The 86th Constitutional amendment of 2002 made Right to Education (RTE) a fundamental right. The RTE Act, that finally came up in 2009, was to be implemented fully within three years beginning April 1, 2010. It has made little impact in government schools as around 90 per cent of these are still short on the stipulations laid down in the Act.
The extent of neglect of these schools could be judged from the disclosure made recently in the Parliament that 37 per cent schools in India still do not have electricity connections. Among various provisions contained in the RTE Act, those projected as great reforms were the introduction of no detention policy up to Class VIII, and introduction of Comprehensive Continuous Evaluation (CCE). These were hailed as ultimate stress-busters that would free children from the burden of curriculum load and fear of annual examinations. Another enthusiastic decision was to make Class X annual board examination optional. It was not implemented by any of the state school education boards. Effective implementation of CCE was impossible in government schools given the non-availability of regular and well-trained teachers.
Government schools were already losing their credibility because of sustained several well-known factors. Conditions were just not at all conducive for the introduction of CCE. Consequently, in government schools it never took off. People and parents noted the dire consequences of promotion to higher class without any assessment. The clamour to revisit the no detention policy arose from practically every corner of the country. Once again, it became evident that reforms in education just cannot be achieved without making adequate prior preparations. Failure is assured if the recommendations in professionally-specialised sectors emerge purely from bureaucratic inputs. The RTE Act is glaring example of the absence of professionally-sound advice from the academics and scholars.
Pedagogically, the best evaluation can be achieved only by the teacher. In a large system, this idealism has its limitations. Next best is to provide for the right teacher-taught ratio, competent and committed teachers, who strictly adhere to regularity and punctuality, and are provided opportunities to remain abreast of latest developments. Further, they get necessary support to innovate and experiment. Our sarkari schools and teachers are nowhere near such provisions. Thoughtlessly initiated, the no detention policy has resulted in more harm than good. No nation can accept a situation in which 14-year-olds get certificate they just cannot decipher. Focus now must shift to sincerely introduce remedial teaching to children who may be found deficient in specified learning outcomes. Once this is done, exam at Class V should not be a stressful proposition. Remedial teaching must be school’s responsibility up to Class VIII as well. There has to be 100 per cent success rates in elementary education.
It is ironical that what was projected as beneficial for the weaker section, brought educational misery on this very group’s children, who generally depend on school teaching given no support from family or possibility of tuitions. Government school teachers putting in extra effort, to provide remedial teaching to needy children on their own, is a thing of the past. The criticism that bringing back examinations at the end of Class V and VIII would not improve quality ignores the stipulation that remedial teaching shall be organised and the child given another chance to get through. One must hasten to add that certain very strong and effective measures: ban appointing teachers on low honorarium, derecognise ‘commercial’ teacher training institutions, streamline teacher recruitment procedures, and establish leadership-developing institutions for principals of schools and teacher education colleges.
J S Rajput
Former director of the NCERT