05 May 2012

Right To Education Act

Since the RTE became a law in our country nearly two years back, there have been a lot of panel discussions, symposia and other events centering round the contents of the RTE. It is interesting to hear voices from different stakeholders on the Act.

This morning's edition of a newspaper carried a very interesting article  on the issue. As Manabi Majumdar and Jos Mooij write, "The interaction between less privileged and rich students will enrich the experience of both". I endorse their viewpoint, from my professional experience and those of some of my former colleagues who worked in identical school community backgrounds in different countries.

The article took me down the memory lane to 1982 when I came across an interesting book entitled "CLEVER CHILDREN IN COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOLS" by Auriol Stevens  in a bookshop in Addis Ababa.  Auriol was Education Correspondent for The Observer  when she wrote the book. The first edition of the book was published by Penguin Books Ltd (UK) in 1980.

In this book, Auriol analyses a situation which prevailed in the UK then. It was a time when the British Government was trying to open increasing number of Modern Comprehensive Schools (somewhat similar to our State Government Schools) which catered mostly to children from less affluent and poor households. Affluent parents sent their children to high fee demanding private schools. Thus the situation was not very different from what we witness in our country today.

I think that the objectives of the RTE can be realised if the Union Education Ministry and Departments of School Education in different State Governments work with all stakeholders as partners in progress and help them to view the Act as a positive step in the right direction. In turn, schools can team up with their communities so that they can be child friendly. Perhaps this may require  a number of surveys, discussions, symposia, workshops etc involving the most important stakeholders viz. parents, teachers and children as active participants.

(Coming back to the article, I find the viewpoint of the Principal of  Shri Ram School, as quoted in the article, odd at a time when we are talking about `global village', `quality education for all children', `UN Millenium Development Goals' and so on).

When concluding the article, the writers say, "There are several trouble spots in Indian schools, both public and private, such as curriculum overload, excessive examination-orientation, competition for marks, etc., that can be dealt with only through public discussion, effort and action, and not through individualised private choice".  Curriculum overload and excessive examination-orientation are due to highly quantitative syllabi (prescribed by NCERT and most State Boards). These can easily be rectified by revamping the syllabi so that teachers teach effectively instead of `completing the syllabus'.  Competition for marks and related issues can  be solved by changing the current mindset of parents and quantity content employers.

Though RTE has come out as an effective plan, it is better if many issues are more clearly discussed and finalised. For example, fees reimbursement of 25% students from socio-economically weaker sections admitted in private schools according to RTE. Instead of reimbursing the amount to schools, the Government can work out `student vouchers', which parents or guardians can  use for buying textbooks, uniform and other classroom  related materials directly from authorised sellers. Such a system can prevent abuse of  tax payers' money to a large extent. Student vouchers are in vogue in many countries.

Though the RTE has stipulated a teacher pupil ratio, schools should be monitored as to whether they follow the correct procedure. (Suppose there is a school with 50 teachers catering to 1500 children. This data gives a teacher pupil ratio of 1:30. But this may include teachers who handle core subjects in large classes and teachers who handle elective subjects in small classes. Thus, the ratio does not necessarily reflect classroom reality and hence misleading. When authentic school education documents mention this indicator, what they mean is the indicator in actual classrooms. This fact is misunderstood by and large).

Most importantly, though agencies such as UNICEF will work with local  partners, the impact of RTE can only be realised by fine-tuning the document and then monitoring its impact using an effective watchdog mechanism which places values at its core.

The article is an eye-opener to K-12 education policy makers.

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About Me

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
I am a retired K-12 Education Management Professional. I have worked at different levels in K-12 school systems, textbook publishing, elearning and Education NGOs. I have held memberships in The Association for Science Education (UK), American Association of Physics Teachers and The Malaysian Institute of Physics. I hold a 1st class B Sc Degree in Physics followed by B Ed [English and Physical Science] and M A [Childcare and Education] degrees. My published works include 59 articles in teacher development magazines in India and the US and a book entitled `Creative Classrooms and Child Friendly Schools' (listed in Amazon). This book is almost an anecdotal account of my professional experience in six countries (including Cambodia where I worked as Technical Adviser to the Ministry of Education, Youth And Sports). I served as mentor in the Certificate of Teaching Mastery Program offered by Teachers Without Borders.