On Monday, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, completes three years of its existence — the time frame within which authorities were to ensure that its provisions were fully implemented — to make basic education a legal entitlement to all children aged 6-14.

However, official statistics and reports from the field paint a far-from satisfactory picture, with citizens moving court against the competent authority — the nodal agency charged with implementing the Act — for failing to deliver the goods.

Lack of teachers

Statistics show that a shortage of 12 lakh teachers in primary schools, 20 per cent of the teachers employed are untrained, and the student-teacher ratio falls short of the prescribed norms. Even infrastructure is not fully in place — and worse, learning outcomes leave much to be desired.

“I feel nothing has changed between yesterday and today. The Act was not taken seriously at all by the government. Even the achievable targets such as infrastructure and teacher recruitment have not been met in these three years,” says Kiran Bhatty, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, who has associated herself with the RTE Division of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), which is monitoring the implementation of the Act.

While admitting that achieving good learning outcomes required a longer period, Ms. Bhatty said the government shied away from giving publicity to the Act and its legal implications for the simple reason that it did not have to face questions. The fact that parents could go to court to claim entitlement for their children was not even known to many. “It is a shame that the government merely passed the Act without doing much to ensure its implementation in letter and in spirit.”

According to data for 2011-12 available from the District Information System for Education (DISE), of the 8.6 lakh untrained teachers, West Bengal accounted for 1.97 lakh, Bihar 1.86 lakh, Jharkhand 77,000, Jammu and Kashmir 31,000 and Arunachal Pradesh 9,000. The number of untrained teachers in Mizoram stood at 6,000, 1.43 lakh in Uttar Pradesh and 48,000 in Chhattisgarh.

The pupil-teacher ratio was RTE-compliant in only 59 per cent of the schools, while drinking water was available in 94.2 per cent. Ramp facilities were available in only 61.63 per cent of the schools; only 64.80 per cent of the primary schools had separate toilets for boys and girls. Lack of separate toilets for girls is one of the major reasons for dropout among girls.

Similarly, school management committees are yet to be set up in Delhi, Goa and West Bengal, though the RTE rules have been notified by all the States and the Union Territories.

Despite this gloomy scenario, NCPCR chairperson Shantha Sinha described the RTE as a historic Act that showed how the poorest of the poor could have access to schools. She told The Hindu that while most States formed child rights and school management committees, there was a gap in recruitment of teachers and adequate infrastructure, shortcomings which “I hope would be tackled with a sense of urgency.”

Another concern, Ms. Sinha said, were hundreds and thousands of out-of-school children who were child labour or trafficked. “There has to be a strong message from those in authority and the political system to deal with it.”