Creative solutions for RTE challenges

The fanfare around the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 (RTE Act) is dissipating. Soon the reality will hit as the Act has to become ‘operational’. The powers that be are yet to ascertain the exact modalities of how this will work — the resources, the monitoring and tracking, the exact role of the private schools and a multitude of other issues.

Now is the time to take stock of the landscape and see what can strengthen the implementation of the Act.  Equally important is to be cognizant of the challenges that come with this ambitious goal and pre-empt some, if not all of them.

Enabling factors
There is no dearth of innovations in the education sector and many of these can address systemic gaps. Social entrepreneurs behind these innovations have demon-strated that these can work not just in small settings but even when taken to scale.

A time-tested example is what Rama and Padmanabha Rao have developed through the RIVER (Rishi Valley Institute for Educational Resources) project.  As we know, most rural schools are single-teacher schools and have no choice but to take up multi-grade teaching, thus limiting a child’s ability to learn well.  RIVER has been able to re-design the teaching methodology so that single teachers who are teaching different grades at once are able to do it effectively.  Their success has already been demonstrated in 75,000 schools that are using this model in 13 different languages, and nearly 1,20,000 teachers have been trained to use this approach.  Beyond this, the Raos have been able to help develop teaching materials involving the local communities.  This makes it low-cost and the children can easily relate to them.  All this put together has addressed issues of teacher and student absenteeism, made learning a joy and filled the disconnect between schools and communities.

There are many such innovations, which when coupled with the existing infrastructure, can do wonders.  Technology can play a pivotal role too — empowering teachers and students alike.  An extensive mapping of these innovations and integrating the truly promising ones into the mainstream is the need of the hour. 

Quality and metrics
Efforts like Read India, undertaken by Pratham, emphasize quality and not just the number of children in school. Tracking and monitoring results is integral to the success of what the Act hopes to accomplish.  Pratham is also behind the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in order to assess the national success:  the numbers as well as the quality of education attained by the children.  ASER has served as the proverbial mirror revealing what has worked well and what has not — including the geographic disparities.  Pratham also conducts bridge schools for children who are out of school to prepare them to re-enter mainstream schools.

Porous system
Then there is the issue of those children who fall through the cracks despite the best of intentions of all stakeholders. A case in point is children of migrant labourers.  Millions of poor rural Indians migrate from their villages in search of work for up to 8 months every year. They work in brick kilns, sugarcane plantations, salt pans and other labour-intense sectors to provide for their families. Typically, their children migrate with them.  Such migration usually results in these children dropping out of school at a very young age and starting work, often under hazardous conditions.  The LAMP (Learning and Migration Program),run by the American India Foundation, reaches out to these communities and their children and ensures that they have access to education.  Children can stay back in seasonal hostels in their native villages and continue to learn or attend site schools where their parents end up working.
Lessons to learn
While it is a totally different issue, there are some interesting parallels with another major Act passed recently to deliver another social good — employment.  The NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) has had mixed results.   While some states have been able to access close to 50 per cent of funds available under NREGA, other states have used less than 10 per cent of the funds. RTE could go the NREGA way if not handled well.

There are voices of dissonance being heard in the context of resources.  On whom does the burden lie?  The centre or the state?  What kind of micro-planning is needed?  For resources to be allocated, village level planning is needed and aggregated information from villages has to flow upward for allocation of funds.  How realistic is this and how will this be executed?

Teacher recruitment
The challenges are many and being cognizant of them is the first step.  The Act has not mapped out a plan to address the gap in the number and quality of teachers. Large numbers of teachers must be recruited instantly, trained and retrained adequately, placed rapidly and monitored regularly.  Partnerships with private schools can help with setting up such training facilities. The second challenge is incorporating the voice of the marginalised communities in the resource allocation process.

Many of these people are illiterate themselves and therefore unaware of policy changes and unable to comprehend their rights.  The government must take steps that include these communities and the civil society must provide a platform for them to be heard.  Social awareness is what will close the final gap.  Many communities do not see this as an investment in their children’s future.  ‘If my child is going to eventually work in the fields, what is the use of years of being in school?’  This is the question posed by many remote rural communities.  Other stigma and challenges need to be addressed — such as keeping the girl child in school.

The key is for the government not to reinvent the wheel, but to form partnerships with the stakeholders to replicate, build on and scale up models that work to overcome some of the challenges.

As one leading educationist in the country put it, ‘Stratospheric debates on education and RTE alone are not enough’.  Governments, philanthropists, the citizen sector, businesses — all have a major role in enabling India achieve its educational success.  It will take lots of resources and many creative solutions to ensure that the children are actually able to exercise their right that the Constitution of India has now handed them.

Source : Deccan Herald

What is RTE? – Let’s understand it better

The Right to Education Act has come into effect on April 1, 2010. How significant is this Act and what exactly does it promise to change? To answer these questions it is important to understand the new law, what it promises to achieve and the challenges it faces at the level of implementation.

What is the Right to Education Act?
The Right to Education Act enforces the 86th Constitutional amendment, which gives every child between the age of 6 and 14 years the right to free and compulsory education.

Isn’t Right to Education one of the original fundamental rights?
No. Cultural and Educational Rights is one of the six fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. ‘Educational’, in this context, means that “all minorities, religious or linguistic, can set up their own educational institutions in order to preserve and develop their own culture”.

What is the 86th Constitutional amendment?
The 86th Constitutional amendment was passed in 2002, inserting Article 21A that made education a fundamental right for children in the age group of 6-14 years.

Why has it taken 8 years (2002-2010) for it to become a law?
To enact the law, the State has to make an in-depth study, hold discussions with all those directly connected and draft a bill.

  • In October 2003, a first draft of the legislation was prepared and posted on the website inviting comments and suggestions from the public.
  • In 2004, taking into account the suggestions received on this draft, a revised draft of the bill entitled Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2004 was prepared and posted on the site.
  • In 2005, the CABE (Central Advisory Board of Education) committee drafted the Right to Education Bill and submitted to the Ministry of HRD. In 2006, the Finance Committee and Planning Commission rejected the bill, citing lack of funds. A model bill was sent to the states for making necessary arrangements.
  • The states sent the model bill back to the Centre, citing lack of funds. The bill was virtually buried for two years. Many NGOs objected to the reasons cited by the governments. They alleged that the people of this nation were being betrayed.
  • In February, 2008 the Ministry of Human Resources Development circulated another draft of the bill. On December 15, 2008 the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha and released to the public. On July 20, 2009 the Rajya Sabha passed the bill with minor changes to the 2008 draft bill.
  • On August 4, 2009 the Lok Sabha passed the bill. On August 26, the President gave her assent to the bill which thus became an Act. On April 1, 2010 the Act came into force.  

What are its salient features?

  • Every child between the ages of 6 to 14 years will have the right to receive free and compulsory education.
  • Towards this, the State would ensure the availability of a neighbourhood school within a period of three years from commencement of this Act. In case of non-availability of neighbourhood school, the State shall provide free transportation to the nearest school or provide free residential school facilities.
  • Private schools shall admit at least 25 per cent of the children in their schools without any fee.
  • The National Commission for Elementary Education shall be constituted to monitor all aspects of elementary education including quality.

 What are the challenges in its implementation?

  • Some State governments have said that they do not have the funds to implement the Act. The governments have also observed that they do not have adequate control over private schools to compel them to reserve quota of seats as laid down.
  • Many unaided private schools have petitioned the Supreme Court, challenging the 25 per cent reservation of seats as “unconstitutional” and “violating fundamental rights of unaided private educational institutions”.
  • Shortfall of trained teachers will be a big challenge. The average students-to-teacher ratio in a classroom at present stands at 50:1.  The Act spells out that this ratio should be 30:1, which means that at least 12 lakh trained teachers will be required within six months of notification of the Act.

Source: Deccan Herald