Drama behind the RTE Act

Drama behind the RTE Act

The landmark legislation is here, but the modalities involved in implementing the Act have become complicated as private schools and the government ar

Drama behind the RTE Act

The Central Government may be basking in self-admiration for having enacted a legislation that provides for free and compulsory education to every child aged 6 to 14. The road to realising this long-cherished but seldom-pursued goal, however, is marred by several challenges.

More than seven months after the landmark Right to Education (RTE) Act came into force, its implementation in the State remains on a shaky ground as private schools, especially in Bangalore, continue to raise serious objections to various key clauses of the legislation.

These schools may be criticised for being 'elitist and snobby', but they insist they are "not against the legislation per se". "We are against the Government dictating terms to us - whom should we admit and whom not. We despise its attempts to curtail our freedom," says the principal of a well-known school.

‘Govt cannot control us’

The issue, nonetheless, is far more serious. In effect, schools have objected to almost all key clauses of this momentous legislation. From opposing 25 per cent seats for poor children to resisting the diktat on admitting students without a screening procedure (including a written or an oral test for the child and/or a parent's interview) to defying the non-utilisation of corporal punishment to discipline children to questioning the authority of the Block Education Officers (BEOs), the list of their displeasures is endless.
 
But the biggest hurdle lies somewhere else. Shortage of funds, recruitment of teachers, creation of infrastructure, et al are but a few of them. Although the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the vehicle for implementing this landmark legislation, is busy analysing the objections / suggestions received on the draft rules prepared by it, no one appears sure when the project will take off, in reality.

The chain of events, according to SSA, will be as follows: After scrutinising the public responses, it will send them to the State Government, which, in turn, will pass them on to the Centre seeking its inputs. Once this is done, the SSA will come up with the final draft rules. By SSA's own admission, this can’t be done before December 15.

Nonetheless, with legal disputes hovering over the legislation's effective execution, it's anybody's guess if the State will be able to pull the strings before the next academic year kicks off. Besides, the fear of non-implementation of a few key clauses such as the authority reposed in Block Education Officer (BEO), single academic calendar for all schools, etc poses a significant impediment.

Fund crunch

On top of this, lies the scarcity of monetary resources. According to Minister for Primary and Secondary Education Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri, fund crunch could be the "biggest barrier". While the Central Government has agreed to bear 68 percent costs, Karnataka, like other States, wants more.

The State has estimated that it needs Rs 1,980 crores for implementing the legislation over the next three years. Of this, Rs 224 crores have been sanctioned but are yet to reach Karnataka's coffers. Including this sum, SSA's annual work plan and budget adds up to Rs 1,507 crores in the current year.

Teachers’ recruitment

Hiring teachers will be another tricky issue. While the RTE Act insists that only graduates in relevant disciplines with a Diploma in Education (D Ed) should be hired as primary school teachers, the reality is altogether different. At present, anyone with just a D Ed can teach primary schoolchildren.

In the words of an educationist associated with SSA, this has put the State Government in a 'tight spot'. "Given that the Government has been struggling to hire thousands of teachers equipped with only a D Ed, it'd further falter in recruiting graduates as teachers," he said.

Kageri, on his part, admits that his Department is short of funds. "We can't go ahead with the process unless we get the approval of the Finance Department," he sought to pass the buck.

‘Govt schools will die out’

There is more worry for the government in store. Another cause for concern, relates to the post-RTE implementation period. According to another SSA official, if successfully implemented, the RTE may pose challenges to the validity of Government schools itself.

"If the clauses of RTE Act are executed in letter and spirit, no one will be willing to admit their child to a Government school. After all, when a poor child can study at a private school free of cost, why should he go to a Government one? This will warrant Government schools to be as competitive and reputable as their private counterparts. Else, they will have to die out," he explained.

But Sandhya Venugopal Sharma, State Project Director, SSA, differs. "Government schools will not be closed down. They will continue to function for equity and quality," she told Deccan Herald maintaining that such schools will have to improve their performance a few notches.

Thorniest objections to RTE Act :

* No school can subject the child to a screening procedure (including written or oral test for the child and/ or  parent’s interview) during admission to any class.
* Private schools should reserve 25 per cent seats to children from disadvantaged groups.
* No child can be denied admission during the period prescribed for admission.
* No teacher can use corporal punishment or mental harassment as a method of dsciplining the child.
* No school can collect any capitation fee or voluntary donation while admitting a child or at any time during the stay of the child in that school. It should not charge any lumpsum fee at the time of admission or at any time during the course of the year except tuition fee, as per the scale fixed by the State Government.

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