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RTE should bring in phased improvements in education
25 December 2010

With concerns being reflected from various sections about how the far-reaching provisions of the Right to Education (RTE) Act could be implemented in a short time frame, Loksatta Party recommends a phased approach to the process of implementation. This would make the legislation implementable for the government, as well as the private sector schools that are now within the purview of the Act.

"The RTE is a law with wide scope, and it will touch the lives of hundreds of millions of children directly. There are significant differences in the way that different States are proposing to implement the legislation, and it will take some time for the 'best practices' to emerge from these," said party Spokesperson, Mr. N S Ramakanth. "We must not hastily implement a system that we do not fully understand."

Mr. Ramakanth explained that there are two major aspects of the legislation that need equal focus. First is in the performance of government schools. All over the country, there has been an exodus of students from government schools. The problems in these institutions are manifold - slowly changing curricula, autonomy of teaching styles, lack of proper measurement of outcomes, poor teachers, etc. Not all schools have all these problems, but together they have created a climate in which the government school is not the preferred option for anyone who can afford a private alternative."

"This has to change," added Mr. Ajit Phadnis, Loksatta party member who has been a consultant to the Karnataka Education Department. "We must create an effective decentralised system of managing government schools as well as aided schools, in which parents, teachers, local authorities and others play a continuous and active part in steadily improving the performance of these institutions. While Karnataka has instituted School Development and Monitoring Committees (SDMCs) for every government school, this has to be strengthened with capacity building of teachers and parents. That has to be the primary focus of RTE."

One concern that has emerged from private schools is the proposed mechanism for monitoring their conformance with the provisions of the Act. An already over-burdened machinery of the Education Department will now have oversight powers over many aspects of the functioning of private schools. Moreover, in many cases, the affiliating boards (CBSE, ICSE, and others) have overlapping powers with the local Block Education Officer, which causes confusion. Many private schools are also worried that local Education officials will abuse the Act and use its provisions as a means of extortion.

"Some of these concerns may be more real than others," said Mr. Phadnis, but there is a genuine underlying worry that while some checks and balances are required, too much interference of the government may stifle innovation in the education sector. He observed that, "Some of the best practices in school education in recent years have come from private schools, and their flexibility to pursue this innovation must not be affected. We must ensure that entrepreneurs contine to feel motivated to start new schools. The demand in this country for new schools is still vast, and we must not do anything that slows down the establishment of new institutions to cater to this demand."

Mr. Phadnis also commented about the futility of multiple regulatory agencies and suggested that only the respective affiliating boards be designated the authority to monitor implementation of the Act in private schools.

Loksatta representatives acknowledged that certain provisions of the RTE Act are being challenged in courts in different States, and also in the Centre. There are also contradictory interpretations of the Act and the proposed Rules by different States, and these too need to be reconciled. In the meanwhile, they stressed, we must push ahead with the core provisions of the Act - ensuring improved performance by government schools, and ensuring access to education for all children. "Achieving just these two goals will greatly transform India," said Mr. Ramakanth.

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