Education holds the key to a long term and sustainable social transformation. The need for investment in this sector stems from the fact that education is an intrinsic human right, essential to build critically conscious citizens and not for the production of mere literates to add to the workforce.
Schools are the primary institutions that impart formal education. They play a crucial role in the growth and development of children.
A 'good school' would be an institution that would be inclusive and acknowledge diversity of culture, religion, abilities and varied class and caste backgrounds. It would recognize the differential potential in children and build on their talents. It would provide the space to question and critique and constructively engage with children's curiosity.
The experience of schooling must go beyond the transfer of information from knowledgeable teachers to passive children treated as empty vessels that only receive. Such an experience must facilitate the exchange of ideas and experiences. Further, a good school is a space that is welcoming to a child. A space that is friendly and allows every child to express herself and realize her talents.
Unfortunately, our current system of education and its delivery lacks energy and creativity. It tends to be pedantic and not engaged with a child's innate curiosity.
It does not inculcate in them the power to reason and negotiate with their surroundings on their own terms. It also tends to perpetuate various hierarchies including those between the teacher and the child.
Further, it has been inaccessible to children from marginalized communities, which not only leaves a section of the population out, it
also reduces diversity in the classroom.
With the advent of the Right to Education Act, 2009, elementary education is now a fundamental right of all children in India.
The Act has several features in it that can bring about the much needed radical change in our schools. It calls for the provision of education in an environment free from fear and trauma; it focuses on inclusive education, where children of diverse socio-economic backgrounds and abilities are encouraged to study together; it mandates a curriculum that is in line with Constitutional values; it seeks to move towards a system of learning that is free from the pressure of exams.
The complete implementation of the RTE Act in letter and spirit would be a big step towards improving the quality of elementary education and making it far more inclusive than it has been. For that to happen it needs the commitment of all sections of society.
Kiran Bhatty is the National Commissioner, Right to Education at National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. Shreya Ghosh is Programme Assistant at the RTE Division of NCPCR.