It is said and believed that The Right To Education (popularly known as RTE) is a pragmatic and attainable goal that will change the face of education in our country. RTE is an Act by the Parliament of India, enacted on 4th August 2009, which narrates the modalities of the significance of free and compulsory education for those between 6-14 years of age, thus representing the consequential legislation envisaged under Article 21a of the Indian Constitution Act, 2002, as a Fundamental Right. It means that every child has a right to full time elementary education of satisfactory and equitable quality in a formal school which satisfies certain essential norms and standards.
When the Act came into force on 1st April 2010, India became one of 135 countries to make education a fundamental right of every child.
The Act mandates all private schools to reserve 25% of seats to children (to be reimbursed by the state a as part of the public-private partnership plan (PPP)) who are admitted in to private schools based on their economic status or caste based reservations. It also forbids all unrecognised schools from exercising, and making provisions for no donation or capitation fees and no interview of the child or parent for admission. The Act also provides that no child shall be held back, expelled, or demand to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education. There is also a provision for distinctive training of school drop-outs to bring them up to par with students of the same age.
During my fellowship at Quest Alliance in Samastipur, Bihar, I have studied and observed that many children from backward areas and poor communities do not attend school because of various reasons (few of them are listed in my previous blog post). Bihar Government provides free uniform and books to children along with the mid-day meal. As a result, the admission rate in schools have begun to escalate now and the RTE act can be called successful in that way.
Something missing for the RTE to make it work better is to create awareness among parents, many of who are so poor that they consider it a better option to use an extra pair of hands in earning livelihood than getting them educated.
On the other hand, RTE is causing budget schools to shut down not only in the cities but also in villages. There are many such schools which had to close and many which are in the process of shutting down even today in Bihar. RTE, in a way, has made it tougher for children to go to school when it should have created more rights and opportunities for them.
Let’s try to understand the issue. The RTE input norms include prescribed Pupil-Teacher Ratios, infrastructure standards, defined school working days, teacher-working hours and the appointment of appropriately trained teachers. But, it does not talk about outputs and there’s no mention of improvement in the quality of education. Budget/private schools in Bihar charge around Rs. 250-500 per month, depending on the locality and number of students enrolled, teachers hired. They serves as an alternative to the free government school system. Many parents, even in rural areas prefer sending their children to these budget schools instead of the no-cost alternative.
It is common to wonder why parents would refuse a free service. I have asked this question to multiple government officials and their response is that the poor cannot make rational decisions about their children’s education. But, when I asked parents, they said that private schools deliver better education than government schools.
Pre RTE, budget schools had proliferated in India. Given the low fees, these schools cannot afford large infrastructure or afford to pay the same salaries as government schools pay their teachers. Samastipur has 20 blocks, 2645 government schools and 224 private schools throughout the district. In these schools, 2,89,093 children (6th-8th standard) were enrolled in government schools and 7,277 in private schools (as per DISE data, 2015-16). Data is sketchy on the number of budget schools that are being closed down because of the RTE. State education portals do not carry these figures.
But during my last 7 months here, I have seen, on an average, 1-3 budget schools being shut down every month due to poor infrastructure, school being far for children to commute and lack of qualified teachers. Assuming an average school size of 30 children in budget schools and with 20 blocks, 600 children are forced to study in government schools because the budget schools are being shut down, an unreasonable situation for poor children who do not have a choice to choose their school. However, where there are no government schools in these blocks, children will have nowhere to go.
It is not necessarily that these private schools which are being shut down have been doing good. Some of them can do a lot better but if the comparison is with government schools, the latter aren’t delivering excellent quality by any measure. Forcing a child to move from a private school to a government school doesn’t always assure that he/she gets a better quality education. Government schools lack infrastructure including classrooms, toilets and water facility. It should be our choice to choose the schools for our children and not government pushing us to accept the system imposed on us. For me, the question remains if RTE is a blessing or condemnation!