A Critique on the Right to Education Act.
What happens when a country of the size of India has over 3 million children living on the streets? Or has over 150 million children working as bonded labourers? Or one out of every six girl child does not live to see her 15th birthday? What happens when despite having a national policy for compulsory primary education, only 50% of children have access to education?
The statement "Children are the future of the nation" stops making sense, then! In fact, it sounds like an ominous prophecy. For how can we explain that even after 63 years of independence, half of India's children are illiterate? Despite identifying primary education as a key thrust area and possessing one of the largest networks of schools in the world?
It is a popular saying that “Education is both the means as well as the end to a better life”. means, because it empowers an individual to earn his/her livelihood and the end because it increases one's awareness on a range of issues. But unfortunately in today’s modern day scenario the subject of Education is actually used by our political leaders and legislators as the “means” for achieving the “end” common to them all. Political power. After all it makes an integral part of their Election manifesto.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, popularly known as the Right to Education (RTE) Act, came into being in India from April 1, 2010. The Act is a remarkable step forward in the field of education in India. However, some of the provisions of the Act, although included with noble intentions, will have unintended consequences that might counter some of the advantages of the new system itself as well has have ill effects on the very subjects of the Act, the children , most of whom are even unaware of the polity behind the legislation ruling them.
The Act suffers from some serious flaws, many of which have been objected upon by the state governments and the professionals related to the field of education, from teachers to parents to our very own students.
Section 16 of the Act, provides that No child admitted in a school shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education. While it is true that failing a child may well cause the child to intensely doubt his or her abilities, the Government fails to appreciate that failing a child also serves as a protective mechanism. The term “fail” has always worked as a deterrent for a child to study seriously and perform well. Failing, actually serves as a blessing in disguise for the students. Also, detaining the child in the same class ensures that the child learns the particular set of skills required for his/her development and hence is a more scientific approach. Promoting the child to the next class regardless of his performance in the previous class would also, in a way, be treating the less meritorious students at par with the ones who have worked hard and meritoriously achieved a place in the next level which is unfair to the good students.
The system then provides for special attention (through Section 4 of the Act) for such a child in the higher class to make up the deficiency in skills and ability. The critical question is – can a child who is unable to bear the workload of a junior class now deal with the workload of a senior class in addition to taking special classes? The embarrassment of failing, which under a system of failing a weak student is corrected at the first stage of inadequacy, now carries over into senior classes.
Failing also provides a feedback to the teachers as well as students. Both the skills of the student and the teaching skill of a teacher are put to test. However, the present legislation dismisses this advantage. A child who does not learn the value of accountability, performance, and hard work in the initial stages of its schooling will be ill-equipped to meet these constants of life in later stages. Failure makes the students accustomed to handling pressure and dealing with stress. The present system simply makes the child ignorant to the realities of life.
Schools which do not have a certificate of recognition from the local authority or government shall no longer be allowed to function, under Section 18 of the Right to Education Act. If such a school is already functioning, the Act prescribes that it be shut down within 3 years if it fails to meet norms. If a new school is set up, it must conform to the norms for a school as laid out in the Schedule of the Act, or be shut down within three years. This brings before us two important facts. It is erroneous to conclude that private, unrecognized schools offer a quality of education that is less than that offered by recognized schools, and banning private unrecognized schools further aggravates the problem of scarcity of formal education institutions.
Section 17(1) of the Act prohibits physical punishment or mental harassment of students. While a ban on physical punishment is laudable, the one on mental harassment is incompletely defined. What, after all, is ‘mental harassment’? It could be anything from a light admonition for not completing homework to vile abuses meant to strip the student of all self-respect. The Act sheds no further light.
Section 28 of the RTE Act mandates that no teacher should engage himself or herself in private tuition activity. The primary reason why teachers under perform in the classroom and then require their students to attend private tuitions is the want of additional income, unfettered by a loose monitoring and punitive system. Banning teachers from taking private tuitions does not do away with the cause of the problem. Even if private tuitions by teachers are successfully done away with, it still does not address the prevalence of teacher underperformance and absenteeism. Section 24 of the Act prescribes punitive measures to be undertaken in case absenteeism and non-performance of duties is observed. While it prescribes the minimum duties to be undertaken by each teacher, no specification is made of what constitutes high performance.
While the intention of the Government (through the RTE Act) in providing free education to children till the age of 14 years is laudable, there is also a need for measures to ensure that children (especially poor children) do not drop out of school once they lose the benefit of free education.
The implementation of the provisions of the RTE Act will be no simple matter either. The other shortfalls aside, the availability of funds and teachers remain significant roadblocks in the implementation of the Act. The Act, which has made education a fundamental right of ever child, will require an investment of Rs 1.71 lakh crore for the next five years for implementation. Recently, Delhi Government violated The RTE Act, 2009 by subjecting children to screening procedure for admission to Class VI in Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalayas in the academic year 2010-2011.On the other hand The State Governments demand for cent percent finance from the central government. In reply to them the Centre regards Education as an essential State subject and hence puts the onus of 35 percent of the finance on the state. The war of words still continues. The sad reality is that the future and education of 3 million poor children is juggling between the central government and the state governenment and their political motives. The Act has also been criticized for its hasty drafting. The Question still remains. Should the future of Indian children be dependant on the faulty drafting of laws in a country which is the largest democracy in the world? Can a country, who is a signatory to many international conventions, who is one of the fastest growing economy in the world, not provide adequate , good quality education for her children?
Clearly, we have a lot to answer for. And as concerned citizens do something about it; something meaningful, something concrete, something urgently. No more do we have the luxury of blaming the system or postponing our actions. The time to take collective as well as individual responsibility to remedy the present situation is here. Right now! And also we need many more Smiles to cater to the vast number of children in our country's population.
The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org