Amid much protest, private schools in Bangalore reluctantly implemented a controversial provision in the Right To Education (RTE) Act and admitted poor and disadvantaged students from their localities to classrooms.
A disturbing story reported this week about teachers at the Oxford English School, allegedly cutting off tufts of hair of Class 1 children to distinguish them from other students, and making them stand in separate lines during assembly, has shown us the deep inequalities in our society. In an interview to The Hindu , A.R. Vasavi, a social anthropologist working on issues of schooling and education, spoke about the limitations of the implementation of this important legislation, linking it to the unregulated proliferation of private institutions.
Q. What does this reported incident of discrimination by school authorities towards children, as young as five and six years, tell us about the society we live in? Where does this “us” and “them” come from, and could an Act like the RTE play a role in bridging this divide?
A. It is the most clichéd reproduction of a hierarchical and differentiated culture. What is upsetting is that even in schools, the very places these inequalities must be addressed, such incidents are taking place. A key issue here is that the state has failed to monitor the proliferation of schools, many managed by edu-entrepreneurs who view schools as a business only. The mushrooming of D.Ed. and B.Ed. colleges match the growth of education as an enterprise and it is little wonder that private schools see this as both economic loss and status decline.
Teachers too are not genuine educators, as is indicated in the absence of an orientation towards the principles of education. Part of this problem is the poor quality of teachers’ training, and the lack of embedding ideas of humanity, democracy and justice in them. This results in reproducing their ideas of hierarchy at workplace.
While many private institutes have vehemently opposed the RTE Act, often making provocative and telling statements regarding “dilution of quality”, others are concerned that this might result in the state withdrawing from its responsibilities for provisioning quality education to all through public schools.
When the whole RTE mobilisation took place in the 1990s, I supported it because we needed to an Act that ensured children free and compulsory access to elementary education. But I’ve had several reservations about the idea that disadvantaged students will be integrated into these elite institutes. We need to be clear about distinguishing between the RTE Act and the 25 per cent quota.
The problem is that the state has now reduced the overarching idea of promoting a common schooling system to the implementation of this quota. The state has an important role to play. For instance, the need to make every government school a quality school — then the whole fly-by-night operations would end.
The government has reduced its role vis a vis the RTE to supervising the implementation of the quota. What are the other interventions that the State must make?
It has to reclaim its role in being the key agent for educational provisioning in elementary education. Its primary role has to be keeping strict tabs on quality (of text books, educators or facilities). Ironically, the so-called stringent RTE standards are being used to shut down good alternative schools (catering to the poor and disadvantaged), while allowing dubious institutes.