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A Lesson on Education from Uttar Pradesh
Q&A with Binod Kumar Sinha
November 14 was celebrated as Children’s Day across the country while November 20 was observed as UN’s Universal Children’s Day. Education is every child’s right; and on this day, and all the days through the year, there is a need to take a close look at the education system in the country and what ails it. Education became a fundamental right with the enactment of the Right to Education Act, 2009. The Act guarantees eight years of free, quality education to all children aged 6 to 14 years.
According to the District Information System for Education (DISE), in 2014-15, almost 20 crore (198 million) children were enrolled in schools (government, private and madrassas); about 12 crores (119 million) children were enrolled in government schools. Though the Act has reduced the number of out-of-school children, 60.6 lakh children continue to remain out of school; of which 31.6 lakh are boys and 28.9 lakh are girls.
Of the 36 states and Union Territories (UTs), Uttar Pradesh is at the bottom of the pile while Bihar is 32nd at elementary level. In UP, according to the data reported in the EdCIL-SSA study for Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), 16 lakh children were out of school in the age group of 6-13 years. This is about 3.9 per cent of the total population of children.
Oxfam India is working in Uttar Pradesh to create an environment which will help better implementation of the RTE Act, enhance credibility of schools for inclusive and quality education, and accountability of schools in the utilisation of funds.
Programme Officer Binod Kumar Sinha works on education in Uttar Pradesh, a state which scores the lowest on education parameters in India. He shares his experience of why children are not being able to go to school in the state and continue their education, with colleague and Research Coordinator Savvy Soumya Misra.
1. Firstly, can you elaborate on Oxfam India’s work on education in Uttar Pradesh?
In UP, Oxfam India is working on a three-pronged strategy of grassroots implementation, influencing stakeholders and awareness building through campaigns. At the grassroots level, we are strengthening the capacity of School Management Committees, groups of parents, community leaders and teachers, for tracking RTE provisions and highlighting gaps in implementation of the Act. Parents are being supported to develop school development plans and monitor its effective implementation and teachers are being supported in managing schools better. In schools, Oxfam India is also building a child and gender-friendly environment by engaging with teachers and children. Child collectives are being established to track out-of-school children and bring them into schools with the help of teachers and SMC members. For improving the learning level among children, support is being provided to teachers with teaching learning materials and pedagogic materials.
Oxfam India engages with different stakeholders such as civil society organizations (CSOs), educationists, government representatives, teachers, parents and children for effective implementation of the RTE Act. Through awareness campaigns, we are supporting the education department in raising awareness about the provisions of the RTE Act and the rights of children.
2. If you had to identify one major problem that ails the education system in UP that needs urgent attention, what would it be?
A teacher plays a crucial role in improving the quality of education. Unfortunately, UP has a huge gap in the number of teachers required and those who are presently available. As per a Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) report, over 3 lakh posts of teachers are still vacant. Without good teachers, one cannot expect to improve learning among children. If we want that every child must have an age and grade appropriate learning level, this issue needs to be resolved on a priority basis.
3. Last year the Allahabad High Court had given a judgement that children of all government employee and representatives, across the states, should be admitted into government schools. This, according to the judgement, would improve the quality of education in these schools. What is the status of the implementation of the order?
Considering the increasing inequality between the haves and have-nots and commercialisation of education this judgment, of sending children of public servants to government schools, by the Hon’ble Allahabad High Court is remarkable. This judgement is commendable to bridge inequality in the society. While on the one hand, this will ensure that children of all sections of the society can sit together and learn, on the other hand this will ensure that every child gets the same quality of education. In such a scenario parents of influential sections of the society will demand for quality services for their children and as a result poor children will get quality service automatically. Consider a situation where the child of a teacher will study in the same class where the teacher is teaching. The teacher will use the best techniques to teach the class. The teacher will also be forced to think about what will happen if they are not able to improve the learning level of a child of an IAS or an IPS officer. Yet, the implementation currently leaves a lot of scope for improvement.
4. As is in the urban areas, rural India, too, seems to be keen on sending their children to private schools rather than government schools - even though they have to shell out more money, classes are cramped and the quality of education may not be so good.
In your experience, have you seen a reverse trend of children being shifted from private schools to government schools? How was that made possible?
Yes, there is an increasing trend of children being sent to private schools both in urban and rural areas. Data of the District Information System of Education (DISE) shows that in 2010-11, 38.5% of children were going to private schools. In the year 2014-15, 51% of children were enrolled into private schools. This shift to enrolment in private schools and decrease in enrolment into government schools has happened largely because of the change in the mindset of parents about the quality of government schools. On the one hand, private schools attract parents by using different promotional strategies, attractive infrastructure, and availability of teachers. Government schools, on the other hand, are coping with insufficient resources, infrastructure, and teachers. It has been observed that only few of these ‘private’ schools, catering to the upper class, provide quality education; approximately 95% of these budget private schools make lofty promises but may not provide quality education. Most of the teachers (somewhere almost all), in these budget private schools are untrained and unqualified quite contrary to the government schools where teachers are most qualified and trained.
I have observed that where teachers are in sufficient numbers and are able to devote enough time in the school with the students, the quality of teaching in government schools is much better than private schools. Recently, I visited Kanya Prathmik Vidyalaya, Kusmara (Hamirpur district) where the dedication of teachers has turned the table. Parents have taken out their children from private schools and got them admitted to the government school. Two nearby private schools were shut down as a result. So reversing the trend is possible.
5. The state has performed poorly in the implementation of Section 12 (1)(c) of RTE Act that mandates the admission of economically weaker section (EWS) children into schools in order to mainstream such children into formal education. What is the state government doing on this count?
On this front, a lot remains to be done. Only 0.5% of seats available in private schools (at entry level) under the provision of Section 12 (1)(c) of RTE Act got filled even after six year of its enactment. Last year an RTE activist, Ajay Patel filed a PIL against state government and won the case. High court reviewed the case and suggested that due to wrong government order and policies marginalized children didn’t get their right. For inclusion of economically weaker section (EWS) children, government was directed to revise its existing order and last year more than 3,000 children got their admission in private school. This was a positive move. However, a few elite schools with influential backing did not follow the government order. One such case was of City Montessori School (CMS), a chain of private schools, which denied admission to EWS children. With the intervention of government and pressure from the State Commission of Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) children were admitted in the schools. However, these schools are influential and ensured that these admissions were cancelled later. This was a clear instance of private schools especially elite powerful sections of private schools being against inclusion of marginalized children. This is also an example of how strong intervention of the government through its district administration and SCPCR is required for effective implementation of the rules of the Act.
6. The children who suffer the most are those of migrant labourers. What do you think should be done to ensure that they are not deprived of their education and get a chance to build a bright future?
Migration and child labour are two big issues in the state and both are interlinked. Recently, the government has amended the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act (CLPRA) which allows child labour in home-based business. The government should rethink this provision as this has long-term consequences. At the same time to deal with migration of children, the government should make necessary arrangements for protecting the livelihood of parents and should take appropriate measures to protect children from child labour and exploitation.
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