources for the education sector, which unfortunately the present government has not heeded. However, for the much-needed change, apart from more funds flow and autonomy at the grass-roots level, sincerity and dedication of teachers is the key element for the desired transformation. The school system should be geared to bring about this transformation in learning outcomes in the coming years. Contribution of all stakeholders is needed to make this a reality. � INFA
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