RTE and a few perspectives
The RTE has got past the Lok Sabha as well. What does this signify for India as a nation ? What can we expect as a result of this historic step ?
First, the policy makers deserve a short but sure appreciation for having gone past this stage. Unfortunately, there is no excuse for the same guys who could have done this about five years ago when they were in power. So, along with the credit of doing it this time, the discredit of having imposed a disastrous Education Minister and his regime on the nation belongs squarely on the same team.
Now, the good news. It is heartening to note that education, as an agenda, is vying for space in all kinds of mainstream media and Mr Sibal is as much in the spotlight as any other celebrity or politician. This augurs well for the country; and hopefully, Mr Sibal will more than make up for his particularly illustrious predecessor!
Actually, there is nothing to celebrate other than feel good about the intent. Do we really deserve to pause and pat ourselves for declaring our intent about the most fundamental of things a free thinking democratic society needs to offer its citizen ?
Some issues that need a critical view :
- A poor citizen is a more perceptive consumer
In our harangue about considering education as a fundamental right, we seem to be feeling superior that we are taking education and making it accessible to the poor or the under-serviced member of the society. A few hours (and not even years) of work in the grass root level tells you a story that is far more humbling that what we can imagine.
There is an unquestioned assumption that if we set up a school and populate it with trained teachers with good salaries, there will be a horde of students and the problem of education would be solved. The fact is there are over 40,000 schools in the country with all those facilities that are considered critical (land, building and teachers on the roll), but have no students !
Now, think a little harder about the problem of access!
Without exception, every Govt. school in any neighbourhood is losing students to that start-up school set up by an edu-entrepreneur who charges about Rs 150 or Rs 300 per student in place of ZERO in a Govt school. And the customers who are walking away are the landless labourers, the daily wage earning women, the rickshaw-wallah the peasant, the neighbourhood merchant and so on. NOTthe children of alumni from IIT or an IIM! The poor family is more perceptive than he is credited with.
- No Focus on Outcomes
Our entire RTE continues to focus on inputs, and forgets about outputs or outcomes. The emphasis is on the facilities, the land, the adherence to rules etc., and sadly, the focus we must expect on the educational and skill outcomes for children is completely missing. How much has the child learnt ? Can she count numbers ? Can she learn a few skills and become employable, should she drop out by the age of 14 ? We are nowhere near these ideals.
- Still CBSE-centric
In India, 90 percent of children drop out of school by the age of 14 - give or take a couple of percentage points. The reasons are not hard to gauge. The compulsion for a child to contribute to household earnings through some means is a strong reason. The linkage visible to going to school and earning livelihood skills is non-existent. Our pace of implementing skills-education is nowhere close to the importance it deserves. The entire school education is designed to address the aspirations of the Babu’s socio-economic strata and does not empathize with the realities of the USD 5 per day citizen of the country.
- Right to opportunities is the next ideal
Quite funnily, I found a headline stating that RTE will impose a ban on teachers’ offering tuitions at home. That sounds like Cuba or North Korea and not a democratic India. In fact, the Maharashtra Govt has already made a noise or two about this ‘declaration’.
My worry is of a far more fundamental nature. We, as a nation, must work towards not just taking education to the poorest of citizens, but aim at offering the best of inputs with an uncompromising commitment to deliver the finest of outcomes. We try and do this at our Indus Academies (schools for the BOP segment) in rural AP. The Key Performance Indicators for this school that charges Rs 150 per child (with over 30% unable to even afford a rupee of fee) are exactly the same as that or the Indus World Schools (Rs 2000 per month) in the urban areas of the country.
What does that translate to ? If IWS aims at creating an IIT entrant straight out of school, Indus Academy aims exactly that from her own rolls. If we are aiming at a smart sports person, or a skilled craftsman from one, it is the same in the other.
Needless to say, the educationists must believe in the reality that every child is unique and supremely talented in some area or the other. The question is not of talent, but of outcome and performance-oriented culture, practices, and processes inside any school in the country.
An RTE must move on and aim to provide equal opportunities to every child towards building the best possible livelihood or career that s/he is capable of. We are still at the first threshold among the ideals that we must be chasing.
- Different yardsticks
The yardsticks used to measure the Govt. or Govt. sponsored and supported schools is different from those being applied to a private school. Quite ironically, this does not reflect the beliefs and convictions of the HRD Minister after an interaction or two. And, my belief is that a bunch of on-the-run interventions is what he is likely to be resorting to, instead of getting a flawless draft of RTE. If so, I am fine by it and would run along.
- Goof-ups / Oversights galore
One of the stand-out in the goof-ups list is completely missing out on the differently-abled from the definition, writing ‘suffering’ from disability in a document tabled in the Parliament, and so on.
- The era of innovation is here
Our challenges are so big and we are so late reaching the arena that there has to be a huge surge of innovative strategies and tactics to make up for the lost time. PPP, access through edu-vouchers, more virtual schools (not talked about yet), exclusive early skill schools (not talked about yet) are going to be some of the initiatives necessary for India to play catch up.
Hopeful Era, nevertheless :
After the darkest era for the field of education, this one promises to be bright. KS has an onerous task. However, his bright, cheerful and engaging intellect, coupled with the enthusiasm to make a difference is seen with a lot of hope by an edu-practitioner like me. I would be deeply disappointed if education does not become the most sought after area of work, or among the most active area of economic and developmental activity in the next five years.
Satya Narayanan R
Indus World School
Indus World University (proposed)