On 12 April 2012, in its historical decision the Supreme Court (SC) of India threw its weight behind the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. The court upheld the constitutional validity of RTE Act that guarantees children free and compulsory education from the age of 6 to 14 years of age.
The judgment makes it mandatory for the government, local authorities and private schools to reserve 25 percent of their seats for ‘weaker and disadvantaged sections’ of society. The decision has wiped away many apprehensions regarding the future of the Act. It has been welcomed by academicians, politicians, journalists and others. The Union minister for human resources development Mr. Kapil Sibal, articulated, “RTE can be a model for the world”. While there has been enthusiastic praise of the judgment, concerns related to quality, finance, ensuring of 25 percent reservation in private schools and change in classroom structure cannot be thrown into the winds.
The amount put aside by Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is only Rs. 25,555 crores for 2012-13, which falls short of the recommended financial requirement of Rs 1.82 lakh crore. From where will the rest of amount come?
According to Kapil Sibal (2012) more than 90 percent of households will have to enroll their wards in government schools. Thus 90 percent of households’ wards will have poor access to education; if at all they are enrolled in schools, as the quality of education in government schools is a matter of serious concern.
There is no clarity on how 25 percent reservation in private schools will be filled. There may be more than one private school in a neighborhood, so how will they decide who will go where? How will reservation in private schools be monitored?
The 25 percent reservation in private schools will dramatically change the structure of classrooms in schools. Whether diversity of classroom will create democratic learning environment and enhance teaching learning process or will it put children from ‘weaker and disadvantaged sections’ in discomfited position?
Concern of Quality Education
One of the primary objectives of Right of Children Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 is improving quality education. The quality of elementary education, particularly in government schools, is a matter of serious concern. The quality of school education depends on various variables which includes physical infrastructure, method of teaching, learning environment, type of books, qualification of teachers, number of teachers, attendance of teachers and students and so on. There has been substantial progress in increasing enrollment with national average now at 98.3 percent (2009-2010) according to official statistics. However, the attendance of pupils in class rooms has declined. In 2007, 73.4 percent students enrolled for Standards I-IV/V were present in class, which has fallen to 70.9 percent by 2011 (EPW, 2012). Fayaz Ahmad (2009) came with the findings that despite lack of staff in government schools, teachers remain absent on rotational bases. He adds that due to vacancies for teacher, absenteeism of teachers and poor infrastructure in government schools classrooms are multi-grade, i.e. one teacher attending to children from different grades in a single classroom. The attendance of teachers and students in schools is directly related with the quality of education.
Furthermore, mere enrollment of children in school does not fulfill the aims of RTE. Amman Madan (2003) argues ‘the question of reform in Indian education has usually been conceived of in narrow ways – putting children in school and getting schools to function efficiently’.
Despite high enrollments in schools 50 percent of children studying in the fifth grade lack the reading skills expected of children in the second grade (Annual Status of Education Report, ASER 2010).
Ensuring 25 percent Reservation
The RTE, Act, 2009 clause, 12...
References: Ahmad, Fayaz (2009) “ A Sociological Study of Primary Education Among Girls: With Special Reference to Block Hajin of District Bandipora” Dissertation, Barkatullah University.
Kumar, Krishna (2012): “Let a hundred children blossom: A classroom reflecting life’s diversity will benefit children of all strata while enriching teaching experience.”, The Hindu, Delhi,20 April 2012.
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