Educationists emphasise importance of public participation

The Right to Education (RTE) Act guarantees children a place in school but it requires political will and public participation in running schools and sensitive bureaucrats who understand the needs of children to make it effective, say education activists.

At a discussion organised by The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy here on Wednesday, eminent persons associated with children’s education spoke of the ways in which to ensure that the RTE was a right in letter and in spirit.

The panellists included Akshay Mangla, Assistant Professor, Harvard Business School, M.P. Vijayakumar, former State Project Director, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, S.S. Rajagopalan, former headmaster, Sarvajana School, Coimbatore, and Balaji Sampath, Chief Executive Officer, Aid India. V. Vasanthi Devi, former Vice-Chancellor, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, moderated the discussions.

The Indian government’s mandate in the 1960s was a common school system that would be “the bedrock of education system,” and an allotment of a minimum of six per cent of GDP for education. “But it remains a far cry,” said Dr. Vasanthi Devi.

Dr. Mangla, who described his experience in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, said bureaucrats’ ways of functioning had an impact on the quality of education. In Himachal Pradesh, officials allowed parents’ participation in schools with the support of the State’s leaders but in Uttarakhand bureaucrats denied public participation and, as a result, children moved to private schools.

Mr. Vijayakumar said although the RTE had ensured that 90-95 per cent of children were in school and could access education, much needed to be done to train them to think and act independently, and learn problem-solving skills and democratic values. Sensitivity, clarity and leadership qualities in bureaucrats would provide the impetus, he felt.

According to Dr. Rajagopalan, it is the government’s duty to provide quality education to all. While political will was important, the community should have a sense of ownership of schools. “Children are treated like beggars and slaves. Unless the dignity of children is maintained, how can they learn,” he asked.

Dr. Balaji suggested that bureaucrats allow active public participation in schools as parents had the right to decide whether their children were getting quality education. Former Madras High Court judge K. Chandru called for a systemic change in the recruitment and appointment of teachers. He also suggested the mobilisation of the public to ascertain the proper functioning of schools, instead of seeking the court’s intervention through public interest litigation pleas.

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