Providing free and compulsory education to children has been one of the important responsibilities of the Indian government since independence. To fulfill the responsibility of providing universal education, the government of India had taken various policy actions. Right to education became a fundamental right under Article 21A in 2002 when the Constitution was amended through the 86th Amendment Act .Consequent to this amendment, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education 2009 was enacted which came into force on April 1st, 2010. This Act has set an obligation on the State to provide free and compulsory education to children under the age-group of 6-14 in a neighborhood school. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is the flagship program to achieve the goal of universal education. SSA is the scheme through which the RTE Act 2009 is implemented.
IMPORTANT FEATURES OF THE ACT
• Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act mandates unaided and non-minority schools to reserve 25% seats for underprivileged children of society through a random selection process. The fees of these students would be reimbursed by the Government.
•Section 16 of the RTE Act mandates, “No child can be held back, expelled and required to pass the board examination till the completion of elementary education”. This ‘no-detention policy’ was implemented to retain the children in the schools. However, this policy was recently abolished after the enactment of Right to Free and Compulsory Education Amendment Act 2019.
•The Sections 19 of the RTE Act lays down the norms and standards of Pupil Teacher Ratios (PTRs) of 1:30, buildings and infrastructure, school working days, teacher working hours, ramps for students with disabilities, provision of drinking water and availability of playground, etc. The Act also provides the appointment of appropriately trained teachers. Norms and standards of teacher qualification and training are clearly laid down in the Act.
•The Act prohibits deployment of teachers for non-educational work, other than decennial census, elections to the local authority, state legislatures and parliament, and disaster relief.
•There is provision for the establishment of commissions to supervise the implementation of the act. All schools except private unaided schools are to be managed by School Management Committees(SMC) with 75% of parents and guardians as members.
•The Act specifies the duties and responsibilities of appropriate Governments, local authority in providing free and compulsory education, and sharing of financial and other responsibilities between the Central and State Governments.
CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE ACT:
The RTE Act brought improvement in the enrollment rate for the students in primary and upper primary schools. As per the ASER report 2016, enrollment reached to 96%. Enrollment for the age-group 15-16 for both boys and girls has reached to 84.7% in 2016. Enrollment trends also suggest that the gap in enrollment rate between boys and girls are consistently reducing. However, the actual data showcases the discrepancies among the states. For instance- the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan have seen an increase in the enrolment rate for upper primary section, but Madhya Pradesh, Assam, and West Bengal saw a significant decrease in the same time period.
Despite improvements in enrolment rates, the quality of education is dismal. As per the ASER reports released every year by Pratham, it was found that the learning outcomes of the students are poor. The quality of education is a cause of concern. For example-More than 50 % of Std V students can’t read Std II textbook or solve a basic mathematical problem. The real cause of concern is that learning deficits seen in elementary school in previous years seem to carry forward as young people move from being adolescents to young adults. This finding was reflected in the ASER 2018 report as in this study it surveyed students in the age-group of 14-18 years, unlike the last 12 years when it focused on students in elementary schools.
Not only this, drop-out rates are still very high. Almost one million children in the age group of 6-14 drop out every year. 75 % of them are from SC, ST and Muslim communities. As per the Brookings Institute Report on primary education in India, 29 percent of children drop out before completing five years of primary school and 43% before finishing upper primary school. As indicated by the report, there is also a huge difference between urban and rural education.
There has been a consistent improvement in the basic infrastructure facilities in schools. As per the report, 98% of the habitations have a primary school within one km and 92% have an upper primary school. The facilities of basic sanitation, drinking water, separate toilets for boys and girls have improved since the enactment of the Act. However, as per the District Information System of Education , only 13 percent of all schools in India have achieved full compliance with these RTE norms.
School Management Committees (SMC) are set up only on paper in various schools of the country. However, the quality of their engagement with schools is minimal, the amount of funding they receive is not enough and they are not empowered enough to exercise their duties and responsibilities.
As per the Economic Survey 2017-18, only 79% of teachers are professionally qualified to teach in schools. There is a huge dearth of trained teachers in the country. There are various issues related to teachers in schools like low accountability, poor quality of the teacher education manual, deployment of teachers for non-educational purposes and large vacancies. As per the data provided by District Information System, around 5.68 lakh positions are vacant. There has also been a major issue of teacher absenteeism. As per the World Bank Study 2010, a teacher in Indian schools is absent every four days.
The seats for disadvantaged students reserved in schools also are not filled completely. There is a huge gap among states in filling the seats for disadvantaged students. For instance- Where the State of Delhi was able to fill 92% of the seats allocated, Andhra Pradesh was able to fill only 0.2% and UP filled only 3 % seats.
The Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) is used for the evaluation of students under the RTE Act. However, it was found that it has not been implemented properly. Only 58.46% of the schools of the country have implemented this provision. However, the no-detention policy was removed in January 2019 after the RTE (Second Amendment) Act 2019. CCE is a pedagogical tool which does not mean the absence of evaluation but a process of continuous evaluation different from the traditional examination system.
There is a need to have systemic and structural reforms to revamp the education system in the country. The Committee on Draft National Education Policy chaired by K. Kasturirangan provided reforms proposals for RTE Act 2009 to make it more effective. India still spends less than 3 % of its GDP on education which is very low as compared to other nations. Though the goal of universal enrolment seems achievable now, there is need to focus on quality of education in the schools at primary and upper primary level. As these children are going to join the workforce and become part of demographic dividend in the near future, there is need to focus on early childhood care and education (ECCE) within the ambit of RTE Act 2009 as proposed under the Draft National Education Policy.