After three years what has the Right to Education Act achieved? Not much, is the honest answer. In reality RTE only means Right to Schooling – not right to learning or right to be literate. The RTE has improved the facilities, brought more kids to the school and increased number of toilets but has failed to provide them with right or quality education. Reports and studies of NGOs/CSOs only confirm what the common man already knows: status of schooling and basic learning in rural India is pathetic. While school enrollment numbers have gone up (96.5% of all children in the 6-14 age group go to school) and school infrastructure has improved, attendance (in government schools) and the overall ability of children to read and do simple mathematical exercises have dipped in India’s rural classrooms.
Automatic promotion to the next standard, in reality, has translated into “teachers don’t have to teach, students don’t have to learn.” The Act guarantees a diploma to all students after eight years, regardless of what they learned and how much they learned. It is useless to ask what is the value of such a diploma. This is wonderful addition to the list of paper degrees: after BA and MA now also have Standard VIII diploma. Exams were eliminated because they produce stress in children. How will they learn to handle stress of life?
On expected lines the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2012) of NGO Pratham underscores an all round decline in performance of students, from the already low levels. In 2010, 50% fifth grade children could read second grade text; it declined to 41% in 2012. Likewise, in 2010 71% fifth graders could do a simple two digit subtraction; it 2012 it declined to 53.5%.
The generally poor training and status of the primary school teachers, decline in classroom teaching and scrapping of exams and assessments are major factors for the decline in the quality of education. In the absence of the traditional annual examination (students cannot be detained in the same class up to class VIII) the student’s poor learning cannot be detected until class IX. The ASER report also claims that primary school outcomes have deteriorated since the RTE Act came into force in 2010. It is also found that children in private schools seem to be doing better academically than their counterparts in government schools. The study also showed that students from government schools across states tend to go for private tuition classes more than their counterparts in private schools, underlining again the absence of quality education in government schools.
Although some of the infrastructural parameters under the RTE Act have improved, it’s far from where it should be. For instance, 27% of all schools visited had no drinking water facility in 2012, proportion of schools with useable toilets is only 56.5% and mid-day-meal was served in 87% of the schools. The desired student-teacher ratio is missing in nearly 60% of the schools across India.
On the healthy side, quality has been found to improve whenever the community as a whole has been involved and village representatives have a say in teacher recruitment, monitoring and accountability. Hence, involvement is the key to the issue of quality.
Poor Quality of Education in Government Schools
Poor quality of government run schools is encouraging migration to private schools where enrollment has risen from 18.7% in 2006 to 28.3% in 2012. If the trend continues, then by 2018, India may have 50% children in private schools. It means they have to pay for their own education even in primary level. In fact, more than 40 percent of the children in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Meghalaya were already enrolled in private schools. In Kerala and Manipur, the figure was even more than 60 percent. The irony is that most of the government schools not only have better infrastructure but better paid teachers compared to the many small private schools. Private schools have proved to be better than government schools because of higher level of commitment of teachers, though government school teachers are more competent generally but indifferent to teaching.
About a quarter of elementary school children in rural areas take private tuition. The report also said that tuition-going students were much clearer with their arithmetic concepts. Whether enrolled in government school or private school, children receiving this addition support have better learning outcomes than those who do not. It also said that in 2012, of all the children enrolled in standard I to VIII, close to 45 per cent were going to private schools or taking to private tuition.
Why turn Social Goals into Fundamental Rights?
Indian Constitution has placed social and economic goals such as education, healthcare, or food for all in the directive principles rather than under fundamental rights. It also recognized fundamental rights – such as the freedom of speech and religion or equality before law. When these rights are “negated” or violated, courts could enforce them through writs. In contrast, economic or social rights require “positive” or “affirmative” action by the state; courts can’t enforce them readily.
It must be clearly understood that unlike the fundamental rights, the economic or social rights are not absolute; they change over time and place. What is minimum acceptable healthcare or education today may turn unacceptable tomorrow; what is acceptable in Tamil Nadu may not be acceptable in Haryana.
Converting social goals into rights that the government can’t enforce is unwarranted. It also undermines the original fundamental rights and mockery of the constitution makers.
You may like to read a detailed report in pdf format: Status of Implementation of RTE 2013