Long back, during my school days, I had taken part in one of the “Each One Teach One” campaign, where we went on roads urging people, such as shop keeper or truck drives or rickshaw driver or anybody whom we find on the road to send their child to school and if they themselves are educated then educate at least one person. We were not aware what we were doing or why we were doing, at that time but it was a great fun. But now I understand the importance of such campaigns.
Indian parliament had passed a landmark bill called “Right of children to free and compulsory education Act 2009″, on 4th August 2009 which became effective from 1st April 2010 (Its real, not April fool prank ). Little background on this; At the first post-Independence census of 1951, only 9 % of women and 27 % of men were literate and because of this inherited legacy of large scale illiteracy and lack of proper provision for education, it was resolved by the architects of the constitution that the new Indian state would endeavour to provide free and compulsory education to all children up to age of 14 by 1960 !!! anyways its better late than never
Well done !!! We joined the league of 135 countries who have constitutional provision for free and non-discriminatory education for all ( However out of 135 only 13 countries provide completely free eduction). And do you know who tops the list ?? Chile, a country in South America, it gives free and compulsory education to children in the age group of six to 21 years !!! There are other countries (such as Germany, Belgium, Norway and few more) that have provisions of free and compulsory education covering their entire schooling period !!! . All our neighbouring country, excluding Pakistan and Sri Lanka, also has such constitutional provision for free and compulsory education.
Coming back to our RTE (Right to Education) Act; according to this law “every child of the age of six to 14 years (from class 1 to class 8 ) shall have free and compulsory education in neighbourhood school till completion of elementary education.” (you can find more details of the law on internet)
To translate these words on paper into reality will be a real tough task for government, considering the fact that, in India there are approximately 8 million out-of-the school children (out-of-the school includes those who never attended any school and those who are school dropouts) in the age group specified in the RTE. Nowadays, there is a very small percentage of children who do not go to school at all, the major problem is with the school dropout rate. As per the education department’s report 96% of India’s children enroll in primary school, by the age of 10 about 40% have dropped out (And this has won us a title of ” A Nation of Dropouts” ).
Before bringing all such children to the school, for free education, there are some fundamental problems which needs immediate attention from government.
Infrastructure is one of the major roadblock in materializing such ambitious goal. Substantial proportions of the primary schools are functioning without the most basic essentials such as drinking water, toilets, furniture, teaching aids and books, and with this we can’t even talk about more advanced resources like fans, playgrounds, musical instruments, computers etc …
Second most important and ironically most ignored aspect of quality education is teachers. I don’t want to generalize my statement but still majority of the teachers who , after 6th pay commission, are getting good salaries are not fit for the job ( This is true even for many of the university teachers as well, as per my observation of past few years (since I joined college in 2000) majority of the lecturer who joins the college are those who failed to get the industry job or those who has some family constraints, non of them really interested in teaching but they had to take up this job) . Teacher absence rates are very high and as per one survey, in rural India, on any average day 25% of teachers in government primary school are absent. and secondly and most disturbingly, even among teachers who are present, only about half are engaged in teaching activity. and what do those inactive teaches do ?? they are usually engaged in variety of pastimes such as sipping tea, reading comics or eating peanuts and even knitting sweaters for winter . Generally speaking teaching activity has been reduced to minimum, in term of timing and effort. and this has become way of life in this profession.
Lets hope the government take some substantial steps in these two aspects as well and then the next step should be to amend this bill to cover the secondary and higher secondary education as well.
In India we have many laws and fundamental rights but rarely laws are obeyed and rights are allowed to be enjoyed but lets hope this bill becomes a huge success and over a period of time we achieve 100% literacy rate.