With good teachers and toilets, schools will do much better

With good teachers and toilets, schools will do much better

Just when we thought they could do no worse, our politicians and so-called leaders have managed to surprise us again.

The RTE Act and its implementation that is causing such heartburn to the people most involved with it, such as students, parents and school officials, is actually acting as a red herring that is distracting from the real malaise underlying our education system.

There are three problems that are going unheeded in this melee: 1. The apathy of the government in not correcting its own schools and bringing up their quality and effectiveness, 2. The erroneous idea that private institutions are temples of learning, while all they are, are effective cram factories that churn out one-dimensional kids, and 3. The very idea of what comprises education.

The RTE Act of 2009 is a very important piece of legislation in that it lays down actual rules to ensure education for children from the weaker sections of the community.

It states that every child from the age of six to fourteen has the right to free and compulsory education at a neighbourhood school until he/she finishes elementary school, and that he/she shall not be liable to pay any charge, fee or expense which may prevent him/her from finishing elementary education. One of its provisions is that private, government-unaided schools have to take in children from weaker sections of society and with disabilities to at least 25 per cent of the class strength, and it is upon this provision that people are focused.

However, whole sections of this Act are going unread and unattended to. There are rules regarding recruitment of teachers, filling up of vacancies of teachers, the duties and redressal of grievances, and qualifications of teachers to be appointed. Importantly, there are also rules regarding prohibition of use of teachers in a non-teaching capacity, and prohibition of private tuition by teachers. These sections are not even mentioned by the ministers and politicians, or even by educators.

Endemic situation

The harping on the private schools’ obligations in the RTE shows that we have all acknowledged the failure of the government school system. RTE is the right to education, not right to an educational institution.

It is very widely known that government schools are a shambles, poorly built, poorly staffed and poorly attended, by both the teachers and the students. Yet the government, both state and Central are doing nothing about enforcing the duties of the teachers.

Though funds are regularly being allocated for the purpose, nothing is being done to ensure that infrastructure of village and other schools are being upgraded or even properly maintained. It was noticed in Africa that girl children stopped going to school at about the age of 12. The reason for it was that there were no separate toilets for girls, and on building toilets, school attendance by girls increased dramatically. In India, this situation is endemic, yet nothing is done to address this situation, even though providing separate toilets for boys and girls is a provision in the RTE.

When someone shows interest in them, children will attend school and make the effort to learn. If the government were to work wholeheartedly and sincerely to educate children from the weaker sections of society, the face of India could be changed forever.

But where funds are used to feather and upholster the nests of school authorities and political entities, and nothing is done for the actual good of poor or rural children, the right to education for all children will always remain a promise that is never fulfilled.

Even if the child does get admission to the school, the quality of education he/she receives is not very good. As the mother of two school-going children, I can say with surety that the quality of teachers and teaching has become very poor. Teachers are clearly instructed to keep one eye on completing the syllabus and another on results, with the result that learning becomes a mere by-product.

Moreover, teachers themselves are not very good. Most of them do not have the aptitude or the interest to impart learning. And most of them do not have a sound knowledge of the subject they are teaching. They come into the profession for the pay cheque and the ones to suffer are the children. A good teacher can inspire love of a subject in a student, and bad one can inspire total hatred of it; we all can bear testimony to that.

However, underlying our problems with education, lies our erroneous concept of what education truly is. Education should be the learning of the things we see around us, to help us understand the world around us, and work towards improving it. It should result in one being able to think and act freely for the betterment of oneself and others around oneself, and to question anything and everything. But in our system of education today, being able to do well in examinations is everything.

The sight of children being humiliated at schools where they’ve gone to study is the worst image yet that we have seen of our country, and something has to be done and soon. However, reforms are not going to be easy, or come in a day. But if we want our nation to progress, and if we want our children to be happy ultimately, we are going to have to rethink our entire education system.

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