In India, the right to education was made a fundamental right by inserting Article 21A by the Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002. It was enabled with the subsequent enactment of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009.
However, its implementation has been a challenge for most States as they have discretion in how the Act gets implemented.
No child left behind:
- The RTE Act bears many similarities to the U.S.’s No Child Left Behind Act, including school accountability, assessment standards and teacher training. Like the U.S., in India too States have been given major leeway in deciding the course of implementation.
- Section 12 (1) (c) of the Act mandates all private schools (except for minority schools) to allocate 25% of their seats to economically weaker sections, i.e. those families with an income of less than Rs. 2 lakh a year, and other disadvantaged groups like Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the physically challenged.
The State government will then reimburse these schools for students admitted under this provision, at an amount per month that is determined by the State rules.
Issues to be addressed:
- A problem that recurs every year is mandated access to underprivileged sections of society. The process for admission under Section 12 (1) (c) is far from perfect. This is evident in the large number of vacancies in several cities in the country. For instance, on the last day of admissions under the RTE Act, under the first lottery there were 20,835 vacancies in Maharashtra.
- Despite the use of GIS tagging, several parents complain that the system is faulty in identifying nearby schools.
- Financial problems continue to mar the system — many schools collect money for textbooks and uniform though this is part of the State-stipulated fees.
This is a chain reaction: the Centre is supposed to release up to 70% of the funds for this programme which is often delayed.
- While moving the system online has led to transparency, in many States the management committee as per the RTE Act has not been notified.
- RTE rules also state that unfilled seats can be filled again in September but governments have no conspicuous public announcements regarding this.
- There have also been several grievances regarding the ‘1 km radius’ criterion, especially for rural residents who may not have any private schools in their vicinity.
Leading by the example:
Tamil Nadu, which has always been at the forefront of educational progress in India, has made certain strides in the implementation of Section 12 (1) (c).
- It has widened the ambit of “disadvantaged sections” to include HIV positive children and transgenders.
- A centralised database has been created by the State where people can access all the matriculation (State board) schools in the State which lie within 1 km of their residence.
- Another notification has been issued to bring all schools affiliated to boards other than State boards under the control of its Director of School Education for RTE implementation.
- The procedure for admission should be made through a single-point window online for all school boards, with computer kiosks to assist parents who may not be able to fill the form online.
A mobile application should be built with live information on the number of seats available in each school under the 25% quota.
- An RTE compliance audit should be conducted for all schools every year by the State Education Department. Any aid given to private schools must be tied to the levels of compliance achieved by the school.
- Several schools do not adhere to the 25% quota. These schools should be penalised and derecognised if continuous violations occur.
- Every school should declare prominently that it is RTE compliant — and the admission procedure, including deadlines, should be displayed at the school premises.
- On the government side of things, funds need to be released in a timely manner, so that it inspires confidence in schools to fill all the vacancies.
Section 12 (1) (c) of the RTE Act recognises the need for inclusion, and explicitly establishes responsibility on all stakeholders to contribute towards this goal.
Its only after all the stakeholders involved work in cooperation and in true spirit that the RTE Act will serve its purpose.