If it took six decades for the Central government to honour the constitutional commitment to provide free and compulsory education to all children in the age group of 05-14 by putting in place the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2010, the State governments, barring a few, have failed to complete the necessary spadework even a year after the law was enacted. The spadework related to notifying the rules governing the implementation of the Act and constituting the Council for Protection of Child Rights or Right to Education Protection Authority as stipulated in the Central Act. Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa, Sikkim, and Manipur are among the few States that had completed all the formalities relating to the implementation of the RTE Act.

Speaking at a media meet, Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal was brutally frank: “Now money is lying with us for setting up schools, employing teachers and providing all the support, but unless norms are framed [by the States] we cannot give them the money.” He said that it was unfair for the children of the State who were not getting what they “deserve rightfully.”

Teacher recruitment

A powerfully insightful article on RTE in this newspaper (“Why RTE remains a moral dream,” The Hindu, May 21, 2011) by Professor Krishna Kumar of the Department of Education of Delhi University has generated an excellent reader response. Tracing the reasons for the lukewarm response from State governments to the efforts of the Ministry of Human Resource Development at the Centre to persuade the State governments to own the law and implement it, the author said the snag could be seen in the poor handling of the appointment of teachers over the decades. The “worst obstacle” to the implementation of the RTE Act is, therefore, to be seen in the way they recruit and train teachers, whose role in ensuring quality elementary education as envisaged by the RTE Act is absolutely vital.

The guidelines to the Act for Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) made it clear that the implementation of the Act required the recruitment of a large number of teachers across the country in a time-bound manner. “In spite of the enormity of the task,” the guidelines noted, “it is desirable to ensure that quality requirement for recruitment of teachers are not diluted at any cost. It is therefore necessary to ensure that persons recruited as teachers possess the essential aptitude and ability to meet the challenges of teaching at the primary and upper primary level.”

Besides a comfortable teacher-student ratio, curriculum reform and better evaluation system have also been identified as the sine qua non for the successful implementation of the Act. Educationist S.S. Rajagopalan (Chennai) in his response to the article has endorsed the author's stress on quality improvement in teacher education. In his opinion, the National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE) has miserably failed to play a lead role in making teacher education an effective tool.

Another reader, S. Chidambaram (Chennai), observed that the level of education needed to be raised and only educating the educators could do that. In his view, the paucity of basic facilities in schools was a major impediment in realising the objectives of the RTE. He also pointed out that the law could be effective only if the number of government-aided schools increased.

A stumbling block

Apart from the hugely costly failure of State governments in training teachers, the mushrooming of self-financing schools of wildly variable quality, and extracting from parents huge sums of money as regular fees along with hidden capitation fees, have been a stumbling block to implementing the law to provide free and compulsory quality education to all children. These institutions are averse to allotting 25 per cent of the total number of seats for poor boys and girls. They have challenged certain aspects of the Act in courts. This has been the case in most of the States.

In several States, including Tamil Nadu, the big rises in the fees fixed by private and unaided schools have created unrest among parents. Tamil Nadu has been confronting yet another issue in education. The newly elected AIADMK government announced recently that the Samacheer Kalvi (equitable, quality education) Scheme introduced by the DMK government and was in practice during the last year would be deferred this year and that a committee would be formed to have a fresh look at the scheme.

Responding to the uncertainty and the apprehensions of students and parents, Minister of School Education C.Ve. Shanmugam offered the assurance that the “Samacheer Kalvi” scheme would not be abandoned. “Half-baked implementation,” he commented, “will not improve the quality.”

The media, print and digital, which played a major role in creating awareness among the people about the need for an RTE, have a vital role to play in ensuring that the system is constantly reminded of what needs to be done on the ground to accomplish what should have been done decades ago. Raising awareness without sustained, fact-based follow-up on issues that matter vitally to society is to leave the social responsibility role of the media half done.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in