A building-less government school in Shahjahanpur UP, where students have to go home if they are thirsty or have to pee. [Source: Indiatoday.in]
During the British era, the Indians were made to realize the importance of formal education. It was perhaps the most notable realization which we owe the British for. Education for the masses was undoubtedly one of the most basic demands during our freedom struggle, and it became the foremost priority of the Indian republic, a dream that we all shared.
In 1951, the percentage of literacy was 19.3%, and the enrollment ratio for the age group of 6-11 was 43%. In 2001, the percentage of literacy rose to 65.4%, and the same enrollment ratio became 100%. The dream of absolute literacy might not have been accomplished yet, but it has been realized by all of our 1.3 billion countrymen a long time ago. No matter how poor the family is, they dream for their children not to share the same fate. And the only means to work for it is through education.
After working in a microfinance institution (not a company, but a federation of women) in Uttar Pradesh for over three months now, I have come to know of this general plight through the number of loans families are requesting to pay for good education for their children, which is far from what they can afford; one might think. Even at the monthly income of 3,000 to 5,000 INR, people are striving to pay about 1,500 to 2,000 INR per month for good primary education to their children, which can’t be received in government schools, as is believed.
Since the pre-independence era, the state run schools were meant to provide good, all round education to toiling masses at affordable cost and uniform standards. Whereas, the private schools (owned and run by private managements and trusts) were mainly catering to those who could afford to pay high fees. Over the years, this state run schooling system has been systematically destroyed, owing more than anything to policy of some of the Indian states, like Uttar Pradesh, through woefully inadequate funding, mismanagement, corruption, political indifference and willful neglect. Most of the private institutions in the state of Uttar Pradesh are directly or indirectly owned by current and former ministers or their close connections. I think that explains the deliberate neglect towards government schools in terms of misaligned personal and professional priorities.
After a long fought struggle of teachers, academicians and intellectuals to voice deep aspirations of the millions to provide their children with quality education, the Right to Education (RTE) Act was passed by the UPA government in 2011, making it mandatory for the states to provide free and compulsory, quality education to the children aged between 6 to 14 (up to class 8). The RTE Act laid down a set of rules for minimum standards which must be followed to ensure quality education in schools, to maintain teacher-student ratio, necessary infrastructure and services, quality of teachers etc. According to RTE Act, teacher-student ratio must be maintained below 1:30 for classes 1 to 5; and 1:35 for the classes 6 to 8.
This being the official data, many government schools in my organization’s field area in Uttar Pradesh have only single teacher for classes 1 to 8. This can be attributed to low student volume, but i have my reservations with multi level classrooms. Other provisions of RTE Act include schools being placed at less than 1 km from the residence of any community, inclusion of parents and community in School Management Committees (SMCs), a Grievance Redressal (GR) mechanism that would allow people to take legal actions against violation of the provisions of the act.
6 years after the implementation of RTE Act, the review of the government schools in 2017 clearly showed that RTE has failed miserably in vibrant SMC setups; with the exception of some pilot pockets where a non-profit might be functional. But those are clearly exceptions, not norm. And the GR mechanism is not even set except in handful of cases.
In order to ensure social inclusion, the act made it mandatory for private schools to reserve 25% seats to Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), the seats which are now openly being bought without any mention on papers. Alongside this, the government is also encouraging public-private partnerships in school education. Rajasthan government notified in 2017 that most of the government schools would be handed over to private players. Where the private management would have a complete freedom in deciding school fees, salaries of the teachers, admission policy, selection of staff etc. And the management would be paying the government Rs. 75 lakh for operating each school. This decision was vehemently protested against all across the state. One is now left to the benevolence of the capitalist to put it out there what is the issue with this strategic decision.
Education cannot be held in the hands of the private capitalists, whose only aim is to make profits. Providing good quality basic school education to children is globally recognized as a primary responsibility of the State. Hence, it would not be wrong to say that privatization of school education in India is the Indian state’s shameful abdication of its most basic duty and responsibility.