The future of more than 40 % primary schools across India and lakhs of students in them is under a cloud with the UPA government refusing to move amendments to the Right to Education Act (RTE) to extend a key deadline these institutions have failed to meet.
State governments run by both the BJP and the ruling Congress today pressed human resource development (HRD) minister MM Pallam Raju to extend the March 31, 2013 deadline laid down in the RTE Act to fulfil infrastructure and teacher norms.
Some states, like Maharashtra and Punjab, have already started implementing the law, issuing notices to schools that are not complying with norms of the Act that guarantees education to all children between 6 and 14.
But the HRD ministry has decided against extending the deadline. “We believe it would send a wrong message to the nation,” Raju said, speaking after a meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), India’s apex education advisory body, where states pleaded for an extension.
Several educationists have cautioned that extending the deadline could set a precedent encouraging states that fail to meet their targets to seek a repeat. But the government has already relaxed teacher qualification norms for 13 states to try and help them meet the RTE Act – a measure that too is likely to trigger copycat demands.
The RTE Act – enforced on April 1, 2010 – requires that all schools ensure a pupil-teacher ratio of 30: 1 for primary classes, and 35:1 for classes 5 to 8. Schools were also required to ensure strict infrastructure norms specified with the law, within three years of its enforcement.
But the latest data available with the HRD ministry shows that only 59% schools nationally have met the required pupil-teacher ratio, 62% have ramps for differently abled students, and 65% have separate toilets for boys and girls.
“It is up to states to decide how they want to move ahead with the enforcement of the law,” Raju said. “They should act first against states that have not budged at all on implementing the law.”
But the HRD ministry appears to have no backup plan, if state governments do enforce the law. Asked whether the government had any solution to deal with the crisis, Raju acknowledged he had “no ready answers.”
“The situation (where states act against all schools violating norms) is an extreme situation that is highly unlikely to arise,” Raju said.
Earlier in the day, the state governments of Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand (both Congress-ruled) and Madhya Pradesh (ruled by the BJP), pleaded for an extension to the RTE Act deadline at a meeting of the CABE. Maharashtra – run by a coalition of the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP – also pointed to its inability to meet RTE Act norms. Bihar, which had demanded an extension at the last CABE meeting, skipped the meeting.
Many states also raised concerns about a key RTE Act provision – that bars schools from detaining any student till class 8.
“It is indeed a matter of concern that some children are skipping school because they don’t fear examinations anymore,” Raju said.
But the HRD minister insisted he was confident that the “positive momentum” built up in the aftermath of the RTE Act’s enforcement would continue.
“Looking at the efforts made by all the state governments, I believe we will keep moving forward,” Raju said.
Exactly how, remains an unanswered question.