As the State government gets ready to implement the landmark Right to Education (RTE) Act, which came into force in April 2010, private schools, parents, educationists and non-governmental organisations have a number of concerns over key clauses of the legislation.
All of them have welcomed the Act, but there are challenges in the road to realising free and compulsory education to every child aged six to 14 years.
Last week, the School Education Department released the draft rules evolved by the State, which was designed by an advisory committee constituted by the government.
"The government has already passed a few orders related to the Act," says D. Jagannathan, former Director of School Education, who heads the advisory committee.
For instance, a Government Order dated July 12, 2010, states: "No child shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education in a school."
The State government, which had until then been following a 'no detention policy' till Class V in its schools made it applicable till Class VIII, following the RTE Act.
Other GOs include one that designates the Directorate of Teacher Education Research and Training (DTERT) as the academic authority for academic matters pertaining to the RTE Act. Another looks at teacher recruitment to meet the Teacher Pupil Ratio specifications of 1: 30 in the primary level and 1: 35 in the upper primary level.
However, there are concerns. Non-governmental organisations and educationists, who convened a meeting here last week, have criticised the State government's draft rules for adopting a "bureaucratic approach."
They say local authorities have been replaced by Local Education Authority in the State's draft rules, implying that the panchayat, municipality or Corporation has no role.
The provision for a grievance redress mechanism in the model rules of the State has been deleted. Also, with the no detention scheme, maintenance of standards would be a challenge.
"Whether it is prohibiting tuitions or schools taking capitation fee, the Act and the State's draft rules are weak on penalties. We have pledged to file complaints for non implementation of the Act," says O. Fernandes of Human Rights Advocacy and Research Foundation.
On reserving 25 per cent of seats in private schools for children belonging to disadvantaged groups, parents like Anu Alagappan feels schools will have to play a crucial role to ensure that no disparity is created in the classroom.
"Will the government ensure that needs of such children are met, whether its expenses for a picnic or other extra-curricular activities?" asks the mother of a student at Sacred Heart Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Church Park.
Many other parents say abolishing tuitions is not really possible in our education system.
According to K. Shanmugavelayutham, convener, Tamilnadu Forum for Creche and Childcare Services (TN-FORCES), draft rules in various States taken into account the quality of education, appointment of school counsellors and the percentage of seats to be allocated to children coming in the disadvantaged group.
In Puducherry, for instance, the cluster resource person shall assist the head of the school to monitor quality and in case of a lapse it should be brought to the notice of the inspecting officer and block resource coordinator.
To facilitate children with disabilities in getting access to education, Andhra Pradesh draft rules state that home based education would be provided to children who cannot be transported to neighbourhood schools. Kerala draft rules talks of a Unique Identification Number and biometric identification for every child by the school.
The State government will soon constitute a State Advisory Council chaired by School Education Minister Thangam Thennarasu. It will have on board secretaries to select departments of the government and senior officials.
Its primary role will be to facilitate the effective implementation of the Act. The SSA wing will also act as a vehicle that would implement the RTE Act.
"We already have a good network in place. We are now aligning our work closer to the requirements of the RTE Act," said a senior SSA official.
What they say
D. Jagannathan, chairman of the State government's advisory committee on RTE Act: "The implementation of the Act has already begun at different stages. It is a robust exercise, which cannot be taken up by a single committee or agency. It warrants the collective effort of the Directorate of Elementary Education, the SSA wing, the other directorates within the School Education Department, schools and local authorities. We are all working in that direction."
K. Shanmugavelayutham, Convenor, TN-FORCES: "Tamil Nadu should take a cue from the draft rules of other state governments. Incorporating clauses such as quality, child tracking system and UID will ensure the Act is better enforced in every school. The current draft rules are more bureaucratic. The advisory council should have representations of the civil."
Chitra Prasad, Correspondent and Principal, NSN Matriculation School: "On one hand, private schools have been asked to reduce the fee, and on the other hand, the RTE Act mandates free education for 25 per cent of the student strength. We already cater to a heterogeneous group of students and are struggling to run the school. The principles behind the Act are laudable, but practical difficulties have to be taken into account while framing the rules. Ultimately, education has to reach the masses, not just the classes."