After months of satellite mapping across Maharashtra, the government has found that 904 “habitations” do not have a primary school (Classes 1 to 4) within a kilometre’s radius. There are also 1,152 “habitations” that have no upper primary school (Class 5 to 8) within a three-kilometre radius.
The Right To Education (RTE) Act that came into effect on April 1 last year mandates that every habitation should have a primary school within a kilometre’s radius and an upper primary school within a three-kilometre radius. A habitation is defined as a village with a population of less than 300. Maharashtra has 49,089 primary and 27,560 upper primary schools.
“It is not a large number of schools that we need to build now,” said Nand Kumar, state project director of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the main vehicle for implementing the RTE Act. “In those places that we cannot build schools, we will arrange for transporting children to nearby schools.”
However, data from the state’s economic survey shows that while the state is planning to build new schools, enrolment at the primary level has fallen by 57,000 since the RTE Act was implemented. Nand Kumar said this was because of the fall in the birth rate.
The mapping of schools is one of the major initiatives undertaken by the state in the past year. The most glaring lacuna in the implementation of the RTE Act in Maharashtra has been the delay in formalising the rules that will determine the shape of the enforcement. A senior government official requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media said that the rules are ready and “will be made public soon”.
The rules’ absence has added to the confusion about implementing certain ‘controversial’ clauses, such as the mandatory reservation of 25% of seats in all schools for underprivileged children. “The government has delayed the formulation of the rules and no school has implemented this clause,” said Jayant Jain, president of the non-profit Forum for Fairness in Education.
Meanwhile, the government has sought to operationalise some of the clauses in the Act through government resolutions (GRs), or orders. “The difference is that while a GR is easy to challenge, rules are hard to contest,” said an official.
So far, only seven of the 35 states and union territories have made the rules public.
In the period since the Act became effective, two ministers — Balasaheb Thorat and Rajendra Darda —have held the school education portfolio. Under Thorat, the continuous comprehensive evaluation system and the ‘no failing till Class 8’ policy took effect. Darda has focused on tackling fee hikes and capitation fees and promised to regulate the pre-primary segment.