RTE : The Devil is in the detail
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

The Ministry has received representations from several unaided and aided schools seeking clarification on the procedure to be followed for admission. The Ministry held a meeting with various stake holders on the 14th of August, 2010 to elicit their views for formulating a guideline for admissions,….

Let’s first discuss why the date has been emphasized.

Through the Constitution (86th amendment) act, the central government introduced Article 21A into the Constitution in 2002.

“The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age six to fourteen years in such manner as the State, by law, shall determine.

That was how “Right to Education” was born.

First, a quick observation on the year. Remember the innumerable times the UPA government said (and the media parrotted) “but we just followed the Cabinet decision of NDA government in 2001” while referring to the 2G scam? Also, remember the innumerable times the UPA reminded us (and the media parrotted) that all ills of the country are because of that dreaded 6 year rule by NDA? Then shouldn’t it be logical for the RTE romanticists to give due credit to the NDA government for bringing in this amendment and making education a fundamental right? But I am asking for too much, and we are deviating from the main subject too.

Anyways, in 2002 the then government amended the constitution and made education as a fundamental right. The next logical step would be to determine the manner in which this right will be implemented. A new government came to power in 2004 and took about 5 years to determine the manner. The result was the The Right of Children to Free And Compulsory Education Act, 2009 released on the 27th of August, 2009. One of the most important rule reads:

The school …. shall admit in class I, to the extent of atleast twenty-five percent of the strength of the class, children belonging to weaker section and disadvantaged section in the neighbourhood and provide free and compulsory education till its completion

So after taking a sweet 7 years to come up with the law, the UPA government announces that 25% of class 1 in private unaided schools should be with children from weaker section and disadvantaged section and…and does not provide any sort of guidelines to the schools (one of the main stakeholders) on how this procedure should be followed. And so the magnanimous Kapil Sibal calls for a meeting in 2010 to “formulate a guideline”. Let’s now see what the guideline is:

…schools shall follow a system of random selection out of the applications received from children belonging to the weaker and the disadvantaged sections ..to fill….25% of the seats“.

Genius, no?

Eight years after it was first envisaged that education will be a fundamental right, Kapil Sibal tells the schools to follow a “random” selection method and that is a guideline officially issued!! What about the other 75%?

…. each school should formulate a policy under which admissions are to take place

 Double genius, no? Just the word random raises so many questions in one’s mind. For example,  would selecting students based on who their favorite hero is constitute “random”? And the above wording is precisely why this RTE act looks so flawed. There I said it – it looks flawed!

 The media narrative has been so carefully drafted that anyone who objects to this act is labelled (amongst many things -elite, prejudiced). You hear, “poor are benefited” from the union government and that should be end of the debate. More on that later. Let’s come back to the bill.

 So are the “poor” really benefited? 

 Fellow blogger Reality Check India demolishes that whole argument in his brilliant must read post here. The act specifies that 25% of seats during admission have to be reserved for disadvantaged and weaker sections of the society. The act defines:

  • “child belonging to disadvantaged group” means a child belonging tothe scheduled caste, the scheduled tribe, the socially and educationally backward class or such other group having disadvantage owing to social, cultural, economical, geographical, linguistic, gender or such other factor, as may be specified by the appropriate Government, by notification;
  • “child belonging to weaker section” means a child belonging to such parent or guardian whose annual income is lower than the minimum limit specified by the appropriate Government, by notification;

Here’s a simple question. Whether a child belongs to “weaker section” or not is decided by an income limit of the parent. If the parent of a child who belongs to the “disadvantaged” group earns more than this limit, is the child still eligible? If so, then what just is the point of having a quota for parents who can afford it? If not, why is the government splitting the 25% into two groups when income is the only criteria? To put it in simple terms:

  • Let’s assume income limit is Rs. 5000/- a month.
  • If the income of a parent is Rs. 4000/-, then his/her child is eligible for this quota.
  • If the income of a parent belonging to SC, ST etc, is 10,000/- per month, his/her child is eligible for this quota.
  • If the income of a parent belonging to neither of these groups is Rs. 8,000/- per month, his/her child is NOT eligible for this quota.

So when Barkha Dutt says “didn’t we say we would rather have an economic criterion for reservations than it being caste-driven? Well here, for the first time there is such a basis“, you know what to tell her now!

 It would be a purely economic based criteria only if the government compartmentalizes income groups. Why can’t the government do it? Something like:

  • Upto Rs. 5000/- per month, free.
  • From 5000 – 10000 per month, pay 10%
  • 10000-15000 per month, pay 20 % and so on?

Wouldn’t that make more sense? Wouldn’t that then do justice to the actual lower income and poorer sections? Why bring in the charade of caste based reservations in here too?

 Then there’s the problem of plenty. The Andhra Pradesh government defines “weaker sections” as:

  • others viz., BC, Minorities, OCs (whose annual income does not exceed Rs. 60,000/- per annum)

This Central Vigilance Committee report tells us that the criteria for issuing a White Ration Card for a family in Andhra Pradesh is:

  • Families with income upto  Rs 75,000 in urban areas and upto Rs 60,000 in Rural areas are now eligible for White Cards.

Now, the Andhra Pradesh Budget speech and an official hoarding below both tell us that:

  •  there are about 2 crore families in this state (~7.5 crore people out of the 8.5 crore) that come under the above category.

 I believe it will just be a matter of time before the weaker section is redefined to include the urban ceiling limit. Even without that, we will have lakhs of families that fall within the Rs. 60,000 limit. Now, how on earth will you randomly choose from such a large sample? What about the others that will be randomly left out? Will they be sent to government schools? Wait, more questions arise now!

  • If there is a government school and a private school (unaided) in the same “neighbourhood”, will this quota be applicable? (AP Act defines “neighbourhood school” to be at a safe walking distance of 1km for primary and 3km for secondary. A school per km!)
  • If so, how is this government justifying random selection of students to be benefitted from the quality of education in a private school?
  • If not, why doesn’t the act specifically mention the same?
  • Would those who are randomly left out now come under the “disadvantaged section”?

Why only class 1?

 Please note the other wholly arbitrary point. Why is this act restricted to only class 1 admission? What wrong have children in poverty in class 2 and 3 done? Was there nothing that the genius Kapil Sibal could do about this? What if some parent decides to lie about the child’s age and put him in class 1? It is entirely possible, for the act states:

  • No child shall be denied admission for the lack of age proof. 

 Training of the teachers

 I wish to note a personal experience here. A couple of years back, I once addressed a group of engineering 4th year students. We had a lively interaction. The flow of dialogue was smooth, we could cut jokes and relate things quite smoothly. A few months after that, we invited a group of 12th class vocational course students to our office campus. These children were from an NGO and come from poor backgrounds. I volunteered to teach them for about two hours. And I started talking to them in the same flow as that of the engineering students. 15 minutes into the session, I realised I am failing woefully in communicating with them. Their lecturer told me that they are not used to this, and also told me that the lecturers are specially trained to teach them. I took a few tips, and then managed to talk to them further but could only partly succeed.

 The point I am trying to make is this – the teachers of existing private schools need to be trained extensively to teach kids from poor backgrounds. That’s not because the teachers are elitist. They are used to a flow. They are accustomed a method of teaching that needs honing if they are teach a diverse group of students. So why can’t the government say that the act will come into effect from 2013. In this one year, the government will identify all neighbourhood schools, have the teachers trained, have the principals discuss with the locals on modalities and be fully ready from 2013 onwards? But then this is too much to expect from the genius of Kapil Sibal, no?!

 Actually this is not the first time Kapil Sibal is doing something like this. He did the same with uniform medical test across the country. His own party’s state government’s wanted 2 years time, so that both 1st year and 2nd year syllabus and teaching plan can be streamlined. But common sense typically eludes the genius of Kapil Sibal!

 Arbitrary everywhere

 Randomness is written all over this law. Sample this:

  • No teacher shall engage himself or herself in private tuition or private teaching activity

So if you want to supplement your income, you are not allowed to do that? Who is the government to tell you not to conduction private teaching activity at your home?

 Or this:

  • medium of instructions shall, as far as practicable, be in the child’s mother toungue

As far as practicable? Just what does that even mean??

 Or this:

  • No suit or other legal proceeding shall lie against…… in respect of anything which is done in good faith or intended to be done, in pursuance of this Act….

Good faith? You want to know one example of good faith. A. Raja purely acted in “good faith” while deciding to sell 2G spectrum in 2008 for prices in 2001. Who writes such a law really?

 And finally you have 15 member National and State Advisory councils. Another good political rehabilitation center has been established successfully.

 And the worst – Minority institutions exempted. 

 The Supreme Court has upheld the UPA government’s contention that unaided minority schools will not be covered under RTE. The Supreme Court said:

 “Reservation of 25 per cent in such unaided minority schools will result in changing the character of the schools if the right to establish and administer such schools flows from the right to conserve the language, script or culture, which right is conferred on such unaided minority schools. “

 Now we have more questions!

  • There are “Hindu” schools that run to “conserve the language, script or culture”. Why are they exempt then?
  • If an unaided “minority school” does not run courses to “conserve the language, script or culture”, then will it fall under the RTE ambit?
  • For example, is the St. Ann’s school in Secunderabad under the RTE ambit or not?

All the laws relating to this RTE can be found here: http://mhrd.gov.in/rti_school

 And finally, the media narrative

 Fellow blogger Reality Check India has compiled a near comprehensive list of the narrative in our media on this act here.

 Being opposed to the Right to Education is one thing. Being opposed to this particular act (method of implementation) of Right to Education is a totally different matter. 

While it’s too much to expect from our media to differentiate between these two, I think it is also important to note a couple of previous instances of such carefully drafted narratives.

  •  Take the Food Security Bill for instance. “How can we not afford to have Food security” thundered the editorial director of NDTV. The actual act was not discussed – only the romantic parts of it were discussed. Her reporter even thought FSB guarantees “free ration to all”.  It was left to bloggers to read, and question the provisions in the act. This blogger also made a humble (but long attempt) to decode the Food Security Bill, here.
  • When Kapil Sibal pompously announced that there will be no more board exams for 10th class, the entire TV media erupted in joy. I remember a particular anchor even telling him that “tonight I bring with me the thank you of lakhs of children.” or something like that. Do you know what the fine print was? If you are a CBSE student and wish to continue in the same school after your 10th class, then there is no need for you to write the board exam!! This means zilch for “lakhs of students”, especially in my state Andhra Pradesh!
  • Take the NREGA for instance. Which mainstream media outlet even attempted to debate the failings of this system? NREGA benefits the poor and hence cannot be debated? Even MP’s have expressed their misgivings about this scheme and here we are, romanticizing it eternally.
  • Take the Lokpal bill. That bill was debated endlessly. Pages of articles and hours of TV time went into dissecting each comma, full stop, word, sentence, and paragraph. Why? Because “it doesn’t benefit the poor”?


 I cannot but stress to the reader again, the importance of reading this blogpost on Reality Check India. Many details are debated there.

Remember folks, the devil is always in the detail!