RTE: Need to hold officials accountable

Manikanta, the impish school drop-out in Shanthinagar, Bangalore, about whom I wrote a few years ago, is still a drop-out. In addition, he has now become a child labourer. In Deshyanagar slum, more than 50 child drop-outs have failed to join the Residential Bridge Course opened for them. The education department’s helplessness in addressing these situations has not changed in these many years. Not much is going to change in the future either if one goes by the final version of the Right to Education Rules of the Sarva Shikshana Abhiyana now sent to the government for approval.

That six decades have passed since we gave ourselves a Constitution which promised to send all children to school within one decade, does not appear to have injected any degree of urgency into our law-framers.

The rules say that all schools shall function as per prescribed norms within a time frame. But this time frame applies only to private schools and not to government schools. In a Triveninagar school, parents complained that their children come home with shit in their underpants as the school toilet is dysfunctional. So the rules are likely to ensure that this state of affairs shall continue.

As for quality of education, the very thoughtful provisions suggested by retired education department officials have been completely removed in the final rules. Those progressive provisions were being seen even by other states as models to emulate.

Enforcement

The rules say that the “School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) shall ensure that every child is enrolled and gets quality education and that there are no drop-outs or out-of-school children”, as if this wishful ‘vision statement’ is itself sufficient to bring back all children without stipulating how the SDMC will reliably enforce it.
There is a further long list of tasks to be done by the SDMC including preparation of a School Development Plan, estimating financial and other requirements. But there is no guarantee anywhere in the rules that these requirements will be mandatorily fulfilled by the government. Officials claim that the plans sent by SDMCs are the basis for allocating resources to schools and that no cuts are made on them. If that is the truth, then why are our government schools in the state they are in, with leaking roofs, no drinking water and hellish toilets?

While it appears laudable that the government is keen on community participation through the SDMCs, it has to be remembered that these bodies have been kept ignorant all these years about their true powers. SDMCs have been mainly told that they are donation-raisers “as the government cannot provide everything”. Moreover, the SDMC is a voluntary body consisting mostly of poor parents who struggle even to attend a monthly meeting foregoing their wages.

If the SDMC and even the elected representatives of the local government have not been able to bring the Manikantas or the Desiyanagar slum children back to school or solve the toilet problems of Triveninagar school in all these years given the existing mechanisms, what justifies the faith that they will solve the problems now, without any radical change in the system?

Where is the rights-based protocol to provide solutions to the physical, cultural, social or economic “barriers to free and compulsory education” faced by children? The protocol should also fix clear responsibilities on designated officials as duty-bearers at every level, to ensure quality schools and compulsory attendance of children.

But without providing these support mechanisms to the SDMC, the rules say that the BEO, DDPI and the CEO of the zilla panchayat shall hold the SDMC responsible for violations of the Act. However, this whole pretence of demanding accountability is entirely suspect as these are the very officials responsible for the poor state of the government schools and trying to put the blame for it on the disempowered SDMC appears to be a charade being played to abdicate government responsibility for government schools. There are no penalties foreseen on officials for this abdication.

Anyone can also complain to the State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR). But it is itself a debilitated body incapable of handling complaints from all across the state, which is another way of nullifying the Act.

It is time that an independent body which penalises officials failing to deliver public entitlements within time frames is introduced. Failing which, we will continue to have a make-believe Constitution, make-believe Acts and rules and elected representatives and bureaucrats who strut about in a make-believe drama of enforcement. All in all, a theatre of the absurd.

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