Despite shortcomings, Right to Education Act a remarkable achievement: Ansari

New Delhi, March 21, 2016

Despite the shortcomings in its implementation, the Right to Education (RTE) Act remains a remarkable achievement that provides access, equity and inclusion for all children, Vice-President M. Hamid Ansari said here today.
Addressing the National Stocktaking Convention organized by the Right to Education Forum (REF), Mr Ansari said a critical appraisal of the functioning of the Right to Education revealed large gaps in its implementation.
These include the quality of education being provided, the high number of drop-outs and out of school children and the absence of equity in education.
He said quantity, quality and equality were the three sides of the triangle required to ensure Right to Education. The decline in State funding in the key social sector programmes, including education, was of particular concern, he added.
The Vice-President said the experience gained in operating the RTE for the past six years should inform the correctives to reduce the gaps – monitoring the implementation of the Act needs to be taken more seriously.  
Vibrant partnerships need to be created among the departments and organizations concerned with children along with acceleration of poverty reduction programmes in rural development.  State Governments should also get the Panchayati Raj institutions appropriately involved, he added.
“The Constitution (86th Amendment) Act 2002, which made elementary education a Fundamental Right- and its consequential legislation- the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, popularly called the Right to Education or RTE Act, represent a momentous step forward in the history of our republic,” Mr Ansari said.
The Act was a ground breaking piece of legislation, the first in the world that puts the responsibility of ensuring student enrolment, attendance and completion of elementary education on the Government, he added.
With RTE set to mark six years on March 31, 2016, an audit is  appropriate, particularly to locate deficiencies that exist, and chart out a course for the future, the Vice President said.
The government’s budget for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the main vehicle for the Act’s implementation, has increased substantially from Rs. 12,825 crore in 2009-10 to Rs 22,500 crore in 2016-17, he said.
Some 3.5 lakh schools have been opened in the last decade and 99% of India’s rural population now have a primary school within a one kilometre radius. A survey in 2014 reported that 84.4% schools now served mid-day meals, 48.2% schools had proper and functioning toilets for girls and 73% schools had available drinking water, he added.
The enrolment of girls has increased slightly from 48.12% in 2009-10 to 48.19% in 2014-15 at the elementary level. For boys, the enrolment at primary level is now 52%. A 55% decline in dropouts was also reported in the age group 6–14 years, from 13.46 million in 2005 to 6.06 million in 2014, with the annual average primary school dropout rate declining from 6.8% in 2009-10 to 4.3% in 2013-14, Mr Ansari said.
“Even with the increasing primary enrolment rates, India has the largest number of out-of-school children in the world which is more than the out of school children in whole of sub-Saharan Africa,” he added.
One of the most stringent criticisms of the RTE has been the quality of education being provided. The Global Monitoring Report 2012 ranked India a low 102 out of the 120 countries on the Education for All (EFA) Development Index, based on progress in universal primary education, adult literacy, gender parity and the quality of education, he said.
“Some surveys have revealed that while enrolment in elementary education in our country has increased, there has been a decline in the education outcomes, with abilities in reading, writing and other comprehensive skills deteriorating among children between the ages of 6 and 14.
“For instance, only a fourth of all children in standard III could read a standard II text fluently, a drop of more than 5% over five years, according to the 2014 Annual Status Report on Education Report (ASER). About Rs 1,15,625 crore ($17.7 billion) has been spent on Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the national programme for universal elementary education and a core element for implementing the RTE, over the last five years, “ he added.
“So the decline in the quality of learning is particularly disturbing. Low learning and falling quality of education imparted to children has grave implications for the future of our society and the country. This should be a cause for serious concern to the government,” the Vice President said.
The quality of education suffers due to understaffing and lack of training of teachers. The flow of public funds has so far been focused on developing school infrastructure. Teacher training has been a neglected area. An Oxfam India policy report in March 2015 indicated that over 5 lakh sanctioned teacher’s posts were lying vacant and more than 6.6 lakh in-service teachers were untrained, he said.
Around 37% of primary schools were found to be non-conformant with the prescribed national pupil – teacher ratio (PTR) norm of 30:1. Moreover, around 10% of schools across the country remained single teacher schools, he added.
Teacher absenteeism, which is rampant in several parts of the country, particularly impacts the disadvantaged students. The UNESCO EFA Monitoring Report for 2014, noted that teacher absenteeism in India varied from 15% in Maharashtra to 42% in Jharkhand.
“We need many more good teachers- and the only way to do that is to make the remuneration more attractive, recruit better teachers, provide them with better training and monitor their performance and availability closely,” he added.

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