The recent SC judgment on RTE is by all means historic. It has made “Education of every child in the age group 6-14 years” a fundamental right. The idea of making education a fundamental right augers well with Indian mindset. After all, people are increasingly preferring Education as the way to emancipate themselves from poverty over other means. Education has proven its power. Stories abound on how education has helped many individuals to bring their families out of poverty. Starting from Lal Bahadur Shastri who used to swim across a river to go to school, we have many examples and inspiring tales on what Education can make out of an individual. So then RTE makes perfect sense. But the question remains: does RTE Act 2009 make any sense? Right to Education as a concept is a different thing and RTE Act 2009 is a different thing altogether!

The problem at the outset is not with Education as a fundamental right. As Sudhir Kumar rightly points out, the devil is in details. Implementation of the act is still a cause of severe confusion. But first, let us take a look at the act itself. Bloggers Reality Check India and Sudhir Kumar have already documented where and how the terminology of RTE looks very very shady. We cannot miss the number 25% and the propaganda behind this gimmick. Please do read both these pieces on these aspects. As for this blog post, we will go into other areas.

As we have seen previously, UPA and NAC have been showing a very unhealthy obsession with parallel authority. Creating parallel branches of justice delivery or investigating agencies with extra-ordinary rights is something that NAC has probably mastered. RTE is no different. Read Section 13 of this notified RTE (2009).

Section 13:1) No school or person shall, while admitting a child, collect any capitation fee and subject the child or his or her parents or guardian to any screening procedure.

2) Any school or person in contravention of the provisions of the subsection-1:

a) receives capitation fee, shall be punishable with fine which may extend to ten times the capitation fee;

b) subjects a child to screening procedure, shall be punishable with fine which may extend to twenty-five thousand rupee for the first contravention and fifty thousand rupees for each subsequent contraventions.

This section needs to be understood very carefully, especially because this section defines the punishment/penalty for contraventions. Another question that comes up is”whether or not 25,000 rupees is really a deterrent“. Moreover, 25,000 rupees 10 years later would not hold the same value as today. How is fixing the penalty to some number justified? We may say these modalities can be revised on a timely basis. But leaving out such parameters shows how hasty Kapil Sibal and his ministry have been in framing this policy. Moreover, it looks like there is too much of concentration on “protecting these citizen rights” than “enabling citizens to use these rights in a proper and beneficial way”. Let us look further. Look at Section 33 and 34.

Section 33:1) The Central Government shall constitute, by notification, a National Advisory Council, consisting of such number of members, not exceeding fifteen, as the Central Government may deem necessary, to be appointed from amongst persons having knowledge and practical experience in the field of elementary education and child development.

2) The functions of National Advisory Council shall be to advise the Central Government on implementation of the provisions of the Act in an effective manner.

3) The allowances and other terms and conditions of the appointment of members of the National Advisory Council shall be such as may be prescribed.

Section 34:

1) The State Government shall constitute, by notification, a State Advisory Council, consisting of such number of members, not exceeding fifteen, as the State Government may deem necessary, to be appointed from amongst persons having knowledge and practical experience in the field of elementary education and child development.

2) The functions of State Advisory Council shall be to advise the Central Government on implementation of the provisions of the Act in an effective manner.

3) The allowances and other terms and conditions of the appointment of members of the State Advisory Council shall be such as may be prescribed.

Thankfully, Kapil Sibal didn’t make these councils as the central point of contact for grievances and redressal like FSB proposed in case of PDS. However, one cannot deny that RTE Act 2009 seems to be just another activity of creating more bodies accountable to nobody. There are also norms and standards laid down by this act for a school. To list them briefly,

  • For class 1 to class 5, number of teachers should : 2 for upto 60 students, 3 for 61-90, 4 for 91-120, 5 for 121-200, 5 + 1 head teacher for 150 children. For above 200 children, pupil-teacher ratio shall not exceed 40.
  • For class 6 to class 10, number of teachers should : At least one teacher per class, so that there will be at least one teacher for a) Science and Mathematics b) Social Studies c) Languages, at least 1 teacher for every 35 children, where admission of children is above 100 – a full time head teacher, part time instruction for a) art education b) health and physical education c) work education
  • Building norms: all weather building consisting of – a) at least one class room for every teacher and an office-cum-store-cum-Head teacher’s room, b) barrier-free access, c) separate toilet for boys and girls, d) safe and adequate drinking facility to all children, e) a kitchen where mid-day meals is cooked in the school, f) play-ground
  • There are some more “norms and standards” on minimum number of working hours, library, teaching equipment etc.

All these norms are “cost”. Nothing else. They do not improve quality of education or teaching. Not one parameter that looks at actually providing education to children across India has been presented in this Act. The numbers proposed in this Act have no scientific basis, at least none that Kapil Sibal explains in any of his speeches or prime time debates. Just how did Kapil Sibal arrive at these numbers?

Successful Schools which may be wiped due to this Act

There is a concept called Ekal Vidyalaya which grew in importance in various states from Bihar to Andhra Pradesh as people’s initiative during late 90s and early 2000s. It had NDA government’s support till 2004 and when UPA came to power, funding was stopped in 2005. Today, the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation alone funds the project. It was conceptualized and implemented by Ramesh Popli, a US returned nuclear scientist. The concept is equivalent of Single Room schools that were prevailing in US some time ago. The underlying principle is “Education with a holistic approach considering not only literacy, but also healthcare, awareness and hygiene”. To quote from their website:

The Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation is a charitable trust that initiates, supports, and runs one-teacher schools (popularly known as Ekal Vidyalayas) all over the country. With the participation of numerous non-profit trusts and organizations, this program has now become the greatest education movement in the country.

Classes normally take place under a tree or in a hut. Also, local customs and belief systems are used by the lone teacher in each school in imparting education. Thus while reducing cost of operating a school, imparting education has been the priority of this organization. The success of Ekal Vidyala model is there for everyone to see. Heres a statistic to start with : 38,111 schools and 10,76, 421 students. Now, apply the above mentioned rules from RTE Act 2009 and take a look at Ekal Vidyalaya again. Yes, many of these 38,000+ schools would be wiped out for lack of funds. Subsequently many of these close to 11 lakh children would be deprived not only of education but also hygiene, basic healthcare and eventually empowerment.

What is the way forward?

All said and done, with SC’s judgment on RTE 2009 act, it is clear that RTE is going to be a law. In fact, there is no political route to counter this either. Any party which opposes this bill will be dubbed as “anti-India”, “anti-poor” in many interesting analyses with zero data. To expect a political party to vote against this bill is nothing short of day-dreaming. So, we will try to understand how whatever little can be done with this hastily prepared act containing so many open areas, loop holes and Sibal-isms.

Fact is the right minded parties have not yet lost the battle. There is still a way to ensure this Act does not become another corruption catalyst. This area is “implementation”. It is not that countries like US have had a great record with education. Examples abound as to how such countries tried to address issues with literacy. Milton Friedman in his seminal TV series on various issues concerning US covered Education in one of the episodes. The whole 60 minute episode is available on Youtube [Link]. Interested reader is requested to spend 60 minutes to watch this episode to understand the intricate details of problems US faced in education, especially High School education. Clearly, problems US faced are no so different from the ones India is facing. Solutions many not be exactly same but we can definitely take a leaf or two out of their experience.

In the current debate on RTE, be it in prime-time or in print, there is no discussion on taking the route of “Education Vouchers” for implementing RTE Act 2009. Currently, reimbursement route is being discussed [1, 2]. This route is ripe with dangers and pit-falls. Monitoring so many schools – private, unaided, government operated – across India would be a humongous task, opening new doors for corruption, cheating and fraud. Given that the policy itself is not data driven, any decision made on reimbursement amount, expected expenditure per student etc., is bound to be erroneous. The RTE Act 2009 clearly concentrates on “service provider side” of the problem. It does not even address the “consumer side” of the issue.

Let us for a moment concentrate on attacking the problem from consumer side of the issue. Implementing this act via Education Vouchers route will attack the problem from consumer side. We may as well say that giving the parents money for this purpose would be good. The problem then would be that there is no way to ensure that the money is used for the purpose of education of their kids. Education vouchers and certificates could be provided to the parents, who may use them to pay tuition fee to the schools. Private and unaided schools would in turn cash them, where as government operated schools may not. This scheme would have two effects at a fundamental level:

1) Provides parents choice in choosing better schools. It opens possibilities for parents serious about education of their kids, like funding education partly from education vouchers and partly from help from philanthropists, NGOs etc., and partly from their pockets. This would enable them to chose better schools. RTE Act 2009 also does this. But it does this by binding a school to provide education to the seeker for free, which means that school would levy the cost of education of such children on those “not covered in 25% mentioned in RTE Act 2009” i.e., Education is costlier for APL families. Education Vouchers ensure supplier side is not effected much and yet ensures consumer has an elevation to seek better education.

2) Parents get to plan their children’s’ education better. More possibilities emerge like counseling at government offices or NGOs in helping parents plan schooling for their children. This aspect is completely left out in RTE Act 2009. There is no mechanism even today in helping parents to plan their children’s’ education. When we say “education is a fundamental right”, ideally we would want to have a mechanism to “enable people to use these rights”. RTE Act 2009 does not talk of this.

As a matter of fact, many countries across the world like Sweden, Britain etc., have already implemented Education Vouchers or Tax Credit for tuition fee as a policy to improve education systems, with good to marginal success. Political parties should bring out these angles into the ongoing debate on RTE Act 2009. Since we have already run out of Judicial route to counter this Act, there is only one route left – strategically steering implementation debate. Education Voucher route is the most suitable route that right minded parties can adopt. Debate should be carefully and deliberately pushed in this direction. If prime time media and print media continue to steer this debate in the current angle of numbers which do not have any scientific basis, this Act while failing to achieve the set objective – education for every child, would also act a huge catalyst for corruption at not only Government-Educational Institution interface but also Government-people interface.

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Kesava

Kesava

K V Sarma J is a semi conductor chip design engineer based out of Bangalore. His main areas of study apart from Indian politics are Electronics, Education sector and Integral Humanism. He blogs at http://vivekitam.wordpress.com
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