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Monday, May 17, 2010

RTE: Can It Educate the Future of India?

“What, the countrymen of Tagore to be illiterate! Incredible!”—thus exclaimed in wonder a Norwegian gentleman who had read the translations, in his mother tongue, of all the works of Rabindranath Tagore, when C Y Chintamani, who traveled with him from Paris to Versailles, said to him, “Illiteracy was the badge of the tribe in our country.”

Chintamani who made that statement was the Chief Editor of The Leader and had delivered a series of lectures at Andhra University, at the invitation of its Vice-Chancellor S Radhakrishnan, in 1935. Of course, what matters most now is: Is the situation any different now, even after more than 60 years of independence?

At least, looking at the background of the 86th amendment to the Constitution and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act) that came into effect from April 1, 2010, no one can deny the fact that large sections of two generations of free India have turned adults without any formal schooling. 

A survey conducted by National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) makes certain disturbing revelations: 42,000 schools that are run by the government in the country have no buildings; 26% of the schools are run in rented buildings; 10% of the schools, i.e., more than 100,000 schools, are run in single-room structures. Among them, 90% are located in rural India. About 81,000 schools do not have even blackboards. About the other essentials, such as drinking water, sanitary facilities, tables and benches, the less said the better.

Besides, we also witness wide gaps in terms of resources, infrastructural facilities, and efficiency levels between the schools run by private agencies and the government. And, ironically, within the government-run schools, there exists a huge difference between Kendriya Vidyalayas and schools run by municipalities and by panchayats in villages. Which means, nothing much has changed on the educational front: we continue to have Tagores, Arundhati Roys, Adigas, Ramakrishnans and Nilekanis on the one side, and a large tribe with the badge of illiteracy around their neck on the other side.

It is against this backdrop that the RTE Act has assumed greater significance—it offers a framework for making quality education available to children freely, at least for eight years, across the nation. It aims at providing the requisite infrastructure, along with sufficient number of trained teachers, of course, all duly funded by the government. One estimate puts the funds required to implement the RTE Act in the next five years at Rs 1,71,000 cr, which means an annual expenditure of Rs 34,000 cr. The act envisages that the funding for the implementation of its provisions is to be shared by the central and state governments at the ratio of 55:45. 

Now, the real challenge is: Can states match the center in providing funds? If not, it would be a great shame for the country that is gloating about its emerging global power status. There is thus no escape from this all-inclusive duty of educating the nation. The significance of this duty aptly reflected in what the Prime Minister said in his address to the nation as the act came into force on April 1: “I am what I am today because of education.” However, unless the state governments submit themselves to this national duty and the elite monitor their performance rigorously, the act might just remain another guarantee on paper.

Act or no act, educating every child of India becomes possible only when parents perceive the importance of education for their wards, particularly, to live in tomorrow’s world. Simply put, it is as much the duty of parents as that of the government. Despite education being free, poor parents, no doubt, have to put up with many sacrifices—losses in terms of child labor wages, loss of assistance for household chores, and so on. Getting every child aged below 14 to school—particularly the girl-child—thus calls for far more than what the act offers. The government and social organizations have to do a lot of groundwork for making the act operable. It is a duty cast on the nation. Shouldn’t we be held responsible for its success?              
                                                                                                                 - GRK Murty


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