Saving our primary education system
RTE, giving the Right to Education to children, was enacted after sixty two years of independence and after seven years of amendment to the constitution to make the Right to Education as a Fundamental Right. The need and timing of RTE can be judged from the statistics published by Ministry of HRD, according to which there was more enrollment than the eligible population of children in between the age of 6 to 14 years. There were about 1.90 crore children (2010) whereas the enrollment was of about 1.97 crore at elementary level (I to VIII) in 12 lacs schools! This shows the intention behind the enactment which was just to capitalize on political gains. Even independent surveys conducted by ASER and DISE, put the estimate around ninety six percent children who were enrolled in elementary education.
According to the RTE Act, it is the duty of the government is to make a school available in 1Km radius of every hamlet (which were already there according to the report of MHRD presented before the Parliament), to provide required number of teachers in the ratio of 30:1, minimum infrastructure, mid-day meals, books and stationary. The Act further provides for no detention, expulsion or suspension of any child for what so ever reason, no screening for admission and no capitation fees, and an obligation on private unaided schools to provide 25 % admission at entry level class.
Combined Government (Central & States) spending on elementary education in 2009-10 was about Rs. 1ooooo crore out of which the states’ share was Rs 79,000 crore. This meant that central government spend was just 21% of total expenditure on elementary education. As a percentage of GDP this constitutes around 1.64% ( Central share of spend amounts of just 0.35% of the GDP).
The RTE Act neither guarantees free education nor does it mandate compulsory education. It certainly provides for a right to schooling. About 80% schools out of the total number of schools are government schools which cater to about 67% school going children. Against this, private schols which comprise only around 20% of all the schools are educating about 33% of children. Every year thousands of government schools are being closed on account of absolute lack of enrollment in these schools. Yet every state government is opening a good number of schools every year to accommodate political pressures and to claim development. Lakhs of new teacher positions are lying vacant and at the same time complaints of absenteeism of teachers are rapidly increasing.
Appointments, transfers and postings of teachers has emerged as the biggest corruption industry for politicians. Comparative learning outcome of children studying in government schools is very poor. Mid-day meal tragedy in many parts of the country is a continuing shame. Enrollment in private schools is increasing at a fast rate as the parents do not have faith in government schools. Three years after the RTE, it is time to look at results and progress of RTE in terms of government schools. All the governments are evaluating their success in terms of children admitted under RTE in private schools which goes against the soul of the Act.
A strong political will, apolitical action and speedy improvement at the elementary education level is the need of the hour. Given the present ranking of the country in Human Development Index, a significant portion of our young population is not equipped well enough to enter the job market. Increasing gap in learning outcome and facilities in between the children studying in different level of schools should be a cause of concern for the government and the political class. A child spending 14 years of life in a school where a high number of deficiencies exist and coming out with a certificate of schooling (not education with the policy of no detention and no board examination) cannot be of equal worth in comparison to counterparts who have finished studies in a school with all amenities and modern techniques !
We need to focus on the future. Government funds allocated for elementary education are required to be utilized properly and purposefully. A result oriented planning is needed. Better infrastructure and learning performance are legitimate expectations of the countrymen. Government should understand the hard realities of education sector. On one hand private schools are using smart boards and iPods while on the other hand many government schools do not even have proper black-boards. The government has to fix a minimum benchmark for its own schools. There are minimum norms of infrastructure for model schools or school under the PPP model. Why should these not be the ideal bench mark of infrastructure for government schools?
A big question is: can the government do it? Yes, it can . There are about 10 lac government schools in the country. These 10 lac schools should be a center of learning in the real sense. The Government and political parties owe responsibility and they cannot continue to just sermonize on TV channels. People want actions and results. Parents want to send their children to a school at the age of 3 years for pre-primary education. Government schools start from class I and admit a child at the age of 6 years. In such a situation the only option left to the parents is a private school which starts from the pre-primary level. Government should immediately introduce pre-primary classes in government schools.
Education should be freed from political clutches. Ministry of HRD (education) has always been a choice for a person who is committed to pursue “hard core political ideology”. Politicians like Murli Manohar Joshi and Arjun Singh represent such an example. The mission of the ministry and minister should be to revamp and redefine education. Only to create a number and statistical expansion should not be the priority. Committees to study and recommend changes should not be constituted with the persons of political choice and the people who are not connected with elementary/school education.
The last National Curriculum Framework-2005 was drafted by a committee who were never connected with elementary education, though described as “eminent scholars”. The school education has become a subject of experiments. Every new minister, chairman of affiliating board or any official having assignment in education department experiments his ideas at the cost of the children. No fail up to class VIII and no board examination at class X level in the name of de-stressing the child have resulted in non-seriousness about studies in children, unaccountable teachers and irresponsible schools. Priority should be given to qualitative development of school education.
The government has to ensure optimum use of the money spent. Accountability and transparency are to be enhanced. Participation of private sector has to be promoted and protected. Private players should be considered as friends and contributors for the development of education rather than exploiters. Regulations should be reduced to minimum, as on today about 24 regulations are applicable for opening and running a private school. BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer) model is working well in many sectors, many services are out sourced in health sector and many big projects are handed over to private entrepreneurs for maintenance. These models may work well in education sectors too.
To provide a medium level of infrastructure in about 10 lac government schools is a herculean task. At least Rs. 100 lac per school will be required and the Government cannot afford Rs.10, 000 billion. It can only be possible with the involvement of private edupreneurs. It should invite private edupreneurs to participate either on philanthropic or CSR or even on some return on investment basis. As on today, with record of so many scams and corruptions, even philanthropic people or groups and corporate houses do not trust the government for proper utilization of their contributions. Many schools, colleges, hospitals created by such people and handed over to the government for maintenance are in very poor shapes and conditions.
People are well aware with the history and present status of Air India, BSNL, and MTNL etc. Private players are providing better services at affordable and competitive cost to users. Are we waiting for the day when the government schools become completely obsolete? People cannot afford to wait for longer period to see the government schools at a level of even middle class expectation. We are living in an era of global competition. Barring a few stray cases (which are because of own intellect), we cannot claim about the learning outcome of government schools. People expect government schools of such standard when they start thinking about leaving a private school to join a government school. This is the honest parameter to evaluate implementation and progress of RTE.
The government should consider system of education voucher. A voucher equal to the amount spent by the government as recurring expenditure to children of the age group may make direct payment in their bank account on the basis of ADHAR. In that system, parents will have a right of choice to select a school and if they chose a high fee school, the rest of the burden will be borne by the parent. Government will not be required to spend on development of infrastructure. People apprehend that the vouchers may be sold in the market. Even if it may, it will not cost morally and financially more than fake enrollment, teacher absenteeism and sale of mid-day meals, text books and dresses etc.