Even as the Right to Education (RTE) Act completed its third and final year of implementation on March 31, the blame game between the Centre and states on its failure to fulfil any of its promises is now in full swing. Although the ministry for human resource development has said it will not be extending the timeline of the RTE Act implementation, some of the states have asked for more time to fulfil their commitments. When the Act was enforced in 2010, it was welcomed by most of civil society, academia, and teachers’ groups as a progressive step. It seemed to be wonderful to have an exclusive Act for the children to get free and compulsory education. But it seems that the momentum was not created at the ground level due to the lack of political will. Despite the constitutional commitment, RTE has not become a priority for the Centre as well as the states.
Over the last three years, the implementation of the Act has faced many difficulties. States like Bihar and Odisha have argued for more central assistance for its implementation — citing huge financial burden in fulfilling infrastructural obligations. The estimated amount for the implementation of the Act was R82,000 crore annually but the total allocation has not been more than a third of the required budget.
States like West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and Delhi have not recruited trained teachers as sought in the Act. Of the 52 lakh sanctioned posts of teachers, there are still more than 20% vacancies existing at the state level. Simultaneously, the government teacher-training institutes have been struggling to get the vacant positions of teacher educators filled. District Teacher Training Institutes (DIETs) are poorly equipped and need immediate revamping to ensure quality teacher training. Even in a state like Bihar, efforts to revive DIETs seem inadequate.
With regard to infrastructure, the states have claimed that 94% schools have drinking water facilities, 64% schools have separate toilets for girls and 61% schools have ramps. But the real picture is entirely different. In Rajasthan, more than 30% hand pumps do not provide safe drinking water and more than half of the toilets are not functional. Ramps are not usable in most of the schools. Lack of facilities is contributing to the high rate of dropouts, especially among girls.
A private school lobby has also approached the Supreme Court challenging the provision of 25% quota for marginalised children. Though the final verdict did not go in favour of private schools, most of the schools have been trying to circumvent the provision by establishing separate or evening classes. On the government side, in most states, schools have not been reimbursed the amount committed for the 25% marginalised children annually.
On March 31 as the deadline for relaxation for the compliance of RTE came to an end, there is a need to think about the vast majority of children who still depend on the government for their education. In a democracy like India it is useless to think of any other rights, including the voting right, without the realisation of the RTE.
Sanjeev Rai is national manager education, Save the Children, India
The views expressed by the author are personal