Over the years many basic issues and implementational challenges have emerged in the Right to Education Act, 2009. This page discusses important issues and challenges of the RTE Act.
The Right to Education Act, 2009 is the first Central legislation on school education which is applicable all over India (except Jammu and Kashmir). In 2010, the country achieved a historic milestone when Article 21-A and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 became operative on 1st April 2010. It represented a momentous step forward towards universalizing the elementary education in the country and the path is really full of challenges.
The most important challenge that the RTE Act takes upon itself is to put an end to child labor in a poor country with gigantic population. Every day we see children working as domestic help in the homes, in the tea stalls and restaurants, in the car garages and workshops and selling things on the roads. Putting all these kids into schools is not as easy as it sounds because there are multiple government agencies involved in dealing with them. Therefore, there are challenges involved in the effective implementation of the RTE Act.
Too Many Government Agencies
To begin with, it is the task of the Labor Ministry and the police to rescue of child laborers and punishing their employers. Bringing them to schools and providing them quality education is the responsibility of the Human Resource Development Ministry. However, the task of monitoring the implementation of the RTE Act is the responsibility of the children rights commission in the states, which operate under the Women and Child Development Department. Therefore, it is vital for proper implementation of the Act that the efforts of all these agencies are well coordinated and no child is left behind. Then the Panchayati Raj Ministry and Rural Development Ministry also need involvement because most of the action is going to take place in the rural areas.
What is Real Education?
If we go a step further and talk about quality education, we have to ask what it actually means to educate children. ‘Real Education’ has to go beyond feeding students with information and should empower them for a life of active citizenship. Therefore, education must be a transformative process and students must be seen as beings with immense potentialities waiting to be unleashed. It means children should not be seen as empty vessels, but as agents of change in their own lives. Such an education has to be holistic, on the lines of the four pillars of identified by UNESCO in its seminal document on 21st century education, Learning: The Treasure Within –Learning to Do; Learning to Know; Learning to Be; and Learning to Live Together.
Some Idea of Current Status
A research paper titled “Resource requirement for Right to Education – Normative and the Real” from the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), New Delhi, focusing on 11 States and one UT was published in December 2017. A snapshot of the status of the physical infrastructure gap is shown in the table below. While Bihar and UP appears most infrastructure deficit, followed by Rajasthan and MP the best performers are Tamilnadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka. The best state in India is obviously Kerala that has even extended the ambit of RTE to the age of 18, but it was not part of this study. The study also reveals that most out of school children are in UP (12.3%) followed by Bihar (9.9%), Rajasthan (9.3%) and MP (7.5%), while TN has the least (0.4%) in this group. Most teacher vacancies (in percentage terms) are in Bihar and Jharkhand.
In terms of funds required, Bihar and UP tops the list due to their high population base. They each need annually around 43,000 crore followed by distant Maharashtra which requires about 25,000 crore. However, the actual spending for Bihar is only 30% of total required; Jharkhand (43%) and Odisha (46%). When the total required fund is compared with GSDP (gross state domestic product) it emerges that the poorer states like Bihar and Jharkhand with rather smaller GSDPs need a bigger fraction. It also varies widely across states.
From a high of 11.2 percent of GSDP in Bihar, the total requirement for elementary education comes down to 0.5 percent of GSDP in Delhi. Total requirements as percentage of GSDP for other States in decreasing order are: Jharkhand (4.5 percent), Madhya Pradesh (4.1 percent), Orissa (3.9 per-cent), Uttar Pradesh (3.8 percent), Chhattisgarh (3.2 percent), Rajasthan (2.6 percent), Uttarakhand (1.4 percent), Karnataka (1.3 percent), Maharashtra (1.3 percent), and Tamil Nadu (0.9 percent). For States like Bihar with low GSDP the large gaps in existing infrastructure makes their situation worst. Not only is their requirement to cope up with the RTE requirement high, their resource base is low.
Therefore, prescribing some fixed number such as 6% of GSDP for elementary education for individual states doesn’t look very rational. In fact, the Central government should allocate more funds to the poorer states like Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha to bring them closer to other states in terms of RTE compliant infrastructure.
Another unique fact is that teacher salary alone comprises around 80% of the annual recurrent budget. It is here States try to avoid appointing full time teachers and try managing para teachers with very low salaries. It presents one reason why the learning outcome is so poor even after 7 years since the RTE came in.
Specific Issues and Challenges before the RTE Act
Now, let’s discuss some specific shortcomings in the Right To Education Act, 2009 as noticed by the public, critics and education experts.
1. Why only 6 – 14; why not 0 – 18 years
The act allows only children between the ages 6-14 to get the privileges. It leaves out younger kids (0-6) and older one (14-18) despite the fact that India has signed the U.N. charter which states clearly that free education should be made compulsory to all children up to the age of 18 years.
Critics argue that 0 to 6 years is considered to be the delicate and formative years in children’s upbringing and stopping at 14 means leaving the task half way because next 4 years of adolescence are also equally critical in children’s maturing process. Education up to the age 14 is not at all sufficient for a person to lead a minimum decent life.
2. Out of School Children – Gender Bias
The 2014 National Survey on Estimation of Out of School Children estimated that the total number of children in the age group of 6-13 years to be 20.41 Crores, out of which, around 60.41 lakhs (2.97%) are out of school. This is lower than both the previous estimates of 4.28% in 2009 and 6.94% in 2006.
The highest proportion of out of school children is in the East zone (4.02%) and the lowest in the South zone (0.97%). Odisha has the highest proportion of out of school children in India (6.10%). At the national level, more girls (3.23%) are out of school than boys (2.77%). Also, more children from rural areas (3.13%) are out of school than from urban areas (2.54%).
Religion wise, the Muslim community has the highest percentage of out of school children, at 4.43%. It is followed by Hindus (2.73%), Christians (1.52%) and Others (1.26%). This is lower than 7.67% in 2009. In social category, highest proportion of out of school children belong to the ST community (4.36%), followed by Scheduled Castes (3.24%), OBC (3.07%) and Others (1.87%).
In the RTE age group, the traditional gender norms push girls into helping with household chores and sibling care that leads to irregular attendance and eventual dropouts. The culture of early marriage, lack of security in schools and low aspirations on educating girls also pushes them out of school. And once they are dropped, it becomes virtually impossible for them to re-enter. Of those who manage to stay in school till 14, about 1/3 do not enroll further. One probable cause for them seems to be the fact that only 14% elementary schools (classes I to VIII) in the rural India offer secondary grades (IX and X) and only 6% offer (classes XI and XII).
Distance is a big contributing factor to girls dropping out. Initiatives like distribution of bicycles to girls and the hiring of escorts (Tola Sevaks in Bihar) make schooling safer and enhance retention of girls. School infrastructure also needs to improve through availability of usable toilets. Kerala is the first state to provide free sanitary napkins in schools because adolescent girls’ tend to remain absent during periods. Other states should follow suit.
Aser 2017 reported that 70.7% out-of-school youth have mothers who have never been to school. Therefore, preventing drop out of girls will have generational impact. It also suggested that the family constraints predominantly cause girls dropping out, 32.5% at secondary level. Therefore counseling of parents and community leaders are critical to retain girls in schools.
3. Children with special needs (CWSN) left out of the RTE bill
The Right to Education Act, 2009 has no provision to take education to children with disabilities – more correctly, children with special needs (CWSN). Despite the promise of universal access to education through the Right to Education Act, 2009, children with special needs form the largest out-of-school group in India. According to the 2014 National Survey of Out of School Children Report, about 600,000 (28%) special-needs children between six and 13 years of age are out of school. It must be noted that in India 45% Indians with special needs are illiterate. Among children with special needs, as many as 44% of children with more than one disability are out of school, and children with mental (36%) and speech (35%) disabilities are more likely to be out of school than those with other kinds of disability. For CWSN in school, the number drops steadily in higher grades.
The issue of CWSN is particularly important because India was the one of the first countries to ratify the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in October 2007, which says “State parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability and that children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education or from secondary education on the basis of disability.”
4. At least 25% Reservation of seats in unaided private schools
The Right to Education Act, 2009 made a provision under Section 12(1)(c) to mandate unaided schools to keep aside 25% seats for underprivileged children of society. This is an important step forward: the diversity of Indian society should be reflected in the classrooms too. It not only helps the students from the weaker sections but also the majority students from non-poor families in the private schools. However, most of the schools admitting children under 12(1)(c) are low cost/fee private schools.
Non Notification: As reported in March 2018 by the government, five States (Goa, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Telangana) have not even issued notifications regarding admissions under the RTE. While Telangana may be excused due to its recent formation, but why have the other states failed to undertake the most basic step to implement Section 12(1)(c) of an Act passed eight years ago.
Cost per child: Moreover, the states have to notify the per-child costs that will be paid to the private schools, for children admitted under this provision. However, out of 29 States and seven Union Territories, only 14 have notified their per-child costs. It is a serious issue, as the remaining 20 State/UTs have still not notified the per-child costs. Note that J&K is not a part of the RTE and Lakshadweep has no private school. This non compliance also makes refund from the central government a problem. Moreover, there is no streamlined framework for disbursement both at the Central or State level. There are instances where the private schools have refused to admit children under the RTE provision, citing non-payment of dues by the State governments.
Three States – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Karnataka – have the highest enrollments across the country in terms of number. These three States use online system to handle the process of application, allotment and admission. Some States even use such the e-governance system and all functions from school registration to reimbursement are channeled through it.
No record keeping: A vital issue is that the relevant authorities have not kept traceable records of the 25% children, despite the RTE Act prescribing it. This has made knowing the precise number of poor kids in private school difficult. However, an estimate by the the State of the Nation 2015 report by IIM Ahmedabad, based on official data obtained from the District Information System for Education, puts the total number of seats under this provision as 1.6 crore over the next eight years. This means that 20 lakh seats should be available annually for EWS children in private schools. But according to the information provided in the parliament, only 5-6 lakh seats are being filled on an annual basis.
An important question: What would be the fate of these children after they finish their 8th standard? Most probably, they would have to go back to government schools for further studies.
5. Status of poor kids in the private schools
The RTE Act, 2009 opens the doors of private school for children from weaker background. But the main challenge comes from attitudes of the private school administrators. A glaring question is: how interested are the parents of the poor kids to send them to the private schools even if the education is free of cost? Even if they are interested, the kids will be suddenly exposed to a different living standard. Will they be treated with dignity and equality by their peers and teachers? Will it not be traumatic for the poor kids to cope with that?
Moreover, what about the overhead expenses such as uniform, books, stationery, etc of attending a private school? The chances are high that the parents themselves would feel intimidated at the thought of sending their kids to private schools. How about the stonewalling tactics of the private school to keep away the poor kids. As a result, most private schools that accommodate poor children are mostly low budget schools with questionable quality.
6. No focus on Quality of learning; the RTE Act appears mostly input oriented
The Right to Education Act is deemed to be excessively input-focused rather than outcome-oriented. The bill guarantees for the admission of the children, but does not promise the quality of education. The Act, along with other government initiatives, is has clearly succeeded in attracting children to schools but providing quality education is a very distant dream.
Under the RTE Act, the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) is the evaluation mechanism for elementary education. It means an evaluation of a different kind (e.g., paper-pencil test, drawing and reading pictures, and expressing orally) which is different from the traditional system of examinations. But on the ground it has been taken to mean absence of evaluation, which is totally erroneous. It has been pointed that the CCE has not been adequately implemented or monitored. Experts opine that proper design of assessment and then using this information can greatly help improve the quality and innovation in terms of teaching and learning.
The Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE, 2014) has recommended introducing a comprehensive performance management system that would include all teachers, school headmasters, and department officials; it would be linked with student learning outcomes. Such measures of school accountability already exist internationally. For instance, in the United States, under the ‘No Child Left Behind Act’ policy, schools are required to do annual assessment of learning outcomes in reading and mathematics for students from classes 3 to 8. If the school fails to achieve minimum test scores then the accountability of involved people is decided, after which non performing teachers or the headmaster may get removed from the job, school administration may see restructuring or closure, and in the worst case students are given option to transfer to another school.
7. Failure of automatic passage (no detention) policy
One of the biggest loopholes in the RTE Act is related to automatic promotion of students from one class to another. Thus, there is no formal examination which students need to clear before promotion to next class. It is to ensure that detention would not lead them to drop out of school. But this distorts the whole idea of assessing learning outcomes. In recent years, two expert committees reviewed the no-detention provision in the RTE Act and recommended it be removed or be discontinued in a phased manner. Before the enactment of RTE, states had the flexibility of practising a no-detention policy. For example, Goa did not detain children till class 3, Tamil Nadu till class 5, and Assam till class 7.
The Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE, 2014), National Achievement Survey (2012), and the Economic Survey (2016-17) observed declining learning levels in elementary education even after the implementation of the RTE Act. In 2016, 58% of children in class 3 were unable to read a class 1 level text. At the national level, 73% of children in class 3 were unable to do basic arithmetic. The CABE sub-committee (2014) recommended that an assessment of learning outcomes is required to determine promotion to the next class. This would also improve accountability of schools and teachers to deliver quality education. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2014 report also stated that although the proportion of children aged 6-14 years enrolled in school in rural areas has been above 96% for the past six years but more than 50% of the 5th graders cannot read second standard level text. Further, many states requested changes in the RTE Act to allow detention of children with poor learning outcomes.
Clearly students have no incentive to try to learn and compete. It also compromises their ability to pick up skills involved in learning and competing – both vital qualities for success in life. It also promotes carelessness and laxity among the teachers. They have no incentive to improve their teaching ability or motivate students to learn because of the ‘no fail’ policy.
So the NITI Aayog has called revision of the RTE Act and the government has amended the RTE Act to remove the no-detention rule and given freedom to the States to allow regular exams in the class 5 and class 8. If a student fails, he/she will be given additional instructions and then he can take a re-examination. If he fails the re-exam also then the relevant State or Central authority may decide whether to detain him.
However, education is a concurrent subject under the Constitution, and the central law will override the state law. This raises the question whether the central law should specify details such as which classes should be subject to examination and detention or whether such decisions should be left to state legislatures to make based on their local context and needs.
8. Not Enough Trained Teachers
Teachers are at the core of implementation of RTE that seeks to work towards a heterogeneous and democratic classroom where all children participate as equal partners. The elementary part of our education system already suffers from shortage of teachers and a fairly large number of teachers of this segment are untrained. Non-availability of professionally qualified teachers has become a serious challenge in proper implementation of the RTE Act. The student-teacher ratio specified in the Act created a huge demand for qualified teachers. It compelled several states to seek exemption from adhering to the qualifications norms during recruitment. As a result, unqualified candidates were pushed as para-teachers to run the education machinery.
The task of training teachers rests with District Institutes of Education and Training (DIET), constituted after the National Policy on Education 1986. Most states – particularly Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Assam and West Bengal – never bothered to develop the institutional capacities of these DIETS and ignored appointments of teacher trainers.
When RTE was passed, it was estimated that a total of 10.6 lakh teachers would need professional training, which was to be completed within a five years from the RTE Act’s implementation – by March 2015. However, even in 2017 the number of unqualified teachers stood at 11 lakh, according to the Human Resources Development ministry as stated in the parliament. So an amendment bill was passed to allow these teachers time till March 2019 to acquire the minimum qualifications.
But there is a problem here. As per the National Council for Teacher Education teacher recruitment norms(2011), the stipulated qualification 2-4 years of studies is needed to obtain the desired diploma or degree. If March 2019 is the deadline, how will the extension help?
9. Admission according to age but no facility for bridge courses
The Right to Education Act stipulates that the child should be assigned the class according to age regardless of their learning level, which is a good step because wasted years can be saved. But this creates a peculiar situation where in the same class children may have different learning requirements. Currently there is no provision of offering bridge course to equalize pupil on the learning scale. So, flexible duration training needs to be made mandatory for lagging kids to bring all students in a class at the same level.
10. Recognition of Private schools
Section 19 of the Right to Education Act, 2009 requires all schools except government schools, to meet certain norms and standards relating to infrastructure, pupil-teacher ratio, and teacher salaries on the basis of which they are required to get recognition within three years.
This clause penalizes private unrecognized schools, although they provide similar or better, teaching services compared to government schools, while spending a much smaller amount. Not surprisingly, there has been an exodus from the dysfunctional government schools towards private schools: in rural India alone, the enrolment share of private schools rose from 16% to 31% in the short period 2006-14 (Annual Status of Education Report, or ASER). They have become susceptible to extinction.
Without these private schools, the entire financial burden of elementary education provision would fall on government schools where the per-pupil cost is up to 20 times higher than low-fee private schools. Almost 50% children of the country (31% rural and perhaps 80% urban) go to the private schools. So to make them RTE compliant a facilitative rather than a punitive approach should be followed. Or, their recognition could be made dependent upon their students’ learning achievement levels rather than solely on physical infrastructure norms, as has been done by Gujarat.
Ironically, Section 18 of the RTE Act exempts government and aided schools from compliance with the physical infrastructure norms. Moreover, the Act is completely silent on the things that really matter: teaching quality, teacher accountability and student learning outcomes.
11. The RTE Act is destroying the autonomy of private schools
In the TMA Pai Foundation versus State of Karnataka case, the 11-Judge bench of the Supreme Court, had observed that “the essence of a private educational institution is the autonomy that the Management must have in its management and administration”.
Even those private schools that have enthusiastically admitted poor children for free or at heavy fee discount, do not like the centralized admission of poor children into their 25% seats under the RTE Act. It has opened the opportunity for meddling by officials and For instance, officials insist on compliance with impractical norms under threat of fines or harass on the pretext that government recognition has not been obtained. Powerful people try manipulating the centralized admission of “disadvantaged” children to include children of close associates and non-poor SC/ST/OBC children. Then, the inefficiency of government machinery causes inordinate delays in reimbursement without compensation.
12. School management Committee
Section 21 of the RTE Act mandates the formation of School Management Committees (SMCs) in all government, government-aided schools and special category schools, with 75% of its strength from among parents or guardians of children and the rest from the teachers, school head teacher, social workers/educationists and local elected representatives. Socially excluded communities should be represented on SMCs in proportion to their population in the village and 50% of SMC members should be women.
The real purpose of SMCs is to bridge the huge gap between the state, school and society. By involving parents a sense of ownership is created in them and their active participation assures vigilant monitoring of the implementation of the guidelines of the RTE Act. The SMCs have been assigned the tasks of monitoring of the working of the school, utilization of funds and preparing annual and three-year School Development Plan (SDP). The RTE Act envisions an SMC as the basic unit of a decentralized model of governance with active involvement of parents in planning and managing the operations of the schools.
SMC members are required to volunteer their time and effort. This can be a burden for the poor parents. Besides, training and capacity building of SMC members is a vital task so that they can discharge their responsibility in a better way. Untimely flow of funds is another issue that affects SMC’s ability to spend funds according to its plans.
13. Lack of penalty and accountability
The way the RTE Act is structured both the State and Central governments are involved. This makes fixing accountability difficult. Further, there are no prescribed penalties if the government authorities fail in discharging their respective duties. Further, most State governments avoid taking initiatives that incur expenditure and want to rely solely on the Central assistance that arrives at unpredictable intervals. It further makes finger pointing quite easy and the real sufferers are innocent children in whose name the game is played.
14. Minority Religious Schools need to be brought under the RTE
The NCPCR has recommended that the religious minority schools – like madrasas and missionary schools – be brought under the ambit of RTE. It has questioned the quality of education in the madrasas and said that around 2 crore children studying in them are ‘as good as out of school kids.’ These madrasas only impart religious education and are mostly attended by kids from the deprived sections – they are the ones who need quality education the most. In contrast, the missionary schools follow broad based syllabi like those in the normal schools and have become elitist. However, both are out of the ambit of the RTE Act.
It would be best if the RTE is changed to ensure that missionary schools also start giving 25% reservation to children from the weaker sections and the madarsas progress towards modern curriculum so that children attending them do not miss out on their fundamental right to education. There should be a bridge between Article 21 (A) which provides the right to education to children and Article 30 of the Constitution which deals with the minority education.
Read to Learn About the Salient Features of the Right to Education Act