Yet another academic year has begun and there is a sense of foreboding among child rights activists. This has been triggered by the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s decision in March: not to re-nominate representatives (RTE) from States to the National Council for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
The Right to Education Act, among other measures, stipulates implementation of 25 per cent reservation for weaker and disadvantaged sections of children at the entry level in non-aided schools.
The representatives constituted a vital component of the monitory mechanism for effective implementation of the Right to Education in the states. “At the union level, there was not much support,” rued Ossie Fernandes of the city-based Human Rights Advocacy and Research Foundation and one of the representatives. “We were like a thorn in the flesh of the bureaucrats.”
Echoing him, leading rights activist Henri Tiphagne of People Watch, who was another representative (RTE) to NCPCR, said there was no enthusiasm for such a monitory mechanism among those at the helm of affairs now.
‘Viewed as a nuisance’
As per the terms of reference, the representatives are expected to be invited for the advisory and planning commission meetings. They could walk into any school and ask questions on the status of RTE implementation and report those institutions that had failed to comply with the provisions of the Act. “While government schools were more cooperative, privately managed schools thought us a nuisance because the Act was not being implemented by them,” Fernandes said.
Add to that the continued prevalence of corporal punishment and sexual abuse in some schools. “We had the ability to investigate all these aspects and could share the information with the media, which did not sit well with the bureaucracy,” he pointed out.
According to him, the status of RTE implementation in the State is “average”. But the silver lining has been the official order – Tamil Nadu Rules 2011 – prohibiting corporal punishment and collection of capitation fee and donation. “The rules also provide for severe action against teachers found guilty of sexual abuse of students,” he added.
‘Heightened sensitivity now’
But what encourages activists like Tiphagne is the sensitivity shown by the state education department on the issue. “The government is open to complaints and there is no effort to hide them,” Fernandes pointed out. He added, “The leadership from the secretary-level recognise the fact that things may not be on the right track and are willing to look into every complaint.”
The findings of the Annual Status of Education Reports (ASER), a sample-based household survey conducted annually since 2005, show that India is close to achieving universal enrolment. What states like Tamil Nadu are now facing seems to be the “last mile” problem. In Tamil Nadu, the report shows the total number of children between 6-14 years of age not enrolled in school at 0.6 per cent in 2012. Between 11-14 years of age, it was 1.2 per cent for boys and 0.9 per cent girls, a slight drop compared to the corresponding 2011 figures of 1.9 per cent and 1.3 per cent.
So, while the government still has a long way to go on issues like dropouts and infrastructure, the non-aided schools exploit the loopholes in the Act. For instance, they can reject parents’ applications for admission of their wards under RTE in the presence of a government school within the vicinity of 1 km. Another factor is the proliferation of unrecognised schools, which try to justify their non-compliance saying that their applications for recognition are still pending with the education department. “There are 3,000 such schools in the state,” said Fernandes.
The activists also blame the situation on the low awareness levels of parents about the RTE Act.
Grievances of schools
B Purushottaman, principal, Everwin Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Kolathur, said 14 applications were received this year under RTE and seven found eligible for admission.
In Kumararani Meena Muthiah Higher Secondary School, Adyar, 15 students were admitted under RTE. “We have 60 students in LKG and fulfilled the 25 per cent quota,” said Sridevi, principal. “Last year, we admitted 12.”
In Sivaswami Kalalaya, Mylapore, out of the 97 students, only three were admitted under the quota. Last year, it was two, said principal in-charge M S Jayashree.
Lack of prompt reimbursement by the state government appears to be a major stumbling block in enhancing the admission rate under the quota. “The government must make the reimbursement in two instalments in September and January,” Purushottaman pointed out. “But we are yet to receive the amount for the last academic year,” he said. “Our management is supportive, so we are able to get by,” added Sridevi.
For better implementation, the government must get civil society on board, say activists. “If the government wants an opportunity to use civil society, the opportunity is in the form of setting up a state advisory council,” Tiphagne said. “We will function as its eyes and ears.”