India: Right To Education-Lofty Goals, Hasty, Poor Drafting and Slow Implementation

January 5th, 2013
in Op Ed, syndication

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The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009 guarantees children between the ages of 6 and 14 their fundamental right to quality elementary education by the State. Private schools [including famous elite schools] - for low-income children have to reserve 25% of seats to children from poor families and will be be reimbursed by the state as part of the public-private partnership plan. The Act also provides that no child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education. There is also a provision for special training of school drop-outs to bring them up to par with students of the same age.

Follow up:

According to the The World Bank education specialist for India, Sam Carlson:

"The RTE Act is the first legislation in the world that puts the responsibility of ensuring enrollment, attendance and completion on the Government. It is the parents' responsibility to send the children to schools in the U.S. and other countries"

The Law mandates three years to put set up the implementation infrastructure.

Wide Spread Criticism

The Law has attracted wide spread criticism as being hastily-drafted without consultation of groups active in education. Many experts feel that quality of education will suffer. An estimated $50 billion over a period of five years is required to implement the Act.

Where is the Money to fund the Education?

The Central [Federal] Government's burden is 70 percent. The Government is staring at a wide fiscal deficit. A record current account deficit is invoking fears of 1991 currency crisis and has the Finance Minister P C Chidambaram worried. He is considering curtailment of the Indian insatiable demand for Gold imports.

Corruption & Politics restrict the Funds to implementing institutions

Many fear that even if money is available there will be fund leakage due to wide spread corruption. And then there is Politics. Non Congress States have been the most severe critics of the Federal Government and have accused the Central Government for not reimbursing the funds.

Inaugurating a four-day symposium on Global Family, Environment and Wildlife in Bangalore recently, Primary and Secondary Education Minister of Karnataka State slammed the Central Government.

"Karnataka has been requesting the Centre to share the cost incurred as part of the RTE Act implementation, but there has been no response so far. The state has reimbursed '27 crore to private educational institutions and another '27 crore has to be paid to these institutions."

Mainline Press & News Media have been by large harshly critical

To quote an Economic Times article:

"This minor social engineering has produced some ridiculous protests from the elite. Yet, equally ridiculous is the claim that this will significantly help the poor. Of India's hundreds of millions of schoolchildren, only a few thousand poor will enter the elite havens. The others will remain at the mercy of third-rate government schools that provide no worthwhile education.

Worse, the Act poses a huge threat to the poor because it mandates the closing of all private unrecognised schools by 2013. If implemented, this will be the greatest educational disaster to befall India.

In desperation, the poor have increasingly switched their children from free government schools to fee-paying private ones. Only a tiny handful of private schools are elite schools. Most are unrecognized, charging low fees of Rs.300 per month or less. They are cheap precisely because they lack the expensive infrastructure and qualified teachers mandated by government rules."

Aided by Social and Informed Electorate Anecdotal Evidence Indicates Green Shoots

Anecdotal evidence suggests that implementation on the ground has been poor although but there have been heart warming green shoots in breaking the quality schools glass ceiling for the poor. Helped by social activists, a 9,000-strong ragpickers' trade union conducted large-scale awareness drive in Pune city for members who want to get their children admitted to schools under the 25 per cent RTE quota.

Durga Mahandale, as quoted in The Times Of India Pune City news report, says:

"I never thought my son would study in an international school, speak English and participate in the school's annual concert."

Wider Issues Of Quality and Improving India Capability To Innovate

School education is only part of the wider quality education (including higher education) facing the country. Although the country spends 4.1 percent of the GDP on education quality is poor. A Reserve Bank of India report correctly observes that the way to move education forward is to make affordable, improve quality through innovation.

A country that ranks 64 in Global Innovation Index as compared to ranking of Switzerland 1, Singapore 3, US 10 and China 34 this could be stating the obvious.

India is failing to make sufficient progress on providing elementary education to all.  India cannot take a place with the developed countries of the world until it overcomes its shortcomings in education.


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