Sunday, July 23, 2006

burial of Right to education bill-Is India really 'shining'?

A few days back government of India decided to shelve the ‘Right to Education’ (RTE) Act. To me as a person interested in education and education policies of India, this was shocking news.

Here is a brief background of RTE: After years of struggle and pressure by many Educationalists and NGO’s, government had finally passed RTE bill in Oct 2005. The act makes education a fundamental right to all children between 6-14 years. Thus it makes the government accountable to guarantee this fundamental right. The act differs from previous polices on education with respect to the fact it is not a ‘directive principle’ to frame policies but an obligatory commitment to ensure education to the children in the prescribed age. Detailed analysis of the bill exposed many of its fallbacks suggested need for serious amendments. In fact as a good measure, government had solicited suggestions from various educationalists, NGO’s and policy makers. In US ASHA-for education has been seriously discussing RTE and was about to come up with its final stand. I was part of this venture as my personal and professional interest. Inspite of all limitations RTE does have the potential to provide universal elementary education to all and thus achieving a total literacy in the coming years.

A good reading on RTE can be found in the following links

Coming to the actual issue, recently government decided to revoke the RTE bill citing some spurious financial limitations.

Well these ‘limitations’ are seriously questionable. Lobbying by the private schools is seen to one factor in slacking of RTE. More than this, for the government the ‘Vote bank politics’ seems to be far more important than seeing India literate. During the recent protests against increasing the OBC quota by 27%, government had no problems in increasing seats in all higher education institutions to retain the exiting merit seats. Such an increase cost the exchequer Rs.8000 crore, an amount equal to 1/3 of the Indian education budget (Rs 24,000 Crore)! The government had taken this decision within two weeks of protests! One wonders, how it ever thought of such an approval when it didn’t have enough money for the implementing ongoing committed schemes. Well the reason is simple: reservations are needed to keep the ‘vote bank’ alive, where as primary education issue wouldn’t create big waves to topple them.

On a closer note, why is Primary education loosing all its priorities? Well National Advisory Council (NAC) had recommended that at least 6% of GDP should be spent to achieve total literacy(Well it is still less than what most rapidly developing countries like China and South Korea area spending). In reality not even 4% of GDP(Rs. 24,000 Crore) is being spent on Education. To give a feel for the numbers lets look at other budgetary spendings- Urban renewal: Rs50,000 cr, Pay hike for the Babu’s: Rs20,000 cr etc. How are we ever going to achieve the ‘Vision 2020’ of making India a superpower with more than 30% of its people illiterate and many more not receiving an ‘equitable’ quality of education?

I do agree that globalization and free market has generated huge wealth in the last couple of years. But this is no way a sufficient condition for Nation’s progress as a whole. Progress of a Nation depends on how empowered and informed its citizens are and not just its roads, buildings or industries. Empowered citizens are those who can think and act independently. Only proper education can achieve such empowerment.
Looking at the current situation I wonder if India is really "shining"!


Jason H. said...

Would the legislation have provided a means for children who find themselves in a less than suitable learning enviornment such as those children born into a lower tier of the cast system?

Shiv said...

Legislation mandates that no discrimination be made on the basis of caste or religion(as enshrined in constitution). However it doesn't adaquetely address issues linking illiteracy with poverty and child labor.
The following comment from India- together(www,indiatogether,org) article should further clarify this:

The Bill seeks to provide education through a combination of government schools, aided schools and unaided (private) schools. Some educationists believe that the 'common school system' should have been adopted instead of the 25% quota in private schools. That is, all children from all strata of society in a locality should go to the same set of schools in that locality and receive free education.
They believe that this will
(a) improve the overall standards in government schools as the influential upper strata of society pushes for higher standards,
(b) reduce the disparity of opportunity among children, and
(c) lead to a better society as children from different sections mingle from an early age.