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HindustanTimes Sat,25 Oct 2014

RTE Act: Playing truant, a bitter game

Puja Pednekar, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, August 28, 2013
First Published: 02:46 IST(28/8/2013) | Last Updated: 02:49 IST(28/8/2013)

Only 1,165 children in the state have never attended school, according to Maharashtra government records. And while you may be surprised by the paltry figure, officials from the state education department are not.

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Getting the children to schools is not the problem, they say. Keeping them there is.

The landmark Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009 has helped bring more children to schools, but has not been able to control truancy and dropout rates yet, experts believe.

“When our employees try to put children selling wares or begging on the streets in schools, they show us certificates proving they have already been enrolled in one,” said a senior education official from the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, which is the main vehicle for the implementation of the RTE Act.

So, the children are students only on paper. The reality is that after enrolling, they often remain absent from classes for long periods. Family problems, including migration or pressure to earn a livelihood are the main deterrents, and in the case of girls, dropping out after puberty is common.

Activists said the government had failed to address the problems of such students. “The government has many schemes for such children on paper, but can’t implement them for lack of funds,” said Farida Lambay, founder-director of Pratham, an NGO. Making matters worse, government-run and municipal schools do not offer seamless education even at the elementary level. While the RTE Act stipulates that elementary education is from Class 1 to Class 8, most civic schools only teach till Class 7. 

“Many children do not bother to secure admission or end up not attending another school after completing Class 7 as they cannot afford to pay the fees or the schools are far away from their homes,” said Anil Bornare, secretary of the Maharashtra State Teachers Association.
To solve this problem, the RTE Act stipulates the revision of the elementary education cycle to bridge the gap. The government had announced that they will reshuffle classrooms so that all schools teach till Class 8. More than 82,000 schools were surveyed for this purpose in 2012, but no concrete steps have been taken yet. The latest GR issued by the government has not made any changes in the elementary cycle.

Also, there are no strong mechanisms in place to monitor children’s admission, attendance or whether they complete their elementary education. “According to the [RTE] Act, teachers are supposed to keep an eye on children who have been absent for a long time. They are supposed meet the parents and ensure that the children are brought back to school,” Bornare said. But teachers are bogged down with their teaching duties and other work such as elections and census, leaving little time to monitor students, he added.


Free hostels could keep childrenin school


Mumbai: More free hostels could help bring down the dropout rate for children of migrant workers.
While there are 13 such hostels run by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan for elementary schools in the state, Mumbai does not have a single one.
Residential schools in place are the Kasturba Gandhi Bal Vidyalayas (KGBV) for girls belonging to economically and socially weaker sections studying in the upper-primary level.

But hostels for children in elementary schools are the need of the hour.

“Migration affects the child’s education. The families cannot afford to enroll the child in a school each time they migrate and even if they do, there is no way to guarantee continuity in education. We need to build many free residential hostels for these children,” said a senior education official from the SSA, Mumbai division.

The official said the SSA had proposed building such hostels in the city, but they were denied permission by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). “The BMC rejected the proposal citing lack of funds. However, we are still in talks with the civic body over it,” the official added.

Even the Right to Education Act (2009) does not cover boarding schools or residential schools. “Such schools are out of the purview of the act, so there is no pressure on the government to build them. They are being completely neglected,” said Jayant Jain, president of the Forum For Fairness in Education, a city not-for-profit that takes up such causes.

Unfortunately, some of the hostels that do exist in Maharashtra are in a pitiable state as allotted funds are being misused, claims Jain. The forum had filed a PIL last year, alleging a Rs75-crore scam in the temporary accommodation under the SSA scheme at Jawahar in Thane district.

The NGO took up the matter when one of the respondents to the petition, Kavita Pandhare, an extension officer in the department of education, was appointed to investigate the issue.

“Pandhare had only two days to investigate and found out that there were no schools in the addresses provided by SSA. In some places there were buildings constructed for hostels, but no provisions inside the buildings, and in one school there were only 12 students, all of whom were bogus,” added Jain.

He said that the calculations proved that funds up to Rs75 crore shown as spent on the project had been misappropriated by government officials.


‘Why would kids want to go to such schools?’

Mumbai: More than 90% schools in the state do not have 10 basic facilities listed as mandatory under the RTE Act, including separate toilets for girls and boys, safe drinking water and playgrounds.

In fact, many schools in the state do not even have five of the ten provisions, a report by Unicef pointed out.

The Right to Education Act (2009) stipulates that all schools have to be equipped with at least 10 facilities given in its schedule by 2013. These include basic facilities, infrastructure and pupil-teacher ratios. Schools have been given an extension till October to get these in order or they will be derecognised.

The story is no better in Mumbai, where 1,600 out of 1,703 schools have not fulfilled norms such as infrastructure facilities, principals’ rooms, toilets, drinking water, playgrounds and kitchen sheds.

According to the latest Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE), only 54.33% primary schools in the state have an electricity connection, and only 44.51% of all schools have computers, while only 13.91% have computer-aided learning facilities
The question experts are asking is: Why would students come to such abysmal schools?

“Looking at some of the civic schools makes you feel like they are still in the  18th century. Just offering mid-day meals is not going to attract a child to school,” said Prashant Redij, president of the State Principals’ Association, Mumbai chapter.

Farida , founder-director of Pratham, said that schools continue to be in such a state even three years since the RTE was implemented because school management committees (SMCs) are not functioning properly.  Such committees should comprise parents and teachers and produce child-friendly school development plans. 

But only 5.19% government schools have constituted SMCs, states the U-DISE report.

The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA), which is the main vehicle for implementing the RTE, has conducted training programmes to train SMCs. “It is a challenge to explain the scope of the SMC  to parents of civic and government school children as they are not educated,’’ said a senior official from the SSA, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to talk to the media. 

 However, large-scale training programmes are being conducted to sensitise parents , where they are told how they can improve the school so that their children can also get access to better quality education, the official added. 


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