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Sep 30, 2016

Quality Education- The unfinished agenda of RTE Act

Binod Kumar Sinha

Harikesh Bahadur with his students at the school at Deva Nandpur village in Raebareli

Harikesh Bahadur with his students at the school at Deva Nandpur village in Raebareli

Jitender Kumar and Shivdeep, two school teachers, with their effort and strong determination were able to turn around the fate of a primary school at Shekhupur in Hamirpur district in Uttar Pradesh. They were posted to the school in the 2013-14 academic year. At that time, only 42 children were enrolled and the school building was in shambles. Due to trust deficit between parents and teacher, and poor quality of education, only 10-12 students actually showed up on a regular basis. Then there was the issue of security; the school had no boundary wall and it had become a local thoroughfare. 

The two began by coordinating with parents and strengthening the school management committees (SMCs). The SMCs ensured strangers kept away from the school premises, and the school hand pump wasn’t used for bathing or washing purposes by the villagers. Children were engaged in scholastic and non-scholastic activities through innovative teaching learning materials (TLMs), recreational activities, games, and sports. By the 2015-16 academic session, the turnout of children increased; 124 children were enrolled in the school. The teachers were felicitated, by the district administration, for their outstanding work in improving the school and quality of education. 

Clearly, a teacher is a crucial cog in the Right to Education (RTE) wheel. The RTE Act states that one teacher should be appointed for every 30 children enrolled. In order to meet this criteria, the government had set a deadline of five years that ran out on March 31, 2015. But even after five years of enactment of the Act, there remains a huge shortage of teachers in government schools. As per the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE; 62nd meeting), there is a shortfall of about 12 lakh (1.2 million) teachers across the country. In Uttar Pradesh alone, in order to meet the RTE norms, appointment of over 3 lakh teachers are required. 

Having said that, not all schools have shortage of teachers. In fact, some have surplus. Recently, it was reported that four teachers were appointed for three children at an upper primary school in Pooranpatti village in Mirzapur district’s Seekhar block. The disproportionate allocation of teachers, across the state, indicate lack of critical thinking in the optimal use of available human resources. While there are challenges in filling gaps of teachers in the state, the issue of irrational distribution of teachers could easily be resolved. But this has not been done. 

The situation is worse in towns where some of the schools are running without any teachers. In Raebareli town, there are 37 primary schools but only 41 teachers. There are 25 single teacher schools, eight schools with two teachers each and four schools without any teachers. 

“When any teacher needs leave, I have to manage the crisis and get them from schools that have two teachers. Everyone talks about the salary of government teachers but even if you increase their salary ten times you can’t divide one teacher into ten. With so much deficit of manpower how will the quality improve?” questions Pankaj Dwivedi, Assistant Block Resource Center officer, Raebareli town. 

Apart from the shortage of teachers, there are other issues like that of postings to schools in distant and remote locations, responsibility of multiple classes, and ensuring toilets are fit for use. Then, studies also suffer because of the amount of time the teachers are forced to spend on non-teaching activities. 

The RTE Act restricts engagement of teacher for non-academic activities but the ground realities are very different. Teachers are, in fact, engaged in countless non-academic activities. For instance, Harikesh Bahadur, the teacher  of primary school at Deva Nandpur village (Raebareli) apart from teaching and taking care of children has to maintain various documentations, records, manage distribution of mid-day meal, procure fruits, milk and grains for mid-day meal, and manage dress distribution. He spends two hours, daily, doing this. 

What is remarkable, however, is what Harikesh has accomplished at the school. First, the enrolment in his school increased from 104 to 149 between 2014-15 and 2015-16. Second, with the help of the SMC members he tracked down nearly 30 out of school children and got them back to the classes. They were from the snake charmer community. He ensured that these children were not discriminated against; the new students were taught the basics of health and sanitation and were given additional supportive classes to help them catch up with the class.

Teachers like Jitender, Shivdeep, and Harikesh have worked wonders in spite of the prevailing conditions. There is lack of systemic efforts to tackle these issues and considering the difficulties the teachers face, putting the onus entirely on them for imparting quality education is a tad unfair. What needs to be done, apart from government intervention, is to rope in the community.  

The RTE Act mandates the formation of SMCs in every government and government-aided schools. The committee, comprising parents, teacher, one elected representative and Lekhpal (government accountant), meets once every month to discuss issues related to school. In fact, at an SMC meeting of the girls’ primary school at Kusmara village in Hamirpur district, it came to light that one of the teachers appointed in the school was actually working in the office of the Basic Siksha Adhikari (BSA) for the last four years while drawing salary from the school. The school of 116 children had three teachers but with one teacher deployed elsewhere, two teachers had to manage the children apart from handling a long list of non-academic activities. 

With the help of Oxfam India and Samarth Foundation (one of Oxfam India’s education partner in Uttar Pradesh), the SMC wrote to the BSA and the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) for the re-deployment of the teacher. After several meetings and petitions, the teacher was posted back to the school. The students benefitted immensely; in order to attract the students to the class he showed educational videos on his laptop and engaged the students in several co-curricular activities. But this was short-lived. After seven months, he was once again called back at the BSA office.       

Clearly, there are teachers who want to teach and have initiative as well. But uncertainty of postings, back and forth between teaching and non-teaching activities and vacant posts are impediments in quality education and has a negative impact on students. What is needed is the effective implementation of the RTE Act, positive policy framework, strong community involvement through SMCs, and proper allocation of human resources and budget in the government and government-aided schools. At the end of the day it is the question of our children – millions of children especially from the weaker and marginalised sections. 

   

Written by: Binod Kumar Sinha, Programme Coordinator, Oxfam India

Photo credit:Binod Kumar Sinha 

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