Notification of rules is a step forward, but a lot more needs to be done

A bunch of children selling toys at a traffic signal, small boys cleaning tables at restaurants or washing glasses at tea shops or little girls engaged as baby sitters – the effective implementation of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, will possibly make such instances a thing of the past.

However, for such children or their parents and communities they are part of to know that they are entitled to free education in a school in the neighbourhood, and realise the value of education itself, a series of initiatives aimed at raising awareness is key, note educationists.

The State government notified the rules under the RTE Act earlier this month (http://bit.ly/RTErules), giving details of how it would interpret various clauses. This may be a step forward, but a lot more needs to be done.

S. Chandra, who works as domestic help, has admitted her child to a matriculation school in T. Nagar. Though she might qualify for free admission as per the clause on private schools reserving at least 25 per cent of their seats for children from disadvantaged groups in the neighbourhood, she has little clue to such a clause or the Act.

“Will the government pay for my child? How will the school allow it? How will the school manage? Should we pay some other fee?” - are her immediate questions and concerns too.

It is, in fact, parents like her and children such as hers who need to be provided with more information on the Act. P.B. Prince Gajendra Babu, general secretary, State Platform for Common School System, says to start with the Director of School Education has to circulate a detailed plan of action to schools and school administrators.

Since most private schools will begin their admission process for the next academic year as early as January, the government must make sure the process is transparent, say experts.

“The State government should make Tamil translations of the entire Act and the rules notified by it widely available. It should engage theatre groups like it did soon after the Act was passed and spread the message in remote areas in villages as well as slum tenements in the city,” Mr. Babu says.

Moreover, he suggests that committees be formed in each of the 65 educational districts in the State, to monitor implementation of the Act, and plan activities to raise awareness of the Act among people there.

Sensitising students, parents and school managements simultaneously is important. N. R. Murali, deputy commissioner, Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, Chennai Region, says: “A person who holds power locally could be entrusted the responsibility of looking at how RTE is being implemented in a particular area. The councillor or an experienced activist who has been involved with local issues should periodically monitor whether schools are adhering to the clauses.”

Another aspect that does not get sufficient attention in Mr. Murali's opinion is quality. “It is teachers' responsibility to motivate children and come up with effective teaching methodologies that ensure all children meet minimum levels of learning,” he says.

According to a senior official of the School Education Department, a host of activities are being been planned to raise awareness of the RTE Act. “The rules have just been notified. We are working on programmes to increase awareness,” he said.