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ROADAHEAD Quality and inclusiveness

May 07, 2012

The Constitution of India had guaranteed free and compulsory education for all children until the age of 14 years under Article 45. This remained unfulfilled till the Right to Education (RTE) Act was passed by Parliament in August 2009. However, the implementation of this Act has left many contentious issues pertaining to quality, equity, access and adequacy of resources unresolved.

Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the legislation in its entirety by approving the reservation of 25% of the total admissions in private run schools for economically backward section. This judgment is undoubtedly aspirational, but its implementation needs to be calibrated in a way which is not disruptive or deters private investment in education. Transition to the new arrangement needs careful consideration given the contemporary challenges and social realities.

The complexities and challenges in implementing the RTE Act are daunting in the face of a consistent decline in educational outcomes. The recent ASER Report 2011 indicates that the quality of school education in India is on a downward spiral. The reading and basic arithmetic levels of children have dropped significantly. More than half of the schools are short of teachers and almost 47% don’t have enough classrooms, 37% lack toilet facility and almost two thirds of these schools are not electrified.

In view of this falling standard in government schools, the poorer section of society have started sending their children to private schools. This is evident in the fact that enrolment in private schools in India have dramatically increased to 25.6% in 2011 from around 18% in 2005. Universalisation of primary education will remain a distant dream if inspector Raj is unleashed in the name of implementing RTE Act. So strengthening the public education system is crucial, not only to restore the lost faith in the system, but also to improve the quality of primary education.

There are at least five areas of concern as far as quality of education is concerned: (i) absence of a common schedule of norms and standards (ii) shortage of teachers which has gone up to a million required to meet the teacher-pupil ratio embedded in the RTE Act (iii) deteriorating quality of teachers with over 6.7 lakh teachers lacking the prescribed teacher qualifications (iv) insufficient expenditure in education, which is only a fraction of the amount required to implement the RTE Act and (v) poor implementation record with lack of clarity on sharing the implementation burden between centre and states. The complexities in the education sector go well beyond adequacy of resources. The embedded social and equity considerations need to be resolved in a way that harmonises quality with the compulsions of social inclusiveness. We need to look at some creative and targeted solutions to address the above issues.

 (The writer is Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, and a former Member of the Planning Commission)  :  The Times of India

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