RTE deadline coming up but universal primary education still not in sight
By March 31, 2015, elementary education in India was meant to be universal. The plan was to have every child between six and 14 in school; ensure all infrastructure was up to scratch; and teachers were in sufficient numbers and well-trained. But there is still a large number of children out of school, large number of teachings posts are lying vacant and many fear the Right to Education Act itself may be in danger. To top it all, 12 state governments have, till 2014, closed or merged over 80,000 of their own schools
The 2015 deadline was one for the government to get teachers in place and trained. A survey undertaken by RTE Forum - a conglomeration of child rights and education organizations, academics and educationists - shows that little progress has been made on this front. Analysing data from the District Information System for Education (DISE), they discovered there are 5.68 lakh teaching positions vacant and all states have hired large numbers of contract teachers; 19.69% of teachers are untrained.
But teachers, despite being integral to the system, have also been the most neglected part of it. Poonam Batra from the Central Institute of Education (CIE) suggests that this lacuna is present in the RTE Act itself. "Since the launch of the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), there has been steady marginalization of the teacher. There are commissioned studies though which the teacher - not the system - has become the subject. The suggestion is that the system is not the problem but the teacher is." Further, state contribution toward teacher training has been negligible despite the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee recommendations on teacher education. There's been little change in service conditions -- 10% teachers travel over 25 kilometres to reach school, most are engaged in non-teaching work that's not specified in the RTE Act.
Instead of ensuring full implementation, state governments have closed or merged schools. The RTE Forum's report quotes a National Coalition for Education report that states that till 2014, 80,647 schools have been closed or merged across 12 states with Rajasthan (17,129), Gujarat (13,450), Maharashtra (13,905) and Karnataka (12,000) being the biggest culprits.
There is also increased emphasis on "quality" or "learning outcome" - both defined, as Batra puts it, "in the context of the market." "We need to look at the definition for "outcome", understand poverty and the classroom processes."
There is need also to question government data on education as well. "No one here believes 98% children in the country are in school," states former chairperson of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Shantha Sinha, "Last month 300 Bihari children were rescued from bangle-making factories in Hyderabad. There are thousands others." Verifying government data is part of the purpose of RTE Forum's annual "stock-taking" report.
Educationists are also distressed about the demand for non-detention policy to be struck down. "This cannot be done without the amendment of the RTE Act but indicates how there's an attempt to dilute its provisions," observes Batra. The RTE campaigners have yet another front to do battle on - research. Sinha believes that "research itself has become a site for contestation." "Only the huge organizations conducted studies with huge funding is considered research. There's research that says para-teachers teach better, that community participation doesn't improve quality," she says, her tone betraying her complete lack of regard any of it.
Survey: 457 govt schools surveyed 10 states covered Data from DISE also used Teachers: Posts sanctioned (DISE 2013-14) : 19.83 lakh Posts vacant (DISE 2013-14): 5.68 lakh About 10% teachers travel over 25 km to school | 10% travel 15-20 km | 36.5% travel 10-15 km Only 53.6% attended in-service training 72.6% schools reported their teachers didn't receive on-site academic support All states reported that teachers are engaged in non-teaching tasks other than those specified in the RTE Act. Number of unqualified teachers high in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal 8.5% teachers and principals getting paid without coming to school