RTE: Will it lead to inclusive education?

RTE: Will it lead to inclusive education?

Portals of great schools like Doon in Dehra Dun, Aditi Mallya in Bangalore, Modern Public School in Delhi, several residential schools in Ooty and many such exclusive and not so exclusive private schools throughout India have to open their doors to the children of the weaker sections. This will hopefully give such children a chance to aim for IITs, IIMs and other professional colleges without quotas.

While it is easy to get excited about the huge potential of RTE, we should be fully aware of the myriads of problems involved in its implementation. Opposition leaders like Mayawati and Nitish Kumar have already expressed their inabilities to implement the Act due to lack of funds. Or there could be some hidden agendas.

But there are other real problems like improving qualifications of millions of teachers, training them in large numbers to meet the RTE standard of one teacher for 30 students, ensuring it is really the poor who are admitted and not politically connected to elite schools, defining neighbourhood and selecting the students to be admitted to private schools, estimating the fees to be paid to private schools, etc.
Example of SDMCs
According to RTE every government school will be transferred to the school management committee with 75 per cent of its members being parents. Such SMCs sound a great idea. But in reality, they would be a total failure based on Karnataka’s experience of setting up school development and monitoring committees. More thought should be given to strengthen these SMCs. For example, a set of SMCs (if the schools are small) may have a full time executive who can be a retired educationist to help carry on with their responsibilities. Also the government should transfer ‘real’ power to SMCs in managing the school.

Private elite schools are unlikely to be happy to admit students from poor families. Some have already opposed such a policy. Some may even question if such students will be able to perform better just because they attend elite schools. However, we already have a shining example in a 13-year-old Shanthi Bhavan near Bangalore. It is a world class residential school started by Abraham George. It admits students only from extremely poor families. Two years in a row, all its X standard students have got distinction in ICSE public examinations.

In order to implement RTE properly, we should learn from the mistakes committed while implementing some of the path breaking Acts passed by parliament. They were also expected to bring about major reforms like RTE. But during implementation, those Acts have failed miserably either due to lack of political will or indifference by the civil society.
Consumer Protection Act was expected to usher in a consumer revolution. Right to Information Act should have improved governance and started the process of greater transparency and reducing corruption. The Environmental Protection Act should have reversed the process of destroying our habitat.

The ministries concerned, either at the Centre or the state, did not draw up a plan of action to implement any of the above Acts. At best they just went through the motion of setting up the mandatory institutions or appointing officials. No thought was given to develop a set of well thought out training programmes at different levels. No feedback mechanism was planned to monitor how these Acts were implemented. Even when NGOs gave feedback, no attempt was made to take corrective steps.

Under the chairmanship of Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal, a high level RTE implementation committee (RTEIC) should be formed at the earliest. All state education ministers should be co-opted as members. RTEIC should plan to receive feedback from different stakeholders in a formal way and take corrective steps on a war footing. It should have an advisory committee consisting of members with expertise in education, management, law, finance, and information technology to analyse the problems based on feedback received and make recommendations to RTEIC. Similar committees should be formed at state level also.

If the government and civil society work together, and apply sound management techniques to implement RTE, we can indeed usher in a social revolution in India. It in turn, may help us begin the process of unwinding divisive caste-based quota system.