The landmark RTE Act or Right to Education Act, 2009 of India completed its decadal anniversary this year. Since Independence, it has been one of the prime objectives to each government to provide universal basic education. This has led to multiple financial & policy interventions over the past couple of decades. It is the duty of the States to respect, secure & fulfil the educational right of every individual residing within the territory of its jurisdiction in harmony with the equality & non-discrimination right provided by the Indian constitution.
Its been a decade now since the RTE Act was passed in India to implement Article 21A, a fundamental right to ensure that every child within the age bracket of 6-14 years receives free & compulsory education. Additionally, the Act mandates enrolment in accordance with appropriate age for children, robust infrastructure norms in every schools, inclusivity & provisions for community participations in the process of education. Even in the luminescence of MHRD’s (Ministry of Human Resource Development) focus on developing skill & higher education, this Act remains the key catalyst for the country for reaping its most-anticipated demographic dividend.
Though RTE has achieved huge success in the overall rate of enrolment, it has encountered several criticisms for structural & administrative lapses. Various provisions have failed to achieve the desired effect of significantly enhancing the quality of education. While a few provisions faced hurdles in implementation itself, others faced the problem of lack of coordination, scarcity of funds or allocation delay. Additionally, the Act has also undergone certain amendments which tend to go contrary to the spirit of law.
Key Issues & Analysis in brief
- Increase in Enrolment: With implementation of the RTE act, an enormous hike in enrolment figures was observed mainly in the upper primary level. Between 2009 & 2016, 19.4% hike was recorded in the upper primary level from throughout the country. Surprisingly, statistics showed that only 3.3% of rural children in the age group 6-14yrs were out from schools. However, these figures conceal huge state-wise discrepancies. A steady hike in the enrolment figures were observed in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan but significant decrease in the upper primary level was found in the states of Assam, West Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh in the same period.
However, the RTE Act did not alone achieve this feat. A major and crucial contributor to this hike in enrolment is basic sanitation facilities. The provision of basic sanitation facilities increased the enrolment figures of female students enormously besides increasing the rate of retention of female teachers. It is vital to provide clean toilets especially for older girls and female teachers because of privacy & safety reasons. However, this sanitation facility varies from school to school and mainly between schools of urban areas and rural areas. Interior rural schools lack proper sanitation facilities and remain unhygienic due to poor maintenance which almost makes them impossible to use. Moreover, such unhygienic toilets spread various diseases which also act as a barrier for female students from attending school regularly. At this front, government initiatives like “Clean India – Clean Schools” have contributed a lot on the better implementation of RTE as it has improved sanitation facilities, adequate water facilities and overall hygiene but yet a lot needs to be improved especially for schools situated in deep interior regions of India.
- Enhanced Infrastructure Norms: As per Section 19 of RTE Act which speaks about qualitative norms, there must be – a ramp for disabled student, the ratio between teacher & student should be 1:30, an office for the principal, availability of clean & safe drinking water and a playground. However, according to the reports, only 13% schools from all over India was able to achieve such norms in full compliance. Inept management & insufficient funds are not the only reasons behind these; it also includes failure of optimum utilization of available infrastructure. Consider for example, many schools do not have a playground within their premises – especially those schools located in congested urban areas. One possible solution for this might be collectively using the municipal corporation ground instead of running such schools on grounds of non-compliance.
Speaking about pupil-teacher ratio, most government institution fails to comply with the 30:1 norm. A recent report from government revealed that the 24:1 pupil-teacher ratio of higher education system in India is lower than most of leading nations of the world such as Brazil, China, Sweden, Britain, Russia, Canada etc. Lack of faculties overburdens the single teacher which affects the quality of his teaching. As teachers are the key to good schooling, the present scenario horrendously demands for more teachers, more importantly trained teachers.
- The 25% Quota: One of the most radical & comprehensive aspect of the Act is its intent of ensuring equal scope for education to every child irrespective of his socio-economic status. Prior to RTE, such complications were sorted through policy-level decisions but with implementation of the Act, education was made a fundamental right and a legal & constitutional obligation.
According to Section 12(1)(c) of RTE Act, each school be it private, aided, special category or unaided have to keep 25% of the seats reserved at the entry level for pupil from economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups. This provision secured admission of more than 3.3 million pupils in 2018-19. The essence of this quota system goes far behind the ideal of “education for all”. It was implemented with the aim of bringing children “from different backgrounds to share interests & knowledge on a common platform.” However, there are a few criticisms against it such as biased deportment towards guardians, hindrances faced by students in mixing with a distinct socio-cultural atmosphere, dependence on private sector for better quality education, the lottery system of admission when number of application exceeds number of available seats, delay in the process of admission etc.
- Zero tolerance against discrimination & harassment: The RTE Act prohibits all sorts of physical & mental torture, any discrimination in the grounds of sex, class, caste & religion, scrutinizing procedure for admission of student capitation fee, functioning of unrecognised institutions and private coaching centres.
- Ensuring overall development of student: The RTE Act provides for development of curriculum to ensure all-round development of each student. It aims at building children’s knowledge, talent & human potential.
- Detention: The RTE Act, 2009 prohibits detaining children till the completion of elementary education (i.e. till class 8) to prevent them from bearing the social stigma of failing. The Act was amended in January 2019 where it provided that students of class 5 & 8 have to appear annual examination. If a student fails to pass the examination, he would be given additional training and a re-examination shall be conducted within two months from date of result declaration. If he again fails in the re-examination, he shall be detained. However there were many contradictory arguments over this. Those who favoured this amendment opined that automatic promotion reduces the incentive of learning in a student as well as for teachers to teach. The amendment would enhance accountability of teachers and schools to provide quality education. Those against argued that detaining students would be counterproductive because it will demotivate them and lead to drop outs. However, the amendment bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha.
- Financial challenge : Apart from these above mentioned key issues, the RTE Act faces a major financial challenge to carry out its desired objectives. As of 2016, the ambitious project was facing a shortage of ₹ Financial support is essential for enhancing the schools’ infrastructure, providing training to teachers and creating other facilities like proper sanitation facilities as discussed above.
- Additionally, it is a big challenge to find qualified & trained teachers to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio; bringing child labourers to schools; overcoming the barriers for orphans as several schools in different states still insists on producing income & caste certificates along with BPL cards & birth certificates – in most of the cases orphans are unable to produce these documents despite their willingness to produce which deprives them from taking admission due to not able to fulfil the required criteria.
- Penalties: In case of violation in collecting capitation fee – a fine up to 10 times the capitation fee may be charged; in case of screening students during – ₹25000 fine would be charged against violating for first time &₹50000 for subsequent violation; in case of physical & mental harassment – disciplinary action as per service rules which include from censure to dismissal; in case of delay in issuing Transfer Certificate & school teachers providing private tuitions – disciplinary actions.
- Lack of co-ordination among implementing agencies: It is the responsibility of the Human Resource Development Ministry to bring children to school & provide them quality education. The responsibility of efficiently monitoring the RTE Act falls on the Child Rights Commission; these commissions come under the Women & Child Development Department. However, due to lack of co-ordination among these agencies the Act faces several barriers from being efficiently implemented.
A few Anomalies or Loopholes
- The Act provides privileges to only those children whose age falls between 6-14yrs and leaves out those who belong in the age bracket of 0-6yrs & 14-18yrs. India has accepted the UN charter that mandates free compulsory education to each child within the age bracket of 0-18yrs, hence this is big loophole of RTE Act.
- The Act does not speak of any specified penalties if case of administration’s failure in providing the right to elementary education.
- Though the Act speaks of right to schooling & physical infrastructure, it does not give any guarantee that a student actually learns. Moreover, the government schools cannot be held accountable if they fails to meet any specified norms.
- There are no exemptions for minority schools. It raises the possibility of having conflict with Article 30 of the Indian Constitution which permits minorities to establish & and manage educational institutions.
- The State government bears the fees of the students. The fees get reimbursed at government rate. Here a wide gap gets created between reimbursement by the state and the cost incurred on per child. The question is, by whom shall this deficit be borne?
- The Act does not mention anything about the overhead expenditures on uniform, stationary, books etc. for students who attending private schools under the 25% quota. It is likely that guardians would feel intimated whenever they think of sending their children to private institutions. Further, there would be a sudden exposition for the children to a completely different standard of living. It is a thought-provoking question if would ultimately be treated by equality & dignity by their teachers & peers, otherwise it would be traumatic to cope up for the poor kids.
- According to the Act, a child must be assigned to the class in accordance with his age – this is a good step as it can recover the wasted years but there is no such course outlined to bridge the gap and make the student prepared for the admitted class.
- Since the rate of enrolment has increased, it has become a new challenge to keep the pupils in school for minimum requisite hours in an academic year. No such national database is maintained which could be used to track the attendance of the students. The number of enrolments is generally calculated on the basis of names recorded in the register which is often found to be unreliable. Therefore the RTE Act must shift its focus from enrolment to attendance. It is necessary that India develops a student tracking methodology to ease appropriate measure of teaching and remedies.
- The principal cogs of the RTE wheel are the guardians. It is necessary to make them aware about the process & provide required assistance for filling online forms & lodging complaints. The act mandates formation of SMCs (School Management Committees) which comprises of parents. This committee should be empowered for being the nodal monitoring representative on this front.
- Issues like late or no applications for non-payment or reimbursement of dues are bureaucratic hindrances that need to be pulled off. It is very hard to percolate funds within specified time from the union government to schools through the state government, due to sheer dimension of coordination & involvement of logistics. Hence, decentralisation integrated with digitisation of operation for eliminating pilferage & delay, might be the only viable alternative for disbursing funds.
- The frequency & methodology of calculating per child cost to be redesigned. Considering India’s vast socio-economic diversity and various ways of managing schools, it is quite impossible to concur with the same amount for every school. Creating a normative framework to calculate realistic cost might be a better alternative in this respect. At the same time it is also important to broadcast the followed methodology in the public domain & update it annually.
- If private provisions & public funding have resulted in more barriers than getting success over the last decade, then it crucial to reassess their viability.
- For achieving the goals of Free & Compulsory Elementary Education, it is vital to develop a curriculum which is responsive to the changing needs & facilitates incorporation & integration of modern contents relating to science & technology, environment and population.
The draft National Education Policy (NEP) of India proposes to include Early Childhood Care & Education (ECCE) inside the RTE Act’s ambit. Approximately there are 164.48 million infants in India within the age bracket of 0-6yrs. Scientist says that children belonging in this age group have relatively faster neurological advancement. This is a persuasive justification for increasing the ambit of RTE Act for including ECCE. Thus, the foundational tenets & the cascading effect ECCE has over children’s lives cannot be ignored by the RTE.
In order to overcome the challenges & barriers that obstructs proper and better implementation of RTE Act, it is of utmost importance to concentrate on all endeavour with full commitment & dedication. Not only the state & the Central government are liable to take up the responsibility but the nation as a whole also needs to stand up. Efficient participation of different communities and support from them can make major difference and outstandingly help in way of achieving the desired goal.
It took 62 years since Independence for India to make school education a fundamental right. The Act now needs to focus on ways to improve the education quality of the country. It needs to be ensured that any amendments henceforth are analysed competently to avoid any sorts of complications in the way of implementation. It is expected the Act would be able to overcome the present challenges before its next decadal anniversary. Despite the present lacunae, the Act remains country’s one of the most ambitious reforms on education policy and most importantly how the nation overcomes the critical issues of poverty & exclusion depends on its future.