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Report card on RTE two years after

By Rashmi Gupta

Two years after the Right to Education, 36% of sanctioned teacher posts lie vacant, several states do not meet the required pupil:teacher ratio, funds lie unspent, and monitoring bodies are somnolent

National Right to Education Forum report on RTE

It’s been two years since the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, was launched. While the Act is lofty in its aim and has been much appreciated -- every child in the age-group 6-14 has the right to go to school and get an elementary education -- there have been glitches along the way. Two years on, the National Right to Education Forum, comprising over 10,000 grassroots NGOs working all over India on the issue of education and child rights, has come out with a report, released in Delhi on April 3, 2012, outlining the implementation status of this Act.

For starters, the monitoring bodies under this Act have been mute spectators, failing to deal with the complaints reported to it. The National and State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR/SCPCR) have been tasked with a monitoring role. So far, only 14 states have an SCPCR. Most of these state commissions either have a chairperson with no members or a bureaucrat chairing them. An RTI application filed by the National Coalition for Education (NCE) revealed that only 30 applications pertaining to RTE have been filed with the Madhya Pradesh commission, and in two years only six have been resolved. Another RTI reply on the same issue revealed that 1,761 complaints for violations of the RTE Act were registered with the NCPCR between April 1, 2011 and March 16, 2012, and only 100 have been dealt with. These figures clearly highlight the malfunctioning of the monitoring bodies appointed under this Act.

Whilst all states and union territories -- with the exception of Goa and Karnataka -- have notified the state rules, there are others that have removed critical provisions from the model rules. For example, Orissa and Delhi have done away with the provision for teacher tribunals which are meant to redress the problems of teachers. On the other hand, some innovative provisions have been introduced, including the establishment of toll-free numbers for grievance redressal in Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, and a notification for child participation in school management committees in Orissa.

Funding of the RTE Act -- which is done through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) -- is another area of concern. The enactment of RTE saw the approval of Rs 2.31 lakh crore for implementation of RTE-SSA. The total funds provided in the Eleventh Plan amounted to Rs 78,000 crore, a figure that is not much higher than the original approved outlay of Rs 71,000 crore, without provision for RTE-related expenses. There is a significant shortfall of funds required for implementation of the RTE-SSA programme, especially as the first two years called for the heaviest expenses, including hiring of additional teachers, enhancement of infrastructure and administrative changes required to move to the new rights-based regime.

Due to staff shortages, the release of funds is delayed, ultimately leading to under-spending of allocated funds. This is a problem in itself. The government has spent just 70% of the funds allocated for the SSA and RTE in 2010-11 compared to 78% the previous year.

There is also underlying tension in Centre-state relations vis-à-vis overall cost-sharing.

The 2012 budget emphasised inclusive education, especially focusing on inclusion of children with special needs. This year’s budget saw a big jump in allocation for inclusive education (IE) in the SSA compared to 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. The budget for 2010-11 was Rs 75,308.2 lakh, compared to Rs 28,309.65 lakh for 2009-10 -- an increase of Rs 46,998.55 lakh. Since component-wise allocation and expenditure for IE in the SSA is not available, it’s difficult to carry out a detailed analysis. 

A glaring shortcoming of the Right to Education Act is that its mandate does not include children below the age of six. According to the new proposed policy, of the 158.7 million children in the under-six category (Census 2011), about 75.7 million, that is 48%, are reported to be covered under the Integrated Child Development Services scheme of the Ministry of Women and Child Development. A significant number is also covered by the private sector and NGOs.

However, the onus falls on the states to provide them education. This argument is further supported by a standing Supreme Court order for universalisation of the ICDS, of which the pre-school component is an integral part. Unfortunately, action in the states in this context has been sporadic. Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have suggested the need for pre-school provision in schools. Further, a Draft National ECCE Policy is under preparation and feedback for the same is being solicited from civil society. This covers developmental priorities for each sub-stage within the continuum -- care, early stimulation and the interactional needs of children below three years, developmentally appropriate pre-school education for three-to-six-year-olds, with a more structured and planned school readiness component for five-to-six-year-olds.

Lack of availability and slow recruitment of teachers remains an important issue. According to DISE data, during 2010-11, two schools in five failed to reach the primary grade norm of a pupil-teacher ratio of 1:30, and almost two out of three children are enrolled in schools that do not meet this requirement. Similarly, seven out of 10 upper primary schools failed to attain the RTE teacher-pupil norm of 1:35; roughly one in two children are enrolled in schools that fail the norm. There are huge disparities, with nine out of 10 primary schools in Bihar having a pupil-teacher ratio of over 1:30. Only the Andaman and Nicobar Islands met the PTR norm for primary and upper primary education, with Sikkim meeting the latter. In 2011-12, 8.86% of schools had a single teacher -- an almost insignificant improvement over 9.33% in 2009-10.

These numbers obviously mean that in the first year of implementation of the RTE Act, recruitments had not taken place. Since the Act was notified, and based on proposals received from the state governments, 6.31 lakh teacher posts have been sanctioned under the SSA to enable the states to meet RTE requirements. However, according to government data, 689,268 sanctioned teacher posts remain vacant. This amounts to 36% of the sanctioned total teacher force.

Another important dimension is that the push for greater student enrolment has contributed to a higher teacher-pupil ratio, and hence relative teacher shortages. Thus, corporation-run schools in Gujarat have reported a shortage of 500 teachers as a result of new enrolments.

The involvement of teachers in non-teaching activity is also a relevant issue. According to government research (EdCil 2010), 12% of a teacher’s time in school is spent on non-teaching activities, in the absence of clerical support staff. A frequent critique of the education system in India is absenteeism among teaching staff. However, the ASER RTE report card (2011) shows that 87% of teachers were present on the day of the observation. The figure was as high as 95.6% in Gujarat. Ten major states had an attendance of 90% or higher. This suggests that teacher absenteeism is actually not as critical an issue as popular accounts suggest. Biometric attendance records for teachers have been introduced in several states.

The stocktaking report also highlights the issue of availability of schools. According to government sources, 4% of habitations (a significant number of children) lack primary schools within walking distance of their homes. Access in remote and hilly areas in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and the Northeast, large parts of tribal-dominated forest areas of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa and the desert of Rajasthan remain problematic. Alternative arrangements in the form of availability of transport or residential schooling had been made to the extent desired during the reporting period. The problem is more serious in the case of upper primary schools (covering children in the age-group 10-14 years). The ratio of primary to upper primary schools/sections is 1:2.12 in 2010-11 (DISE). But the figure is as high as 5.13 in West Bengal and as low as 1.03 in Chandigarh reflecting a huge range in terms of school availability.

An alarming trend has been the closure of government schools under the guise of rationalisation in several states. Karnataka ordered the closure of 3,000 schools citing low enrolment. The decision was put on hold amidst a burst of criticism, and is now sub-judice. While the need for rationalisation may be understood in principle, it is imperative to understand that decisions to close schools are disproportionately likely to affect the very poor and those in remote areas who may lose the right to education in the process. 

We now have only a year to reach certain deadlines set in the Act. It’s time for the government and education rights advocacy groups to do a rethink. While the government has to speed up its act, keeping quality in mind whilst recruiting teachers, it also needs to follow RTE norms in providing infrastructure to government schools. Shiksha Ka Haque Abhiyan (the Right to Education campaign) launched by the Ministry of Human Resource Development is a step in the right direction, but its success will be determined largely by how well the states accept and implement the campaign. Education rights activists must put pressure on state governments to meet the goals of this Act through people’s tribunals, public hearings, even by filing public interest litigations.  

(Rashmi Gupta is an RTI activist based in Delhi)

Infochange News & Features, May 2012