Hailed as a path-breaking legislation, the RTE Act was launched with huge fanfare on April 1, 2010. The nation was assured of its total implementation within the next three years—March 31, 2013—by the then Minister of Human Resource Development, a legal luminary. The Act essentially focused on restrictive infrastructure stipulations and manpower needs. It did not elaborate much on the learner attainments, skill acquisitions and personality development that were to be achieved during the eight years’ stay in schools. By introducing no-detention provisions, it, rather cleverly, ensured high retention and low dropout rates! The bureaucracy of the state education departments had another lucrative avenue opened up before them; they began to target low-fee charging private schools in areas inhabited by weaker sections.
As government schools had reached their nadir in terms of credibility and public acceptance, and people were in search of alternatives, these schools filled that vacuum. Infrastructure norms in the Act were rather too much for such schools to comply with. Most of these were not commercial ventures and hence, those who could not, or were not willing to, grease the palms of minor functionaries of the education department, chose to put the shutters down. These schools did charge a fee that was within the range of their clientele, paid only nominal salaries to teachers, but were certainly better than the government schools. District-level education officers, who do only policing duty in such conditions, had a heyday. Their affluent cousins in metros and larger cities, running “prestigious public schools”, were following similar practices but were untouched as they were resourceful enough to deal with the bureaucracy. They had another advantage as they were not deficient in infrastructure details, had no problems with buildings, equipment, or teacher-taught ratio.
Closure of private schools catering to weaker sections raised a genuine query: are RTE norms not applicable to government schools? Is it applicable only to private schools? The Parliament was informed in August 2016 that—over six years after the implementation of the Act—only 6.4 per cent of government schools are RTE-norm compliant. Technically, the rest deserve de-recognition. No wonder the enrolment in private schools is increasing and stands at 52.14 per cent. In Karnataka, no child took admission in Class I in June 2015 and 9,503 schools had less than 17 students from Classes I to VII. Why should the bureaucracy not be held responsible for this steep decline? There are over a lakh single-teacher primary and secondary schools in India. The stark reality is that no data is required to press the point that no one would like to send their child to a sarkari school so long a private one is affordable. Despite official reports on its ‘successful’ implementation, the public perception is clear: even after six years of RTE Act’s implementation, the decline in quality of elementary education remains unchecked and uncared for. Even on the infrastructure front, performance of the state governments remains dismal.
What else could one infer if Uttar Pradesh, the most-populous state, has a shortage of 3.06 lakh school teachers? Under such blatant defiance of the Act, what could be the justification for closing down private schools? Is it not ironical that state appoints para teachers on pittance of an honorarium, and expects them to perform the tasks of a full-time teacher? How does it impact the psyche, and hence work commitment, of young persons, unsure of their jobs and getting miserable emoluments? If state can appoint para teachers, logically, should it not be permissible for private schools as well? A review of the RTE Act is urgently required. Apart from reviewing no detention policy and optional Class X Board examination, same infrastructure norms cannot be applicable throughout the country.
J S Rajput
Former director of the NCERT