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Right to Education Act
Recommendatory guidelines for framing rules
The Right to Education Bill was passed by both houses of Parliament following which the Presidential assent was also given in August 2009. We now have the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 which will provide the framework for realizing the Constitution guarantee of universal elementary education for children of the ages 6 to 14.
Both before and after the passage of this Act, there have been a number of voices amongst educationists, policy makers, NGO’s, teachers and civil society about a number of lacunae and critique for flawed provisions. The Ministry of Human Resource and Development has all along maintained that many of the amendments that were being sought could be adequately addressed through properly drafted rules that would accompany the Bill.
Over 20 leading organisations and NGOs working in the Indian education space were participants and contributors to discussions around the Right to Education bill in a Forum. This group is a collective of organizations working together in education reform for a decade now. The primary objective of all these organizations is to work towards bettering education in India through various approaches and interventions.
While has been said and written elsewhere about the Right to Education Act and its scope, this Forum decided to go a step further – so while it addresses chapter-wise specific clauses in the Act and the issues pertaining to these clauses, it also offers a perspective based on the discussions had and finally offers clear practical steps to implement the clause effectively.
Before the forum got into the nitty-gritty of the clauses, here is a quick recap of some key features which deserves aplomb:
- Education is now a fundamental right for a child in India in the age group 6-14 years.
- All aspects of the Act are now justiciable as a Fundamental Right i.e violation of any clause of the Act can be taken up in court by any citizen – not just the person/s directly involved and adversely affected.
- Necessary number of schools shall be built in all communities within three years
- There will be no discrimination whatsoever of any kind when it comes to enrollment
- Norms and standards for all schools (government and private), including teacher qualifications, will be detailed without which no school will be recognized
- Private schools will have to reserve 25% of their seats for the disadvantaged
- The Act aims to have a standardized national curriculum
- The RTE requires significant financial provision – from the Center and the State governments.
While most of the organizations believed that the Act has several anomalies, contradictions, gaps and overlaps, many of them expressed that the effectiveness of this Act will be put to test in the way in which the rules are framed. One of the biggest concerns remained that there was no guarantee of learning; also many members expressed that it was critical for the rules to establish clear responsibilities of the state and central governments. Another critical area was the articulation of teacher rights.
Against this context, detailed below are some of the critical issues raised about provisions or the lack of them within the Act; the issues have been cross referenced with respective clauses in the act and tagged with informed recommendations.
Issues – Recommendations for framing rules
The consortium of educational organisations that represents this collective are suggesting a way forward that effectively leverages the possibilities of the RTE Act and purposefully steers through the more ambiguous and loosely articulated clauses.
'1. 'Issue: The Act guarantees enrollment but not learning/education
The RTE Act in its current form guarantees enrolment in a school, but does not provide any guarantee on the quality of education in terms of student learning (e.g. will a child of class 5 be able to read, do basic calculations, think independently, etc.). And various other learning level assessments conducted by other organizations inside the school itself, reflect that in less than 5% of India’s Government schools students are achieving the expected competencies. The rules for this clause need to be framed in a manner to address this.
- Rules must specify that under the state’s obligation to provide quality education, the state must regularly monitor the level of learning and publish / publicise this.
- This could be done through representative sample studies (it is not necessary to assess every child) and by definition that will be a ‘low-stakes’ test. But building this component of measuring periodically and making this public is critical.
'2. 'Issue: Child admitted in a class appropriate to his or her age
Reference: Chapter 2 – Right to free and compulsory education; clause 4
This clause states that a child, who may never have attended school, should be admitted at an age appropriate class. This implies that a 10 year old child who may never have been in school will be admitted to class 4 or 5. Further he will not be held back till class 8. These factors together are likely to ensure that the child will fall further and further behind. The Act only states that the child has the right to receive special training in this regard. What this training comprises of, who will and where and when will it take place? Will the same teacher (in class) be responsible for imparting this? Details such as these are not included.
'3. 'Issue: Promotion up to Class VIII not dependent on students learning level/capability
Reference: Chapter 2 – Right to free and compulsory education; clause 4
While the provision that a child will not be held back till class 8 might have been included from a child self-esteem point of view, it does not take into account the ground realities of extremely low learning levels, which may fall further fall without checks and balances. This also means that the teachers, state and overall education system cannot be held accountable if a child in Class 8 is unable to read or write or do simple math. Couple this fact with another addition – as part of efforts to bring children back to schools, the RtE clearly says that a child who may never have attended school, should be admitted at an age appropriate class. This implies that a 10 year old child who may never have been in school will be admitted to class 4 or 5. Further he will not be held back till class 8. These two factors together are likely to ensure that the child will fall further and further behind, plus that the teacher will have a wide range of learning levels to cater to, making her task even more difficult. The Act merely states that the child have the right to receive special training in this regard. What this training comprises of, who will and where and when will it take place? Will the same teacher (in class) be responsible for imparting this? Details such as these are not included.
- the rules should insist on building a strong remedial programme alongside monitoring learning outcome class wise.
- The rules must also make it mandatory to use independent third party assessment. For example, the rules can specify that 20% of schools across the country every year will be sample surveyed by an independent agency to assess learning level etc.
- The rules also provide autonomy to teachers to organize their children into groups according to learning levels rather than in chronological classes. Thus with the benefit of an un-graded school
- and a period of 8 years, children will progressively move up learning levels.
'4. 'Issue: Exclusion of children below 6 years and between 14-18years
Reference: Chapter 2
Since the Act has taken into consideration an age group of 6-14, exclusion of this critical age group will remain a lacuna in the act. Research has established that 3-6 yrs. is a vital period in the social, intellectual and physical development of the child.
Recommendation: Rules could try and at least issue directives on preschool education to the state to ensure that a child who enrolls into Class I at 6 years of age has been exposed to academic input prior to this stage.
'6. 'Issue: Funding - joint responsibility of state and central government
Reference: Chapter 3 Duties of Appropriate Govt., local Authority and Parents (7.1, 7.2, 7.6)
Under provisions of the Act, it is stated that the central government will estimate the funding requirements from time to time. It is recommended that the rules clearly detail aspects that need to be par of such an estimate like teacher’s salary, teacher student ratio, engagement teacher, teacher training, school infrastructure and maintenance etc. The rules must also shed clarity on the process of developing these estimates, the frequency and the infrastructure for the same. This is of vital importance as poor estimates will only induce greater stress on a system that is suffering from absolute inadequacies at the moment.
Also the rules could explore the possibility of seeking private contribution in a systematic manner at local, state and central levels. The rules will have to go further and detail the process of doing so.
The state has been named responsible for any innovations, researches and capacity building; however the avenues, financial provisions, support structures for the same have not been detailed in the act. The rules are expected to shed light on this.
'7. 'Issue: Teacher Standards and training
Reference: Chapter 3, Duties of Appropriate Govt., local Authority and Parents (7.1, 7.2, 7.6)
The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) that follows the NCERT academic curriculum has been identified as the best option to perform this function by experts in the education community. However the organization needs to be strengthened to take up this nationwide responsibility. The rules framed for this act should ensure that NCTE’s norms and standards are adhered to. It should also articulate clear steps to strengthen the NCTE.
Recommendation: The rules could look at setting up a separate School Education Commission with other sister organizations like NCTE performing like its wings. The rules also provide autonomy to teachers to organize their children into groups according to learning levels rather than in chronological classes. Thus with the benefit of an ungraded school - and a period of 8 years, children will progressively move up learning levels.
'8. 'Issue: Establishment of school in a neighbourhood within a 3 year period:
The issue of the distance of a school from a habitat needs some more dwelling upon. While it looks very desirable that children do not commute very long distances to go to school, having a school with very few children and a single teacher is not an ideal situation either. The distance of a school needs to be explored further keeping these additional parameters in mind.
'9. 'Issue: Process of admission of weaker section and disadvantaged in private aided and unaided schools
Reference: Chapter 4 – Free and Compulsory Education; responsibility of teachers and schools
10. Issue: Capitation Fee and Screening
Reference: Chapter 4, clause 13.1 and 13.2
There is absolutely no clarity about the admission and screening process in schools. Parent assumptions and theories (especially relevant to private schools) are mere guess work. Most private aided and unaided schools charge fat amounts of money in the name of admission fee, building fund, laboratory fees, infrastructure fund, library fund, transportation etc. The rules need to define what the capitation fee ban will comprise of.
'11. 'Issue: Age and Birth Certificate
Reference: Chapter 4 – clause 14
While the birth certificate has been at the center of the admission process for many years now, the act now states that children must be given admission regardless of whether or not the parents are able to furnish the birth certificate. This brings us to a critical answer point: what if the parents are not able to give in the birth certificate or if the birth certificate was never made? Then, how would we determine the age of the child?
'12. 'Issue: Non-retention and non-expulsion
Reference: Chapter 4 – clause 16 and 17
The non-retention clause would mean that no child can be retained or prevented from moving on to the next class. However, it needs to be backed by learning assessments, without which children will continue to get promoted despite deficient learning levels. The rules need to clearly articulate minimum learning levels class wise and teachers need to be adequately trained to achieve the same.
With respect to non-expulsion, this raises questions about discipline and behavior management. The rules would need to spell out other measure to manage/handle difficult behavior. Teachers would require to be trained in ways and means to identify difficult behavior and methods to manage them.
'13. 'Issue: School Management – norms and standards
Reference: Chapter 4 – clauses 18-22
It has been observed that the act details the penalties, conditions, procedures for recognition of private schools intently. However, there are no clauses to guarantee the implementation of norms and standards in government schools.
School Management Committees already exist in many of the government schools but are only on paper as the members are unaware of their roles and responsibilities. There is enough research based evidence about the primacy of community in contributing to an effective school. However, the recent PROBE report has brought out the fact that though 98% of the schools they studied had school monitoring committee, the members of the committee were unaware of their roles and responsibilities. Some did not even know that they were members. To focus their role, define three key areas for the SDMC: a) children attendance; b) teacher punctuality and attendance; c) availability of functional toilets. SDMC will hoist a daily red flag if any of the three are not met and green flag if all three are met.
'14. 'Issue: Qualifications and salary of the teacher
Reference: Chapter 4 – clause 23
The act does not specify the minimum requirement criteria for recruitment of teachers and associated salary structures. The rules need to clearly specify the qualification requirements and salary module.
'15. 'Issue: Teachers deputed to perform ‘other’ duties
Reference: Chapter 4 – clause 24, 1.f
The act merely states that the teacher will perform ‘other duties’ as prescribed. This leaves the arena for manipulation and discomfort (among teachers) wide open. Teachers’ non-availability for teaching tasks not only leads to loss of precious academic time but also tires them out, makes them open to misuse as paid manpower by other government functions/functionaries. In order to curtail this, other duties, i.e. non teaching tasks that a teacher can be utilized for need to be specified. This will eliminate scope for misuse and manipulation.
'16. 'Issue: Appointment of teachers
Reference: Chapter 4 – clause 25 and 26
While the act states that within six months of its implementation the concerned government will appoint new teachers and fill up vacancies in order to maintain the prescribed pupil teacher ratio, it does not specify who exactly will be the appointing authority. It also does not clarify on who will fund this process and the salary expense incurred thereafter.
The Appointment and Financing of teachers in government schools should be spelt out; this should either be the State or the Central government and not the local authority.
'17. 'Issue: Notification on Academic Authority w.r.t curriculum and evaluation procedures
Reference: Chapter 5, clause 29 (1), clause (2)
The act states that the appropriate government will issue a notification on which academic authority will set the curriculum and evaluation procedures. While doing so it will be important for the appropriate government to be sensitive to local needs, particularly to societies/populations where the majority of learners may be first generation school goers. The basis of this is an established fact that the accomplishment of curriculum goals largely depends on the history of schooling in that region. The sub clauses a and h part of (2) may be assumed as being central to any form of education.
'18. 'Issue: No board exams through elementary education
Reference: Chapter 5 - clause 30 (1)
The act details that no child shall have to pass a board exam during the period of elementary schooling.
'19. 'Issue: Issuance of a certificate on completing elementary schooling
Reference: Chapter 5 – clause 30 (2)
While the idea of issuing a certificate of completion of elementary schooling is appreciable, the rules however need to tag this event with the achievement of learning goals. This turn will clarify expectations to teachers, children and parents alike.
'20. 'Issue: Protection of Right of Children
Reference: Chapter 6 – clause 31 (1) (a)
The Act directs the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights or its counterparts in the state etc to monitor the right of a child to education in accordance with the Child Rights Act, 2005. This means that all schools administration and teachers should cognizant with the provision of the Child Rights Act 2005 and that school systems – from buildings to other infrastructure, attitudes, behavior of various people interacting with the child in a school environment - all of these must be conversant with the provisions of the act. While this is a welcome move, creating awareness and sensitivity among concerned quarters in this regard will be a challenge, though beneficial in the long run. Effective implementation of the same would require a more local body to monitor and report discrepancies.
'21. 'Issue: Mechanism to deal with complaints w.r.t non-conformance to provisions of Child Right Act
Reference: Chapter 6 – clause 31 (1) (b)
While the monitoring authority for issues concerning right of child to education has been specified, the act is unclear about what the exact mechanism will be to deal with complaints emerging in this regard.
'22. 'Issue: Nudging state governments to act
Reference: Chapter 6 – clause 38 (1-4)
Education being a concurrent subject has most often suffered as neither state nor central government or sometimes either of them does not act in time. Sub clauses 1-4 of clause 38 relate to the framing of rules by ‘appropriate’ government. The rules need to set a timeframe for the same. This will ensure timely implementation of various provisions under this act.
Conclusion: Focus on implementation
Sixty one years after independence, the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act has been passed. The RtE Act will not be actionable until the Implementation date is notified in a separate Gazette of India publication. Education being a concurrent subject, the challenge of implementation is even greater.
The rules will play a key role – by being defined sharply and clearly, by delineating responsibility and authority; the rules will give the Act the teeth to be implemented.