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RTE is out of syllabus

It’s supposed to be a kid’s best friend, but ends up biting them ever so often. The Right to Education (RTE) Act is proving quite a hurdle to our time-tested, mug-up-and-vomit exam system.

chandigarh Updated: May 04, 2014 11:09 IST
Aarish Chhabra

It’s supposed to be a kid’s best friend, but ends up biting them ever so often. The Right to Education (RTE) Act is proving quite a hurdle to our time-tested, mug-up-and-vomit exam system.

Hundreds of students at some government schools in Chandigarh have failed in Class 9. Their parents are angry; protests have been backed by political parties; and the teachers have had to convince the parents that it’s not their fault.

At one level, this is Neverland, and I am so jealous of these kids. Gone are the days when parents, who must have scraped through in third division themselves, would deliver a sanctimonious slap across the kid’s face for failing in anything, even for losing to Monster Math.

child thinking, hindustantimes

The father would have told the teachers to “straighten the kid out”; and the teachers would have scolded the mother for being ignorant towards her kids’ studies. The child would have got depressed for a while, but then got busy with helping plumber Mario rescue the Princess from the Dragon. Those were beautiful times.

Though I did not quite fail in any final exams, I too wish my parents had shouted slogans at the school gate when I got five marks less than Srishti Sehgal in English — surely, it was the system’s fault!

Let wishful thinking rest, though. Thanks to the RTE, kids have had to bear the brunt of an ideal law being thrust upon an inherently flawed system. Teachers at one of Chandigarh’s mass-failure schools told a newspaper that the failures were the result of change in the assessment system.

Unlike the good old days when mid-term exams were just rehearsals and the final exams were all that mattered, now “the performance in two unit tests and two summative assessments is also taken into account”. Further, a teacher noted that most of the students in these schools in the city’s peripheral areas are from the economically weaker sections (EWS) and work after classes. One teacher even said that after the students failed in March, they were given extra classes but even then they failed, again.

Didn’t the effort come a bit too late? Weren’t the teachers afflicted with the governmental inertia of inefficiency and ignorance for the whole year? Didn’t they notice when the unit test results and the summative assessments didn’t quite add up for the students, and that the students were lagging badly in the run-up to the final exams?

Bashing the teachers is the easy way out, and honestly quite tempting to the child in me. But the problem is deeper than that.

The RTE has some idealistic systems but the support structure is missing. How can one expect individual attention from teachers when the teacher-student ratio is 1:75 in Chandigarh’s peripheral government schools as against the prescribed 1:35.

Worse, these teachers are supposed to do much more than just teach — from ensuring lizard-free midday meals to counting the people in your house while on census or election duty. Add to that, the governmental inertia that we talked about earlier, and you see that not much has changed over the years in government schools.

The infrastructure remains deplorable. As reported by HT’s education correspondent Vivek Gupta, government schools in Chandigarh, both rural and urban, have an average strength of 52 students per classroom, while the RTE says the ratio should be 30 per classroom in primary schools and 35 in upper-primary. For instance, Government Middle School in Raipur Kalan has just three rooms for its 514 students in elementary classes!

Sanction for hiring around 1,000 new teachers has been given, but the procedure is stuck over technicalities.

Well, what can one expect if even the summer uniforms usually come near the winter and vice versa?
The no-fail-till-Class-8 rule further ensures that the learning levels leading up to Class 9 remain exceedingly low. A recent audit by the NCERT underlined how students of primary classes in Chandigarh’s government schools know very little of their syllabus. At the heart of it, the RTE’s requirements from students and teachers remain way too high, while the infrastructure is as bad as ever.

P.S: Amid so much noise about the RTE, the administration has done very little to ensure that the blatantly elitist private schools admit poor students as mandated in the Act. Most of these schools have amazing infrastructure but lack the heart to be inclusive. May God grant them some shame!