Are we serious about educating our children?

Published: February 2, 2015 12:09 AM

How do we provide quality education when we have not been able to even ensure trained and qualified teachers for our children?

The historic Right of Children to Education (RTE) Act 2009 promised what was to be a revolution in the education sector in India. Amidst much fanfare, the Act offered free and compulsory elementary education to children across the country, hoping to impact the lives of millions of boys and girls, deprived of the basic right to education. With deadlines set for achieving stated goals, the Act has been in force since 2010.

But have we been able to stick to our word? The second deadline, by which all teachers had to be professionally trained, is a little over two months away, but it seems like a far-fetched reality. What is unfortunate is that this seems far more difficult a target to achieve than what was slated for the first major deadline in April 2013. This was the agreed deadline to meet the provisions related to the rights of children, teachers, schools, and monitoring with a focus on child-friendly and child-centred curriculum. The progress, however, has been at a snail’s pace, remarkably negligible in many parameters.

While there has been an increase in the education budget post notification of RTE status rules and implementation guidelines across states and Union Territories, reports suggest less than 10% schools are 100% RTE compliant. More needs to be done and is evident from the fact that an estimated 6.04 million children in the age group 6-13 still remain out of school (as per the Review Report by HRD ministry, 2014). What requires adequate mention is that million others drop out before completing the full cycle of elementary education.

While implementation is still a struggle on ground, the focus of the government has clearly shifted from mere access to education to providing ‘quality’ education to students. How do we provide quality education when we have not been able to ensure trained and qualified teachers for our children? We have been constantly battling not just lack of trained and qualified teachers, but the minimum number of teachers that are required in the first place. Under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the current total sanctioned teacher posts (till 2012-13) in the country were 19.82 lakh while the number recruited was estimated at 12.9 lakh, leaving a vacancy of a whooping 7 lakh against sanctioned posts. The prevalence of single teacher schools in contravention of the RTE Act is also a matter to be urgently taken up. The percentage of teachers without the minimum qualifications has been hovering at approximately 20% for the last four years with no signs of improvement. This is ironic, especially when we know that teachers are central and possibly the most essential aspect to realising the goal of quality teaching and learning outcomes.

The training of teachers seems to be a low priority area as of now. According to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan reports, from 2009 to 2012, only 2% of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan budgets have been spent on teacher training. To add to the woes, the lack of trained teachers has led many states to recruit para-teachers in their place. A study by RTE forum found that one out of ten ‘teachers’ are those who teach on behalf of government appointed teachers and have not come through the selection process nor have their qualifications been verified by the state education authorities.

The appointment of these ‘sub-contact’ or ‘proxy’ teachers at a minimal salary is gross violation of the RTE Act. It comes as no surprise that many children can’t even do basic mathematics and comprehend basic reading material at an age when they should be able to.

Achieving the milestone of all teachers being trained and having minimum qualifications till April 2015 is a clearly a remote possibility.

The migration of students to private schools or aided schools has also not proved to be improving this state either. Moreover, the decision of many state governments to close or merge thousands of government schools is only adding on to the problems without providing a clear solution to ensure quality.

Taking stock of the progress and what needs to be the future course of action to achieve RTE targets is the immediate action that the national and state governments should undertake. For achieving this, strengthened monitoring, adequate resource allocation as well as utilisation, and concerted steps towards reaching out to marginalised children should be imperative. Concerted efforts to ensure that teachers gain a strong ownership of children, are trained and qualified to act as agents of change should be taken up immediately.

We are optimistic that the upcoming RTE Review following five years of implementation of the Act and the new education policy will refocus the Indian government’s efforts to ensure that India’s children get the actual benefit of the Act as it was envisaged.

By Puja Marwaha

The author is the CEO of CRY—Child Rights and You

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