The Right to Education (RTE) Act turned three on March 31, 2013. It is certainly a short period to examine its efficacy, yet it is enough to give us a fair idea of the hurdles that are being faced and have to be tackled to get positive results. Most of these hurdles are attitudinal.
The services of retired teachers are mostly sought for imparting “special training” to out-of-school children after which they are to mainstreamed in regular schools in their age-appropriate classes, according to Section 4 of the Act. These teachers are attuned to the routine teaching methods, while the “special training” teacher has to have a different attitude altogether. He has to be bias-free and sympathetic towards his pupils, which is difficult even in the regular schools as has been pointed out in the Public Report on Basic Education in India (PROBE) — “Discrimination against under-privileged groups is endemic, in several forms” (4.4).
Besides being equipped with suitable pedagogy, this teacher has to have a keen sense of adolescent psychology to tackle the hurdles of shyness and fear in the 12+ age group. The course for these ‘special-training teachers’ requires strengthening in this area.
A substantial section of students in regular rural government schools are first generation learners belonging to a weak economic background. The teachers, on the other hand, come from a relatively different background and therefore, many a time their behaviour is either patronising, or of indifference, or of a negative bias — anything but that of a friend and guide.
Cause for concern
In this scenario, the provisions of Section 12, providing for not less than 25% of the class strength of special category schools and unaided schools for students of the weaker sections and disadvantaged groups, become a cause for concern. Though it remains to be studied how students of the weaker/disadvantaged sections will psychologically cope with the upper economic class ambience of those schools where students from the very well-off families study, no effort has been made to orient the teachers to shed the subtle forms of discriminatory behaviour so that little children with a weaker economic background do not face a culture-shock or feel like misfits in the class.
Automatic promotion, a problem
Section 16, which bars failing a student, has been found to be irksome by many teachers. The surety of being promoted to the next class makes students lackadaisical towards studies at times. A teacher said that when she asked a student to be regular to class otherwise he won’t be able to learn anything and will have to sit in this class again next year, the boy replied, “Don’t try to frighten me, I know next year I will be promoted to class 7 whether I know anything or not.”
It is essential, therefore, to see that the intention of removing the fear of exams does not result in indifference to learning and breed stubbornness and indiscipline in students. Besides making the ‘Comprehensive and Continuous Evaluation’ more scientific and stringent, the curriculum and books development have to be seriously reviewed in this perspective.
Section 21 provides an important role to the community. The School Management Committee (SMC), consisting of a majority of parents and headed by one of them, is to monitor the working of the school, including its finances. A number of instances have been brought before this writer in which the SMC Adhyaksha has tried to use his local clout and the power conferred by the RTE Act to intimidate the teachers to go along with him in unfair financial acts. This only disturbs the academic atmosphere of the school and makes the teacher lose interest in his duty.
Many a time, the members of the SMC are not very eager to attend meetings as, for some, it is a sacrifice of one day’s earning. Thus, the burden of the SMC, at the end of the day, falls on the head teacher. It is so convenient for the authorities, too, to fix the responsibility of a work on him which ideally should be of the whole SMC.
The transfer of many powers exercised earlier by the Village Education Committee to the SMC has raised the hackles of the gram pradhan. Instances of false complaints against teachers and interference in the working of the school by the gram pradhan have become common. This situation will worsen when the SMC and the gram pradhan are of different political orientations.
Though the Act bars teachers from getting engaged in non-academic work other than census, elections and disaster relief, duties of a booth level officer, pulse-polio helper or, implementor of various schemes in the school and keeping their accounts do affect academic work. It also sometimes results in confrontation with the locals. This, along with poor pupil-teacher ratios and unscheduled long holidays (for instance due to the vagaries of the weather), makes provisions like ‘Academic Calendar’ (Section 9 m) a pious homily.
The schedule of ‘Forms and Standards’ annexed to the Act raises some questions. It prescribes the number of teachers on the basis of the strength of students and not classes/sections at the primary level. For instance, it prescribes four teachers for 120 students which, in effect, means that at least one teacher will have to do multigrade teaching. It will only get worse as the number of students falls.
The RTE blends the State’s responsibility of providing education with the community’s active participation in monitoring. Steps have to be devised to counter the negativities of community participation like caste bias, egos and financial corruption to make it a success and positive force. It is also essential that the training programmes focus on making teachers love their job, besides making them efficient. Road bumps are not something to be afraid of. They are, in fact, a testimony to the reality that we have started walking the path.
(The writer is an officer in the U.P. Education Services, Allahabad. Email: skandshukla@ yahoo.com)