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Now comes the real test

We need to speed read to get the desired results from the Right to Education Act.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2010 21:49 IST

Nation-building is a continuous process and the operationalisation of the Right to Education Act, 2009, is yet another push towards this. On April 1, India joined 135 other nations to pass a revolutionary legislation that puts the responsibility of educating our young citizens — all those who are between six and 14 years — on the government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself made the importance of the Act clear by addressing the nation on it.

Now comes the operationalisation part; the real challenge will be how to build a bridge between intent and delivery. And it won’t be an easy task. Revolutions never are. According to the law, the authorities have to ensure compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education of every child. The natural tendency would be to seek comfort in enrolment numbers. Yet, doing that would be counter-productive: the Annual Status of Education Report (Rural), 2009, (ASER) shows that while enrolment in Bihar schools is 90 per cent, attendance is still under 60 per cent. The attendance rate, as the report correctly suggests, must be taken as the enrolment rate. The government also needs to address related issues like what keeps students from attending schools: is it distance, economic condition or gender discrimination?

The law also specifies the minimum norms in State schools and provides for reservation of 25 per cent seats in private schools for under-privileged children and prohibits unrecognised schools. The representatives of the two sections are up in arms: how will the government influence the owners of posh schools to open their gates to poor children? We have seen what has happened in the case of the high-end hospitals: the seats for the poor are only there in the rulebooks, in reality all sorts of impediments are put up. As for the unrecognised schools, closing them down might be a knee-jerk reaction. They have sprung up because there is a demand. Instead of targeting them, it would be more prudent to keep an eye on the quality of education they are imparting and, simultaneously, upgrade infrastructure and number of teachers in government schools so that students go back.

Of course, all this needs money and participation of states since education is on the Concurrent List. It is estimated that Rs 171,000 crore will be needed to implement the Act over the next five years. As of now, the Finance Commission has provided Rs 25,000 crore to the states. Yet, the value for all that we are investing now will come to nothing if the government fails to keep an eagle eye on the learning outcomes, constantly monitor the sector and make the reports public.