Monday, July 28, 2014

Today's Editorial 26 July 2014

                It’s Elementary

Source: By Manoj Kumar Pal: The Statesman

The concept of free and compulsory primary education (classes’ I-IV/V) in India has its genesis in the Sargent plan of 1944. Thereafter at the time of framing the Constitution, the Fundamental Rights Subcommittee made a provision for free and compulsory elementary education as a right of all children up to the age of 14 (up to Class VIII) and assigned its implementation to the State as its “very duty” in a “time-span of ten years”.  However, while adopting the Constitution, this unequivocal clause was relegated from the list of fundamental rights and placed as a “non-justiciable” right in Article 45 of the Directive Principles. Its implementation was also diluted; the State was required “only to endeavour” and that too “without a time-frame”. This allowed the Central and State Government, concurrently in charge of people’s education in free India, to go into hibernation on this issue for many years.

The stupor was broken by two successive verdicts of the Supreme Court in 1992 declaring that the right to education up to 14 years is indeed a fundamental right. Thereupon after some further procrastination, Article 21A was added to the constitution by adopting the 86th Amendment Bill. The Article reads: “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 6 to 14 years in such a manner as the State may, by law, determine”. For the first time an age limit was thus introduced on the lower side and the State’s role in the education of children up to six years of age has been left in an amended Art. 21A as something for which the State shall still only endeavour.

After the circulation and revision of several drafts, the final  one  entitled  ‘The  Right  of  Free  Compulsory  Education Bill, 2008’ went through regular parliamentary procedures and the ‘Right to Education Act (RTE)’ has been made effective from 1 April 2010 during the second UPA government.

The RTE act lays down comprehensively the guidelines, rules and legal obligations of all stakeholders and provides for free and compulsory elementary education for all children in the age group of 6 to14 years, in their respective ‘neighbourhood’ schools all over the country. Depending on whether the schools are government aided, unaided or fully private, they have been divided into three categories; one more category is restricted only to Sainik Schools, Kendriya and Navodaya Vidyalayas and similar schools with a distinctive character, officially recognised as such by the government. For each category the regulatory cum funding authorities have been specified. In the vast rural areas, panchayats and municipal Authorities will discharge this function.

In every state, a State Council will take care of the overall responsibility and further legislation, rules, regulations etc. The jurisdiction of each ‘neighbourhood’ is to be specified and the existence of at least one school in each ‘neighbourhood’ is to be guaranteed. The expenses for setting up new schools, appointing teachers, ensuring teachers’ training and the annual recurring expenses under all heads are to be covered by funds allocated by the Central and the respective State Governments in an agreed ratio. The Act lays down 55:45 as the ratio, but a majority of the states have asked for a raise ~ from 75 to even 90 per cent in the Centre’s contribution. A budgetary provision of Rs 1,71,000 crore for the Central Government for the first five years has been specified, although the actual allocation in the first year was only Rs 25000 crore and the actual utilisation during the year much less. Most, if not all, the States are yet to set up the prescribed administrative structure, and begin the procedure for defining ‘neighbourhoods’ and creating the required data-bank of children in the appropriate age-group in each area. No significant steps have been taken to introduce appropriate training courses for teachers and orient them to the vision behind the new dispensation.

The common curriculum has not been circulated yet. The Act specifies that there shall be no examination and no detention in any class; the student shall be entitled to be admitted to the class appropriate for his/her age. The progress of the student will be monitored by well-trained class teachers and deficiencies of individual students are to be made up by special attention. The existing aided and partially aided schools are required to admit at least 25 per cent of the number of students in each class from the respective ‘neighbourhood’ and give them free education. The unaided private schools also have to obey the quota, but they are supposed to be reimbursed at a per student rate determined by the government... leaving the doors wide open for a higher claim and consequent legal disputes at least in the initial years of implementation. Classes I to VIII in existing schools will have to obey the rules and relations laid down in the RTE Act and the existing teachers in these schools have to acquire the prescribed training within a specified period.

The Act has presumably been formulated with the advice and participation of ‘post modern’ experts on education in keeping with the model of children’s education that has evolved over many years  “through a natural process” in the economically and educationally advanced countries.

The success of such a liberal idealistic system depends on the availability of the home environment of a child where the parents have some background to work hand-in-hand with the teacher in analysing and understanding the strong and weak points in the mental development of their child. In India most parents, qualified in this sense, also have the means to send their children to the ‘glossy’ private schools (usually English medium) and most of them will continue to do so despite the advent of the free RTE schools.
The new-breed schools and the 25 per cent quota in the existing schools will almost entirely draw the children of parents belonging to the lower middle class down to the BPL category. On a rough guess, nearly 80 per cent of such parents either do not have the proper educational background or are so preoccupied with the daily drudgery of earning a livelihood that they can hardly give any assistance or guidance to their children at home. Even in an economically advanced country like the USA with near cent per cent literacy, educationists worry about the difficulties children from such homes (about 10-15 per cent of the total) face in their schools because of the lack of substantive feedback from their parents.

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