India is reeling under countless issues- poverty, unemployment (rather unemployability), inequalities and sanitation to name a few. To tackle these problems we go only as far employing quick-fix short-term solutions through various policy initiatives. But at the root of all these problems lies a problem that has not received adequate attention due to lack of political will- the problem of education. In recent years we have witnessed some departure from this neglect with Nobel Laureates such as Amartya Sen, activists and members of civil society raising alarm on the failing situation. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009, popularly known as the Right to Education Act (RTE) was a welcome legislation and a step in the right direction. Making education a fundamental right is a bold move and would take a lot of doing. So how has it fared till now?
If one were to go by the reports India has almost attained universal child enrollment at the primary education level. But at the same time the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) published by a non-profit Pratham has revealed for many years now, the disturbing state of education standards in the country. The situation has only been worsening in subsequent years. The percentage of children in Std. II who still cannot recognize numbers up to nine has increased over time from 11.3% in 2009 to 19.5% in 2014. Similarly, according to ASER 2014, the proportion of children in Class V at the all-India level who could read a Class II textbook remained unchanged at the level of 47%. The report has also reflected upon the growing shift in preference towards private schooling. The report show that poor numeracy and English language skills, and high drop-out rate among government school students were driving 30 per cent of parents to private schools paying exorbitantly high fees.
At the time of drafting of the RTE, the legislators were fully aware of the inability of the state to immediately raise enough government infrastructure to support education for all. Another aspect that the RTE Act wanted to focus on is ‘inclusive education’- children from all sections of society study in one classroom thus removing all social barriers. So it was only proper that the private school institutions be roped in and asked to fulfill their societal obligations as non-profits (Yes! All private schools are supposedly non-profits). As per section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act, all private unaided schools would offer 25% seats of their total class I strength to children belonging to weaker and disadvantaged group of society and provide these children free and compulsory elementary education till its completion.
While the policy statement seems fairly easy to comprehend, it is only when you set out to claim your ‘right’, the mockery sets in. We’ll try and make sense of the chaos around RTE25 in the next article of the series. Till then do checkout your state’s stats on RTE section 12(1)(c) implementation online (www.25percent.in is a good resource).
The author has previously worked with RTERC, IIM Ahmedabad, in 2014 on the implementation of the RTE Section 12(1)(c) in Ahmedabad.
Read the second article here