“Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex” - Karl Marx


Right to Education: A Dream Half Forgotten

Nelson Mandela says, "Education is the single most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Since the beginning of human history, education has evolved over time. Making education accessible to children is one of the first steps towards India's upliftment.

In 2009, the enactment of the Right to Education (RTE) by the government, allowed free and compulsory education to all children from six to fourteen years. The word "free" meaning, that no child will bear any financial expenses that will prevent him from pursuing his primary education.

RTE requires private schools to reserve 25% seats for the children of low income families. India was finally witnessing a formation of Fundamental Right in terms of education. The Act was supposed to be a game changer and an important milestone in the history of education. However, RTE is yet to witness its completion and at a closer look several loopholes, come to the fore.

The government further regulated that the students up to Class VIII will be allowed to go to the next class even though they are not eligible for promotion and they also cannot be expelled. RTE may have an altruistic motive but isn't it a little risky to only aim at bringing up the literacy rates and not improve the quality of education in our country? The students fail to take their learning seriously because they know they will get a promotion anyway. Many leave schools without any knowledge or skills.

Ambarish Rai, a right to education activist and national convener of the RTE said, "The government is trying to say that by doing away with the no detention policy, they can improve quality of education whereas they are running away from their responsibilities of improving teaching in schools." Usha Ram, an educationist and former principal of Laxman Public School believes that students face difficulty in Class IX and X. She says, "Abolishing no-detention will help students learn to cope." 

In January 2019, Parliament decided to abolish the "no detention policy". The states are given a choice and they can hold an examination at the end of Class V or Class VIII or both. If a student fails, they are given an opportunity to reappear in the examination within two months' time. However, the state has the choice to either use or scrap the "no detention policy". Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar says that 25 states started demanding the right to change the "No detention" policy and hence the amendment of the Bill ensued.

Children are the future of the nation but the real question at hand here is, "What happens to those children once they cross the age of fourteen?" The Right to Education not only lacks a proper implementation but is also failing a child. Is the government going to leave their task unconsummated by only giving free education till Class VIII?

The students hailing from the weaker sections of the society and disadvantaged groups, who are studying under the RTE quota are facing difficulty in continuing their education after Class VIII because they are only left with a choice to pay the fees, dropout of school or join a government school. There is a high dropout rate after Class VIII in many of the states in our country.

In the table above, we see that in 2014-15 the dropout rates are elevated from Class IX to X. After all, what is the point of the whole progress, if the dropout rate keeps increasing after Class VIII? Does RTE even make any difference to our lives?

The 2016-17 statistics of the United District Information System for Education shows that in Bihar 39% students withdrew from schools after Class VIII as compared to 25% in the previous year and in Jharkhand, the dropout rate was 12% more than the previous year.

Further, a petition has been filed by NGO Social Jurist seeking free education for students up to Class XII under RTE, in  private unaided schools. The Delhi High Court asked the Central government to file a status report on extension of the RTE. The matter is said to be under consideration and the new government will hopefully be taking a decision.

RTE is no way a practical method to promote education and literacy. Looking at only short term benefits will not help India towards expansion. The 25% reservation by private schools is a laudable idea. But the main challenge is the attitude of the administration. Further, in many schools the teachers are ignorant of the subjects and do not cater to the needs of the children. It is ironical that the RTE has turned a blind eye to an exceedingly crucial issue: teachers' training and education programmes.

Many private schools overload parents with ancillary expenses of books and uniforms, when the RTE strictly says that no fee will be charged. A number of parents logged a complaint in Bhopal stating that the school had asked them to pay the fees and citied reason that they are not covered any longer under the RTE scheme. District education officer D.K.Sharma said that an inquiry had been set up and that such a case would help them ascertain if other schools were indulging in the same practice.

Further, there were numerous Right to Education frauds, denoting that many schools have discovered that the parents submitted fake income certificates so that they could use the RTE quota. In this way people who actually need the seat are deprived of an opportunity.

India has one third of the world's illiterates. The RTE act may have been an important milestone but the Act has not done justice when it comes to the quality of education. If 47% of children in Class V can read a Class II level text, then we cannot come to a conclusion that India's literacy rates have come up. Right to Education is an inalienable human right and the power to pave way towards development is in our hands.

The UPA led government in 2009 tried to bring about a change in the system by making education achievable for most. They tried to make all schools RTE compliant. It's been ten years now and we can finally say that they were looking at only short term benefits. Praveen Dalal, a Supreme Court lawyer said, "The Right to Education was drafted in haste and without much deliberation." 

The RTE act needs clarity and its issues need to be revisited. Only then can every child take a step towards fulfilling their dreams.  


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