Who failed children’s Right to Education?

The Right to Education Act 2009 has not served its purpose. It has failed to strengthen a historically underfunded and unequal public education system. We need to analyse the failure without blaming anyone and understand the process of educational planning. Every government always seems to be in a hurry to show results in 100 days. As a result, all ministers are under constant pressure to make announcements. On May 22, 2009, the UPA-2 came into power, but Kapil Sibal was given charge of Ministry of Human Resources Development only on May 31, 2009. During these ten days, speculation was rife that Rahul Gandhi, the de facto Prime Minister, would himself take charge of the ministry. Ultimately it was given to Sibal, even though he was already in charge of two ministries. It was perhaps later thought that the HRD is a part time job. The process to “change the nation in 100 days” was set rolling in the MHRD as well. Like all other ministries, the HRD ministry, too, had to announce the changes it would bring in 100 days. Thus came the Right to Education Act, 2009. The draft Bill was under debate and consideration but not fully baked. All the minister’s men placed the Bill before Sibal, and it was passed. The outcome is that most sections and promises of the Act have not been fulfilled.

One needs to raise questions about the Act and its commitments. How could a government make a legal commitment through an Act of Parliament, not a political speech, about anything beyond its period in government? How could the Manmohan Singh government make statutory promises beyond its mandated life till May 21, 2014? How could he demand time till March 2015 to make the RTE fully operational when parliamentary elections were due in 2014? Who would be responsible for the RTE for the children of this country? There are many sections which are yet to be implemented, but I will only address the issue of teacher availability here.

Two sections of the Act talk about teacher-student ratio and deployment of teachers for other assignments. Complying with these two provisions was possible. The two sections read:

25 (1) Within six months from the date of commencement of this Act, the appropriate Government and the local authority shall ensure that the Pupil-Teacher Ratio, as specified in the Schedule, is maintained in each school.

The Schedule has prescribed “(1) Number of teachers: (a) For first class to fifth class – Admitted children Up to Sixty – Number of teachers two; Between sixty-one to ninety – Number of teachers three …. “ and it goes on. Schedule 1 (b) reads “For sixth class to eighth class… (2) At least one teacher for every thirty-five children.”

Did the government make any assessment of the number of teachers required in 2010 and also in 2015 when the Act was to become fully operational? The government had to create training opportunities for the requisite number of teachers for fulfilling the commitment made by the Act. Yes, it did. According to one rough estimate, the number of teachers required was more than 24 lakhs. No consistent effort was made to train the required number of teachers by March 31, 2015. So much so the National Council for Teacher Education discontinued training through distance. The in-service teachers, for whom the distance mode was the only alternative without giving up the job to undergo training, was abruptly stopped. And Section 27 reads:

No teacher shall be deployed for any non-educational purposes other than the decennial census, disaster relief duties, or duties relating to election to the local authority or the State Legislature or Parliament, as the case may be.

For every small government plan and project, the teachers are being deployed. No one ever mentions this is a violation of the provision. Availability of teachers remains the most critical component in making the RTE Act successful. The Act had promised a teacher-student ratio of 1: 35. From where this magic number of 35 students was derived, no one knows. Was this ratio achievable? And if yes - why was this not achieved? If it was unachievable why was this clause included in the Schedule of the Act? Who has put the nation to shame today for not fulfilling what the country promised to its children? Even some Kendriya Vidyalaya classrooms have more than 70 students, forget about other government and private schools. During the discussion on the Amendment in 2012, apprehensions were raised in Parliament by some members about the shortage of teachers. The Minister had answered that additional posts of 6 lakh teachers were created and he left it for the states to recruit them. The most serious issue was brushed aside cursorily. Pallam Raju, the HRD Minister on the eve of Parliamentary election 2014 in Jamshedpur, mentioned that there was a shortage of 6 lakh teachers, again a figure no one can confirm. If the RTE was to be successful, it had to be done by trained school teachers and not by construction of school buildings. RTE was about quality education not the construction of buildings and purchase of new computers. Those who constructed buildings and purchased infrastructure are gone, but the untrained or the semi-trained teachers, and the helpless learners remain. We need to understand 100 days agenda can be fulfilled by road transport or shipping ministries but when it comes to changing human competence it will take time. Children cannot frog-leap time, unfortunately.

Sadly the best of lawyers and the best of bureaucrats don’t make the best of educational planners. We are witnessing what an “accomplished” lawyer did to education, and we will have to wait another decade to see what a “seasoned” bureaucrat can do to education. Let us give the devil - Indian teachers the due and let them plan education. Perhaps they may show some understanding. When children fail the national and international assessments, the teachers are asked: “Why did children fail?” What should the teachers say?

(Chandra Bhushan Sharma is Professor of Education at IGNOU. The views expressed are personal.)
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