The untold story of Right To Education

The untold story of Right To Education

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, popularly known as RTE is in fact a historic legislation, and if implemented faithfully, it can herald a welfare state, the like of which exists only in our dreams.

It is designed with the best of intentions. The idea is to give free and compulsory education to all the children of our country. The objective is to ensure that no child is left behind, and that every single child from age 6 - 14 years is enrolled in school, from Classes I to VIII. There is a move to amend this to 4 - 18 years.

The law is undeniably good, but how about its implementation. This is where the hitch is.  We have the dubious distinction of being the worst practitioners of the best of laws. The fate of RTE is no different. Let us therefore examine the ground realities.

The first and foremost in the checklist should be the fate of the street children and the migrant labourers’ children, who should be the first target of RTE. Are they in school?

What about the drop-outs from the poor neighbourhoods who try to eke out a living by opting to work?  If we take a look at the migrant workers, it becomes evident that most of them are indirectly employed by the Govt through its contractors. So who is responsible for them?  Why are they not in school even today?  Is anybody looking for them?

Secondly, according to many heads of schools who have admitted children under RTE, many of the parents have falsified their income to get the seats.  In other words, seats meant for the less privileged are grabbed by the well-to-do parents who have the right connections to get a fudged income certificate. This is the second massive fraud enacted in the name of RTE.

This is known to every official of the education dept who handles the RTE admissions. “Parents come in their own cars to apply for RTE seats.” Incredible, but true, according to one principal, “This year I received 114 applications, many of them were submitted with income certificate of Rs 11000 p.a. Today it is impossible to have a family with that annual income,” said another principal.

The third and the most indefensible aspect of RTE implementation is the department’s eagerness to admit every RTE applicant in an unaided English Medium School. Officials of the state education department assigned the RTE duty are going hammer and tongs at the private schools.  Whoever has ever said that RTE children should not be admitted in Govt schools or aided schools? In fact, they can be admitted in all kinds of schools, as per the Act.

The Act never said that the children must be admitted only in private English medium schools? The education dept officials are concentrating on CBSE and ICSE schools, for some mysterious reason. Before RTE, they did not have any control over these schools, and so now they are bearing down upon them with a vengeance. “Govt schools and aided schools are closing down one by one, obviously because of the way they are run, and now they want to destroy the private schools,” lamented the principal of a school on conditions of anonymity.

“One fails to understand why this money meant for RTE (65% by Centre & 35% by State) cannot be used for the development of the govt schools.”  

RTE mandates many basic requirements in every school. A Delhi based NGO in its Stock-taking Report 2012-13 estimates that 92% of primary schools nationwide are non-compliant with the infrastructure norms mandated by the Act. (Education Word, March 2014).  RTE has a larger objective than forcing private schools to admit the RTE category of students.  This is conveniently forgotten by all concerned. I hold no brief for the private schools. It is my belief that private schools too should fulfill their social responsibility. I represent a school that has been giving fee concessions and merit-cum-means scholarships to deserving students, covering around 10% of the total school population, long before RTE came into force.

 “Private schools, especially the ones run by charitable organizations and endowments are driven by motives other than mere profit. They run on solid ideologies and most of them have clear convictions and well-delineated action plans regarding their social commitments,” writes the principal of one such school.

We know about the plight of most govt schools. Many do not have teachers. Instead of reimbursing fees to the private schools, why can’t the govt appoint teachers in govt schools, provide them the needed facilities and educate the RTE children there, even in English medium, if needed.  The govt school teachers themselves are posing this question. Interestingly, Karnataka Govt has filed an appeal in the Supreme Court to permit imposition of Kannada as medium of instruction in all the primary schools in the State.

How can the same govt seek to admit RTE children in English Medium Primary Schools? If this is not a paradox, what else is it? If the govt wants RTE to succeed, let there be an expert panel to conduct an objective, dispassionate and intensive study of the implementation of RTE and find out where it is heading, so that appropriate actions can be taken.

The sooner this introspection is undertaken, the better for our country.
 Mathew C. Ninan, Principal, Little Rock Indian School, Brahmavar

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