Despite the fact that many of the folks reading this article may never have encountered a government school, the private schools account for educating just 20% of the children in the country. To get a sense of numbers, India has about 12.5 lakh primary (class 1 to VIII) schools catering to approximately 20 crore primary school going age children.
- Dept of Education
- Local Authorities
- Government Aided
- Completely Private (Unaided)
Since private schools are mainly entrepreneurial ventures with just a few institutions under a given management as opposed to government schools that are department run social programs that cater to a vast population, the dynamics at play in these two set ups are fundamentally different. Anecdotal evidence suggests that private schools have better success at providing future opportunities to their students. On the other hand, government schools are responsible for educating a majority of the Indian population. In this context it is important to evaluate the right to education from both a private school as well as a government school lens.
Aims of universal elementary education
· Inclusion: Quality elementary education like air or water should be available with the same quality to all children. Discrimination, especially for the girl child, socially and economically marginalised children is not acceptable in any civil society. Unfortunately the chance of getting quality basic education decreases exponentially if you belong to SC/ST/Minority communities (and despite all the reservations this is still true!) and for girls. If you are from a poor family, your chance to access a good school again reduces dramatically.
· Access & Retention: Schools should be in the neighbourhood of a child’s home. Each school should have basic infrastructure such as class rooms, functioning toilets, drinking water, playground, etc. They should have teachers that are capable (trained) and motivated to teach. Government pays primary school teachers better than most of their private school colleagues (in hand salary for a government primary school teacher in Karnataka starts at about 10,000pm which 2 to 3 times the starting salary of a primary school teacher in a private school) and still is unable to get good output from them due to inefficiencies in the government school system. Many government schools even today function without classrooms, drinking water, toilets or electricity. These issues can be better appreciated on a visit to a government school (especially a rural school).
While enrolment of children in school is the first step, more important is to ensure regular attendance and making sure that they complete their elementary school education. The incentive structures in the education system encourage inflated enrolment numbers. Attendance is dismal either because the schools are not able to pull the children or because they have to help their families in different chores including agricultural help, or even household work. Children drop out before completing their elementary education in large numbers for similar reasons.
· Learning: Children should achieve minimum levels of learning appropriate to their age. World over governments very actively track the literacy and numeracy levels of elementary school students to evaluate the effectiveness of the school system. While India has no large scale government mandated evaluation, nationwide annual surveys by Pratham (Annual Status of Education Report, 2009) reveals that only about 50% of student in class 5 can read a class 2 level text and only 30% of them can solve a simple division problem.
· Monitoring: Community (especially parental) monitoring of schools is perhaps the best way to ensure quality functioning of schools. This is a key difference between private and government schools. Parents of children going to government schools have not been able to demand accountability from teachers. While some of this may be due to parental apathy, a significant factor contributing to this is the lack of mechanisms for parents to get involved in their child’s education. When the parents and community do not demand accountability from education officials, there is very little motivation for them to act on any of the goals above. Government schools being tax payer funded resources should have mechanism for parent (community) to monitor and participate in the functioning of these schools.
The right to free and compulsory education for all children between 6 to 14 years of age (roughly equivalent to class 1 to 8) is a fundamental right enshrined in the Indian Constitution. This mandates the government to take all steps: enacting new laws, launching new government programs, changing how education is administered etc., to ensure that this right is realized. Each and every citizen can demand the implementation of this right either for himself/herself or (if done in good faith) even for other citizens who cannot make such demands on their own. The breach of fundamental rights is a constitutional violation and can be heard directly by highest courts of the country.
Education is a joint responsibility of the centre and the states, with the centre primarily setting standards for education, and, states responsible for running the school system. The RTE Act is the law that the central government has enacted to enable the implementation of this fundamental right to education. Any law enacted by the centre is binding on all the states in India.
As the administration of education is primarily done by the state government, specific implementation and administrative provisions regarding the RTE Act are defined in what is referred to as the RTE rules. These are defined by the state government and have legal force in that state. In order to ensure that these rules are uniform across the states and the spirit of the RTE Act is not diluted by the states in setting up these rules, the centre has authored “Model RTE Rules” to guide the states in framing these rules.
Administration of Education
The setting up and running of schools is mainly done by the state education department. The administration of schools is mainly managed at the Taluk or Block level with oversight from district and state level officials. These coincide with administrative Taluks (with some exceptions). The official responsible for managing all the schools in a Taluk is the Block Education Officer (BEO). When schools are managed by local bodies (Municipal Corporation/Council, Zila Parishad, Nagar Panchayat), a similar executive structure is set up within that context.
The block is further divided in what are called “Clusters” for ease of administration. The schools located in a cluster are under the oversight of cluster education officials (called Cluster Resource Persons or CRPs).
The schools can either be Lower Primary Schools (LPS) covering classes 1 to 5 or Higher Primary Schools (HPS) covering classes 1-8. About 70% of the schools in the country are LPSs. The schools operate in multiple vernacular mediums of instruction as per the state policy. In Karnataka, there are about 200 blocks that are further divided into about 2,500 clusters. Under them are approximately 47,000 government schools operating in Kannada, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu and (in rare cases) English medium of instruction.
Apart from government and private schools under the control of state administration, there are private and government schools that are under the central and international boards (e.g., CBSE, ICSE) that function fairly independent of the state education machinery.
Two other areas where the state education departments play a key role is in the design of curriculum / text books as well as training of teachers. Both these functions are performed by the Department of State Education & Training (DSERT) in each state. The Centre sets standards for the curriculum design (National Curriculum Framework 2005 is a good example) as well as teacher training, but the implementation mainly rests with the state government under the banner of DSERT.
RTE Act: Key provisions
Standards for Schools
· Every child is entitled to free and compulsory education from 6 to 14 years of age (class 1 to VIII).
· RTE mandates setting up of neighbourhood schools, which implies that every child should have access to a LPS within 1 Km from his/her residence and an HPS within 3 Km from his/her residence.
· It lays down standards for school infrastructure. Every school has to have at least as many class rooms as teachers and a multipurpose room as office/store/ Head Master’s (HM’s) room. The school should have separate toilets for boys and girls and also have provision for safe drinking water. In addition, it should have playground, library, fencing and accessibility for disabled children. If mid-day meals are served in the school (as is the case for most government schools) it should have a kitchen for cooking & storing food. No new school can be started until it complies with these norms and the existing ones that do not, have to comply with these requirements within 3 years (by 31 March, 2013).
· RTE lays down standards for a maximum pupil to teacher ratio (PTA) for lower primary (1:40, excluding head master) and higher primary schools (1:35, but a minimum of 3 teachers , one each for math/science, social studies & languages, excluding head master ). Whichever schools do not have sufficient teachers as per this norm have to recruit the desired number of teachers within 6 months (i.e. by 1 October, 2010). These teachers have to be qualified as per the standards set by the Nation Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) for any fresh recruitment in government or private schools. All teachers already in service have to acquire these qualifications within 5 years (i.e.by 31 March,2015).
· It mandates a minimum of 200 working days (800 instruction hours) for LPS and 220 working days (1000 instruction hours) for HPS. Teachers have to work 45 hours/ week (for instruction, preparation, training etc.)
· The Central government will define standards for a national curriculum (though NCERT) and teachers qualification (through NCTE) that would be applicable to all the schools in the country. The state governments would be responsible for designing the curriculum and training teachers as per these standards.
· One glaring omission in the RTE Act is the lack of standards to ensure that the children learn as per their capabilities. An early 1990s report from the central government laid the minimum standards of learning for each class and the national curriculum framework incorporated these standards in curriculum design. However, they find no mention in the RTE act, making it an input focussed legislation without any guarantees of outputs (learning). Interestingly, Karnataka draft RTE rules have a provision for a 3rd party evaluation of learning levels for 5% of the schools every year.
Social Responsibilities of Private Schools
· While the government schools have to provide free education to all students (and provide free uniforms, textbooks, writing material and mid day meals), private schools too will now have to provide 25% seats free of cost to economically & socially backward students of the neighbourhood. They have to admit these kids in class 1 (or in Kindergarten if they have a preschool) and then support them through the 8 years of schooling. They should not charge anything from these students and also provide them free uniforms, text books & writing materials (Karnataka draft model RTE rules also expect them to provide free mid-day meals). These students cannot be segregated or discriminated from other students in that school. The state government will compensate these schools at the rate that the state spends (likely to be in the range of 700-800 Rs/month/child) on providing these facilities (or less if the school charges lesser fee from other students) to students in government schools. This obviously is a red flag for private schools – from the obvious loss of revenue, as they charge much higher fees than what the government would compensate them for, and also the pain of getting money from the government department (because of corruption) . There is also the issue of how the so-called high / upper middle class parents take to the fact that their wards are now mingling with “poor” kids. These parents also fear that they will have to indirectly bear the financial burden for these new children. Although it will just be a very small portion (less than 5% to be precise) of children who will avail this benefit, this provision has generated the most amount of controversy.
· The responsibility of setting up schools as per the standards set in RTE is the responsibility of the state government either through its department of elementary education or through the local authorities when these schools are managed by them. The Central government will share the costs of setting up and running these schools with the state government / local authorities.
· The BEO is responsible for notifying neighbourhood school(s) for all the areas in his block, which are within the prescribed distance, where children can seek admission. This will mandate a geographical school mapping of the block to ensure compliance to this norm.
· Every local authority is responsible for an annual household survey in its jurisdiction to perform a census of children (0 to 14 years) and ensure the data is publically available for anyone to verify. This will be used by schools to ensure 100% enrolment and attendance of these students. Draft Karnataka Model rules pass on this responsibility down to the schools. This would mandate an additional responsibility on schools to keep a track of children and it is not clear where are the hands to do this work as well as systems to collect and disseminate this information.
· Every school (other than government schools) has to be certified by the District Education Official and in case it does not comply with the standards set above, can be derecognised and the students transferred to other neighbourhood schools. This obviously brings back the images of inspector raj and the ensuing corruption for private schools especially CBSE / ICSE schools who till now had remained relatively free from such interference. The state education department recognised private schools are already under this regime and their experience is predictably dismal. To add to this Draft Karnataka RTE Rules specify the BEO will decide on a calendar of events for admissions that every school in his jurisdiction has to adhere to. The Model rules have an elaborate procedure for de-recognition under this clause to make it difficult for government officials to do it at their whims (thereby reducing the possibility of corruption). Draft Karnataka RTE Rules have removed many of these safeguards and made the district officials / BEO primarily responsible for this decision. Curiously, there is no mechanism specified to monitor these standards for government schools and it is not clear what would happen to government schools that do not comply with the standards after the mandated 3 years.
The RTE Act defines various norms that are to be enforced by schools in their day-to-day administration (government or private):
- Cannot use any physical or emotional punishments.
- Teachers to deploy continuous and comprehensive evaluation for each student and maintain a student record.
- Teachers are required to conduct regular parent teacher meetings.
- Teachers cannot be engaged in non-teaching duties (except for some very specific functions such as census, election duty etc.).
- Teachers cannot take private tuitions.
So far so good, but also...
- Schools cannot charge capitation fees. While this may be unpalatable to private schools it is still not a show stopper for them. For government schools this is a non issue.
And the provocative ones ...
- Schools cannot use any screening procedures to admit students in any class nor can they deny admissions to anyone if they have spare capacity (even if the students arrives at its doors within 6 months from the start of the academic year). This provision (and to some extent the next two as well) results in what are referred to as “multi level” classrooms, a class where the students may be at vastly different levels of learning (a typical class 4 may have students whose learning levels are equivalents to the expected learning levels of students of class 1, class 2, class 3 & class 4). This has been a difficult management problem for teachers and curriculum designers alike (some pedagogies such as Montessori method have very effectively used these situations to the advantage of children). Government schools have constantly grappled with this issue while most private schools have by-passed the issue altogether by screening the child during admissions.
A special case is that of mainstreaming children who have never been to schools. As per the RTE Act they have to be admitted in the age appropriate class after special remedial education (in special residential institutions for up to 2 years is required). The onus for this is put on to the school management committees who have minimal capacity to implement such measures. Private schools do not have to share this responsibility as they admit children only in class 1 (or kindergarten).
- Schools cannot hold back a child in a class i.e., cannot fail anyone in a class. This stipulation does not prevent teachers from evaluating children. In fact continuous and comprehensive evaluation is mandated by the RTE Act as seen earlier. These should help teacher / student to plan remedial measures to bring back the child on track, but even if after all this the child does not have the capacity to understand the topics in higher classes, he will still have to be promoted nevertheless thereby making that classroom a multi level class.
- School cannot expel anyone from school for any reason. For private schools, the threat of expulsion has been an effective stick to beat up the parents / children to improve on discipline / academic performance. While private school managements have been raising the bogey of their inability to expel “delinquent” kids as a threat to effectively managing the schools, these provisions in RTE are clearly aimed at ensuring that schools do not weed out the children that lag behind in learning and that the schools “own up” to the children. It would have been good to have a specific reference permitting expulsion/ suspension for disciplinary reasons being allowed in RTE Act.
Most developed countries have similar standards in place for elementary education and are able to run an efficient school system. It is also important to see these provisions in context. These are only applicable for children till they are in VIIIth class.
· All government schools will set up a committee (School Monitoring Committee or SMC) comprising mainly of parents (75% of the members have to be parents) to oversee the affairs of the school such as monitor teachers, monitor finances (including mid day meal scheme), monitor enrolment/attendance and ensure that no child is discriminated against. This committee also prepares a 3 year development plan for the school that defined strategies for future growth and the finances needed for the same and submit it to local authorities for consideration.
· RTE Act has notified National Commission of Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) as the monitoring body for RTE implementation. NCPCR has already set up a RTE monitoring cell where any concerned citizens can send in their complaints. Complaints can also be taken directly to courts as education is a fundamental right.
How should the civil society participate in making RTE a reality in India
Despite many rough edges, RTE is a significant leap for ensuring education for all in India. It also opens up many mechanisms by which concerned citizens can demand the implementation of this right. We look forward to hear from you on what are the specific actions citizens can take to make sure RTE is implemented in letter and spirit.