Speakers at a seminar on “Will the Right to Education become a reality,” expressed scepticism over the implementation of this Act in the chaotic situation prevailing in the country.
Organised by the Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry here on Saturday, the programme brought out the salient features of the Act, its laudable objectives and also the serious concerns about implementation.
Vasanthi Devi, former Vice-Chancellor of the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, said the “biggest failure” of India was its inability to provide good quality education to its children. Though this was the only Directive Principle which had a time –frame of 10 years, India had failed miserably. India hosted half the illiterates in the world and 75 per cent of the bonded labourers. Though Kothari Commission desired in 1964-65 that six per cent of the GDP be earmarked for education, it had not crossed even four per cent so far. Citing an Annual Assessment Report, she pointed out that 47 per cent of those studying in 5th standard in the country cannot read the First Standard text book in their language properly. India had built up the “most exclusionary system of education in the world where one got the institution according to one's paying capacity. It is a hierarchical and fragmenting school system,” she said.
The State-funded public school system had collapsed because the elite and the middle classes had pulled their children out of these schools. She advocated a public-funded system in which every child would be provided equal and quality education.
Aruna Rathnam, education specialist, UNICEF, explaining the features of the Right to Education Act, said in print it was very progressive and child-friendly. She also welcomed its participatory learning approach. At the same time, she wondered how 25 per cent of the seats were going to be reserved in private schools for children from weaker sections. There was no provision for pre-primary education. “How are we going to define quality? Its definition has got to be nuanced. Who will lead and keep raising the bar?”
She apprehended problems of infrastructure, invisible costs to the parents, and wondered whether the private sector would help provide social justice.
C. Sathish, Senior Principal, RMK Group of Schools, while welcoming the new law, apprehended that the pace in which it was expected to be implemented would derail the entire process. Any reform should be well thought out and implemented slowly and steadily. Pointing out a number of lacunae, he wondered how this was going to be implemented in earnest with 42 Boards and two national-level boards functioning in the country. Besides, “how are we going to get 14 lakh teachers required when 50 per cent of the teachers in eight States are not fully qualified?” he asked.