FE Editorial : Right to what

Written by The Financial Express | Updated: Jan 21 2013, 06:25am hrs
With over 96% of children aged 6-14 in rural areas enrolled in school, its obvious the governments Right to Education (RTE) Act is working. Whats happening to these children inside schools is quite another matter. Indias schooling system, it is well accepted, has many drawbacks in terms of the inability to teach children adequately. Just how inadequately is best brought out by NGO Prathams Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) which points to the percentage of children in Class V being able to read even a Class II text at a miserable 46.8% in 2012. In the case of Maths, similarly, a little over half of the kids enrolled in Class V were able to solve a two-digit subtraction without borrowing. While thats bad, consider what Prathams previous surveys have shownthese numbers have been falling with each passing year. In the case of English, the proportion of Class V kids who couldnt even read Class II texts was 53.7% in 2010, this fell to 48.2% in 2011 and to 46.8% in 2012. For Maths, a similar fall can be seen.

Since the only real change thats taken place over the past few years is the implementation is the RTE, its reasonable to ask whether that is, in fact, responsible for this slide. Though there is no proof that this is the case, this may well have something to do with the collapse. After all, since the RTE states that no kid can be held back for non-performance, this could be a reason for the fall in standards. The continuous comprehensive evaluation (CCE) has been cited by many as another reason.

Either way, the government needs to get to the bottom of why results are worsening. Equally important, and related, is the sharp increase in private schoolingin even rural areas, this is up from 18.7% in 2006 to 28.3% in 2012, suggesting India could have 50% private schooling by 2018 if the trend continues. Thats not surprising considering Pratham finds the gap between government and private schooling is increasing. For the number of Class 3 students being able to read Class 1 texts, the gap increased from 12% in 2008 to more than 20% in 2012; for Class 5 students being able to read Class 2 texts, the gap increased from close to 15% in 2008 to almost 20% in 2012. In which case, the government needs to wonder about whether private schooling is to be encouraged or discouraged. The RTE, in more ways than one, does the latter.