Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Right to Education Act

THE intention of RTE Act towards a compulsory and inclusive elementary education is undoubtedly prudent. What needs to be seen is the extent of universal acceptance it can garner.
 
The Right to Education (RTE) Act came into force with effect from April 1, 2010. Free and compulsory elementary education was made a fundamental right, under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution (86th Amendment), in December 2002. The 'Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill’ which represents the consequential legislation, was drafted in 2005 and introduced in the Rajya Sabha on December 15, 2008.

The same was revised within a year to become the ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 once it got assent of the President on August 26, 2009. The RTE Act, as the name suggests, provides for free and compulsory education for all children in the age group of six to fourteen years.
 
The Draft Bill was an outcome of wide ranging discussions, which included consideration by the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) comprising Ministers of Education of all States and Union Territories (UT), discussion in a High Level Group constituted by Prime Minister, and preparation/circulation of a Model Right to Education Bill. The RTE also took into consideration the concerns of teachers’ associations and the civil society organisations.
 
The RTE Act is a detailed and comprehensive piece of legislation that extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu & Kashmir. The Act includes provisions related to schools, teachers, curriculum, evaluation, access and specific division of duties and responsibilities of different stakeholders. In the past fourteen months of its implementation, select states/UT (seven States and equal number of Union Territories) have notified the act in their respective jurisdiction. The seven States are Sikkim, Orissa, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar. Others such as Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya are likely to implement RTE soon.
 
Act Impact
With the Act coming into effect, India becomes one among 135 countries of the World to have a Constitutional provision for free and non-discriminatory education for everyone. However, the report says, there are some countries that continue to charge primary school fees despite the legal guarantee of free education. Though the age bracket for RTE in India is 6-14, Chile in Latin America provides free education for a period of 15 years to a child. It gives free and compulsory education to children in the age group of 6 to 21 years. Countries such as Canada, France, Norway and Spain, are among other 19 nations, that give free of cost education for a duration of 10 years, ranging from the age of 5 to 15 or 6 to 16 years.
 
The Key features of the Act:
  • Every child from 6 to 14 years of age has a right to free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school till completion of elementary education (class I to class VIII).
  • Where a child above six years of age has not been admitted in any school (or has been admitted but not completed his/her elementary education), then he/she shall be admitted in a class appropriate to his/her age
  • RTE provides for prescribed norms and standards relating to infrastructure, pupil-teacher ratios, school working days, teacher working hours and other quality parameters.
  • For carrying out the provisions of this Act, the appropriate government and the local authority shall establish, within such area or limits of neighbourhood, as may be prescribed, a school, where it is not established, within a period of three years from the commencement of the Act
  • The appropriate government shall ensure timely prescribing of curriculum and courses of study for elementary education and provide training facility for teachers. It also provides for Curriculum and evaluation procedure conforming to values enshrined in the Constitution and ensuring all round development of the child through a system of child-friendly and child-centred learning
  • The Central and State governments shall have the concurrent responsibility for providing funds
  • Unaided schools must take in 25 percent of their class strength from “weaker sections and disadvantaged groups’, sponsored by the government. The expenditure so incurred will be reimbursed to the extent of the per-child expenditure incurred by the State, or the actual amount charged from the child, whichever is less.
  • RTE Act ensures minimum qualifications for a person to be eligible for appointment as a teacher
  • No school or person shall, while admitting the child, collect any capitation fee and subject the child or his/her parents or guardian to any screening procedure (a method for selection for admission of a child, in preference over another, other than a random method).
  • All schools except private unaided schools are to be managed by School Management Committees with 75 per cent parents and guardians as members.
  • All schools except government schools are required to be recognised by meeting specified norms and standards within 3 years to avoid closure.
  • The National or the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights shall examine and review the safeguards for rights provided by or under the RTE Act and inquire into complaints relating to child’s right to free and compulsory education
Implementing the RTE
The means for implementation of the main provisions of the RTE Act is the revised Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) programme. The Government approved an outlay of Rs. 2,31,233 crore for the implementation of the combined RTE-SSA programme for 2010-11 to 2014-15 and revised the fund sharing pattern between the Centre and States in the ratio of 65:35 (90:10 for the North Eastern States). At the instance of the government, the National University for Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) has prepared estimates for additional requirement of funds for a 5-year period from 2010-11 to 2014-15 for the implementation of the provisions of the RTE Act, which works out to Rs 1,71,484 crores. Central SSA outlays for 2010-11 have also been enhanced from Rs. 15,000 crore to Rs. 19,000 crore.
 
In addition, there are three external funding agencies, namely World Bank, Department for International Development (DFID) and European Commission (EC) that provide support to the SSA programme. Under the SSA, the private firms, corporate sector, and the civil society organisations are encouraged to contribute to elementary education through partnership within the broad parameters of the State policy.
 
Representations have been received from the State Governments/UTs on various issues relating to implementation of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009. Some of these issues include request for additional resources for its implementation, clarification on certain provisions of the RTE Act, etc.
 
Various steps have been taken by the government to implement the RTE in a proper manner. These include:
  • Framing subordinate legislation called model rules as guidelines to states for the implementation of the Act and notifying the RTE Rules, 2010
  • Taking the help of National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) as the academic authority to lay down teacher’s qualifications which were notified on August 23, 2010.
  • Asking the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), as the academic authority, to lay down the curriculum and evaluation procedure
  • Having a National Advisory Council (NAC) under the Act.
  • Taking steps to align the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan norms with the provisions of the RTE Act.
 
The Government has also held consultations at various fora with the State Governments and various other stakeholders such as academicians, and civil society activists, including meeting with the State Education Ministers and Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE). The Government has also issued various Guidelines on implementation of the RTE Act, including procedure for admission in schools, seeking relaxation of teacher qualifications under section 23(2) of the RTE Act, and maintaining the mandatory Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) in school which is in accordance with the norms and standards specified in the Schedule of the RTE Act.
Rationale for admitting 25 percent of Children from EWS
Of the several implications of RTE implementation, one of the most debated issue is that of unaided schools having to admit a quarter EWS children in class-I.
 
Education, considered as an act of social engineering should ensure that children of socio-economically weaker section must feel at home in private schools. And for this it is necessary that they form a substantial proportion or critical mass of the class they join. It is for this reason that the RTE Act provides for admission of 25 percent children from disadvantaged group/weaker sections in class I only, As children admitted to class-I move to the next class, new children get admitted to class-I and so on till they complete 8 years of elementary education. Teachers and children who are used to a selective, homogeneous classroom environment cannot be expected to develop the required attitude and behaviour required in heterogeneous class overnight.
 
Issues galore
As a matter of concern, several private schools have challenged the constitutional validity of the RTE Act in the Supreme Court saying that the government is trying to enforce reservation and regulate affairs of private unaided and minority educational institutions. Though there is a lot more expectation from both the centre and local government to implement and monitor the RTE Act, there are various viewpoints and critique (see Box) that different stakeholders need to review for an effective RTE to become a reality.
It is pointed out that there have been persistent views by some eminent educationalist that Common Schooling System (CSS) model is a better way which factors into account not only quantitative but also qualitative aspect of primary education, which the RTE Act fails to take into account. CSS model which would have marked a radical departure from prevailing education model; conjectures glaring socio-economic inequality from the very start of child education. For this to happen government is required to raise public sector expenditure on education to at least 6 percent of GDP as long promised by it on an urgent basis.
 
 
CRITIQUES OF RTE
  • Since all schools (except government) are required to meet specified norms and standards within 3 years to avoid closure, the RTE Act penalises the private schools for lacking infrastructure. There should be efforts to find mechanisms to infuse public resources in these schools. Norms for buildings, number of working days, teacher workload, equipment, library and extra-curricular activities are prescribed only for unaided schools. Only an obligatory teacher-student ratio is prescribed for both types of schools.
  • School Management Committees comprising 75 percent parents/guardians can adversely affect the existing management structure of schools.
     
  • No disciplinary action is chartered under RTE for teachers in view of their absence or non-adherence to teaching norms.
     
  • The Act places no restriction on the fees that may be charged by unaided private schools ostensibly set up as a Society or Trust but, de facto set up to make money.
     
  • Ambiguity with respect to schools admitting a quarter of their class strength from EWS and disadvantaged groups (there is no clear definition and verification of EWS/DA); not addressing the supply-demand gaps in admitting children from neighbourhood; non-clarity on mechanism for reimbursement; non-monitoring etc., and no criterion for arriving at the 25 per cent figure.
     
  • There is nothing in the Act or its model rules and regulations that can prevent unaided private schools from charging students for activities that are not mentioned in the Act.
     
  • Outcomes of RTE Act have been overestimated in the light of existing schema of inefficient, fraudulent and unaccountable institutions of education in the country

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