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Apr 4, 2013

Right to Education, still a long way to go.

Anjela Taneja

Posted April 4, 2013 by Anjela Taneja

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act came into force three years back on 1 April 2010. It introduced hope- hope that some of the changes necessary in the education system would finally happen. The country would finally do something about the huge shortages of teachers, our tendency to hire untrained "teachers" on less than the minimum wage, the absence of adequate classrooms and toilets for girls, the absence of meaningful structures and spaces for community participation. Above all, the education budget would sufficiently increase to ensure resources are available in order for all this to happen. It was unfortunate that few of these hopes have been fulfilled.

Three years later, some changes have indeed happened. The government says that 7,00,475 additional teachers, 5,18,700 toilets and 31,678 drinking water facilities and 6.88 lakh additional classrooms have been sanctioned under SSA. All States have notified their State rules and made some administrative changes. However, 12 lakh teacher posts remain vacant, 5% schools lack drinking water facilities, 12% schools lack toilet facilities and 20% lack a separate toilet for girls The Student Classroom Ratio norm is violated in 37.17% Primary Schools. The Pupil Teacher Ratio exceeds the RTE norms in 41% schools and two children in three study in schools that exceeds the minimum norm for the same. Instead of progress- on some indicators certain States have seen regression. A detailed analysis of the government's DISE data shows that only 8% schools were RTE compliant in terms of infrastructure and teacher availability- the most tangible of indicators. The corresponding figure was 4.8% before the Act came into force. At this rate, it would be decades before every school becomes RTE compliant.

In the meantime, the Centre and the States have spent the last three years blaming each other for the lack of progress and not taking the steps that are needed to fix the problems. Both parties have failed to live up to the hopes of India's young citizens. What is, however, truly tragic is not just the failure to meet the norms in the timeline prescribed, but the absence of a roadmap of addressing these problems. When WILL every school in India move to 100% RTE compliance and how?

Such a roadmap needs to look at five issues:

1. Address the inadequate budget for implementation

If schools have to be built, teachers hired or infrastructure to be put into plus, money is needed. However, the budget allotted for RTE implementation is about half of what was calculated by the government as being essential for the Act's implementation. While the education budget has indeed increased, its far inadequate considering the extent of the problem. Thus, if 12 lakh teachers ARE needed, their salaries need to be budgeted for. If infrastructure has to be enhanced, money has to be found for it. Instead, there has been a decline in the budget for education as share of GDP from 3.65% in 2009-10 to 3.31 in 2012-13. Every government education policy and commission since the late 1960s has asked for 6% GDP for education. While an education cess is being collected, this has been substitution, not addition to the existing education budgetary commitments. 60.3% of the education budget now coming from the cess. The neglect of the issues of education finance is also reflected in the fact that 61% of the SSA budget has been spent. The government needs to put in place the accounts staff and streamline its financial systems to ensure that the funds released are spent. And if anyone says that India cannot afford to make this investment, if India can afford to grant a tax writoff of Rs.61,035 Crore during 2012-13 to the gold and diamonds industry this year, surely it could allot more than the 27,258 crore it allotted for RTE/SSA in this year's budget

2. Overhaul of the education system.

The education system is currently functioning in a mode that can be described as "buisiness as usual." There should be a fundamentally different way one implements a national legislation (RTE) compared to how one implements a scheme (SSA). The necessary change of mind-set has not really happened. There is a need for an overhaul of the administrative systems. As a start- the structures of the SSA and the State Education departments- that have often remained fairly parallel to each other- need to converge At the same time, if the recommendations of RTE need to be rolled out on the ground- the appropriate notifications and guidelines need to be thought through through, notified and the necessary actions operationalized to address the known barriers of implementation. A critical concern related to the education system is the need for the creation of permanent teacher cadres and moving away from hiring teachers on contract. We want teachers who are committed to teaching in the long run, not people who are ready to come and go.

3. Lack of mechanism for Grievance Redressal.

There is a clear absence of accountability for delivery whereby no one is clearly responsible to ensure that commitments made are fulfilled. In the meantime, there is a massive number of issues on the ground, but no mechanism for parents' grievances to be redressed. Such a process can provide a framework for a bottom up process of applying pressure on the State to fulfill its commitments. This is unfortunately missing. The Right to Education Act provides for the formation of the State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (or transitionary bodies called REPAs) to act as grievance redress bodies. However, 7 States still lack either and 4 have only REPAs. Furthermore, where they exist they often lack adequate resources to play the role expected. As a result, few complaints are being filed and the rate of their redress has been slow. Lastly, there is no clear mechanism whereby complaints flow from the school/village to the National and State levels.

4. Strengthen structures and processes for bottom up planning, monitoring and influencing.

While the RTE Act provides for bottom up planning processes by parents and communities- this is not well operationalized. The supply of funds, infrastructure and facilities does not necessarily reflect the reality on the ground. A one size fits all model of SSA may not necessarily address the diversity of concerns. At the same time, there is little thought to the processes of monitoring and support to the system. Barely half the schools in India have received visits from school inspectors last year. The Cluster and Block resource centres that are expected to provide academic support to teachers are not functioning as expected. Only half the schools have head teachers that are permanent. While School Management Committees (bodies of parents formed under RTE Act) have been formed, they are not functioning as expected. What this translates into is a weak oversight over the functioning of schools- and weak systems for support to teachers. These structures need to be strengthened.

How can all this happen? There is also a need for a bottom up process of change. If India has 1.3 million elementary schools and each school has a school management committee with at least 10 parents, imagine what a potential force for change 13 million parents committed and empowered to the education of their children can make? At the same time, the government finally has to take charge and fix its own schools. The Prime Minister needs to intervene to fix the issues at hand- call the Chief Ministers of the States, convene the National Development Council and try to get them to agree on a roadmap so all this is addressed. India has waited long enough. We were promised education for all by 1960 at the time of the drafting of the Constitution. Surely it is time that India lived upto its promise in 2013.

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