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Sreelatha Menon: 'A' for apathy

Despite a deluge of funds, the Right to Education Act's dictum on quality is not visible in classrooms

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The latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) by NGO Pratham does not hold any surprises. It re-states what it has been saying for the last eight years — children in rural schools cannot read and write, even in Class V. Of course, each year it has been getting slightly worse than the previous one.

The report, besides providing evidence of poor quality of education in primary schools, points a finger at the Right to Education (RTE) Act for being a part of this problem. One of the problems is the suspension of examination in primary schools.

The emphasis of the legislation is often seen as being single-pointed: to provide the prevailing education – whatever the quality – to more children. If it made any promise to provide education to promote original and critical thinking, or education to create men of letters or scientists, then that promise has been buried in the government’s obsession with increasing enrolment.

The saddest part is that the Ministry of Human Resource Development has been each year increasing the money spent on Sarva Siksha Abhiyan or primary education, without ensuring in some way that this education is worth extending to the children of this country. Between 2004 when the government was spending about Rs 5,700 crore on primary education, and now when it spent Rs 49,000 crore this year, the period covered is the same that ASER covered so far. So, why has the increase in allocation brought down the quality of education?

Were children better off with broken benches and no toilets, state syllabus and local enterprise? Has the Centre by poking its fingers into a state subject messed it up? If the money was handed over to states without any Central prescriptions, would it have translated into better education?

Vimla Ramachandran, national fellow, National University of Educational Planning and Administration, does not blame the RTE Act. She feels that the absence of any monitoring of whether teachers actually teach children is to blame. The assistance to schools should be linked to performance, she adds.

Jayant Prabhu, a researcher and blogger, had last year made a bitter attack on the RTE Act and its inadequacies. He said the RTE Act would not have caused resentment if it had sanctioned Rs 1.78 lakh crore to “raise teacher pay, raise teacher standards, provide better facilities, and create a functional curriculum (by way of example, I’d suggest something similar to the International Baccalaureate)”.

Vinod Raina, member of the Central Advisory Board on Education, defends the RTE Act. He says its provisions for qualitative improvement enshrined in Section 29 of Chapter V were never implemented.

“The institutions that ensure quality, namely, the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT) and the District Institutes for Education and Training (DIETs), have not done their job. They are supposed to be made functional where they are not, and they are supposed to train teachers in performing continuous comprehensive evaluation (CCE) that RTE provides for. Not a single state has started CCE,” he says.

It is another matter that funds under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan never went to these quality institutions till 2010. (In 2012-13, NCERT was allocated Rs 1.5 crore).

Again, though the National Curriculum Framework has been in place since 2005, not a single state has been working under it, points out Raina. He feels that quality has been as bad for the last 40 years and there is nothing new about it.

Instead of blaming the RTE Act, he believes that people should move the court against schools and states for not implementing the law on the matter of quality. That should open doors for a number of cases in all those states where DIETs and SCERTs are not functioning, and in Delhi where the ministry and NCERT have to be made answerable for the darkness in the rural classrooms.

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