Sunday marked the completion of two years since the landmark Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act came into force. Although Tamil Nadu initially took time to come out with its draft rules before it notified them in November 2011, the School Education Department, over the last couple of months, has taken up a number of initiatives to raise awareness of the RTE Act. One such attempt was setting up a help desk to offer clarifications on the Act.

A month after the Directorate of Teacher Education Research and Training (DTERT) set up the desk, it continues to get a steady number of calls, including complaints. On an average, six calls are received a day with admission-related queries toping the list. Questions such as ‘How is neighbourhood defined?' and ‘Who belongs to weaker and disadvantaged sections?' are also raised periodically.

According to officials, the maximum number of calls – over 40 – was received in the first few days after the number was launched. The Department had even designated two District Institute of Education and Training (DIET) lecturers and a principal to man the helpline. Although the number of calls has come down, officials say it would pick up once schools reopen.

The cell is also receiving admission-related complaints from CBSE schools, but officials say they direct them to the Board's regional office.

Other complaints from schools coming under the purview of the State Government are directed to the Directorate of Elementary Education and Directorate of Matriculation Schools. While queries on RTE are clarified, officials say a mechanism is yet to be worked out to handle complaints as it has to be cross-checked and often, a written complaint is required.

While there is some teething trouble in certain respects, Tamil Nadu is, so far, the only State that has taken some initiative to clarify doubts by starting a RTE cell. Karnataka, for instance, is yet to notify its rules of the RTE Act. At the same time, Tamil Nadu is yet to set up State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR), which is essential to give a thrust to implementation of the RTE Act.

Henri Tiphagne, State representative of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) for RTE in Tamil Nadu, says that while the school education department has seasonal tasks to be performed, it must follow up on complaints.

“Give an NGO the task in every taluk or block to attend to complaints,” he suggests. The NCPCR, between April 2011 and March 2012, received 780 complaints from Andhra Pradesh, Delhi (517), Maharashtra (132), West Bengal (99), Uttar Pradesh (59), Orissa (35), Manipur (28) and Tamil Nadu (15).

On why there were only 15 complaints from Tamil Nadu, Mr. Tiphagne says it is because civil society is not bringing enough number of complaints to the NCPCR's notice.

In order to raise awareness, several more programmes should be conducted and importantly, complaints received should be followed up swiftly, he says.

Help desk can be reached at 94438 11129, 2827 8742, 2821 1391.

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Liffy ThomasJune 28, 2012