April 1, 2013, marks a key milestone in the Right To Education Act implementation. It represents the third year anniversary of the Act, which for the first time guaranteed eight years of quality education for every girl and boy across India. It is also the agreed deadline for meeting provisions related to the rights of children, teachers, schools, and monitoring with a focus on child-friendly and child-centred curriculum. Provisions related to the training of untrained teachers have been given an extra two years and should be met by April 1, 2015.
The notification of RTE status rules and implementation guidelines across states and Union Territories has led to significantly increased education budgets , major teacher reform measures and countless stories of hope from the field. While progress is evident, it is widely acknowledged that much remains to be done considering that there are still eight million children out-of-school and millions more that drop out before completing the full cycle of elementary education . Learning assessments demonstrate that many of the children who do remain in school do not have the foundational literacy or the skills necessary for their overall development.
Some of the most challenging provisions to implement include the identification and integration of the out-of school children into age appropriate class through special training, recruitment , training, and continuous support for teachers, ensuring functioning school management committees of parents and teachers, which produce child-friendly and child-centred school development plans, and the establishment of local authorities, which monitor children’s admission, attendance and completion of elementary education.
It is critical that national/state governments , together with civil society, take stock of the progress achieved and what remains to be done in order to achieve RTE targets on an urgent basis. More concerted efforts are needed to ensure that schools are inclusive spaces for children with teachers as agents of learning and social change with the strong ownership by the community.
Major institutional reform is required in key areas such as teacher education and classroom process through strengthened monitoring and quality assurance systems. Adequate and improved targets of resources which reach the most deprived and marginalised children will be paramount. The enactment of RTE marked a historic moment for the children of India and a tremendous opportunity. The government is now proposing through the Child Labour Amendment Bill to prohibit employment of children in all occupations and processes to facilitate their enrolment in schools in light of RTE. This is most welcome and should be strongly advocated.
Three years since the RTE was enforced, it has boosted enrollment in schools, however, several studies indicate that students’ learning levels are still low. While the RTE is more focused on infrastructure issues such as mid-day meal, school buildings, enrollment, teacher:student ratio, etc, than on learning outcomes.The focus of education is on learning, hence, shouldn’t we asses whether students are learning to read and write?
The key priority areas for RTE, include:
- Reduce drop outs amongst children
- Focus on making schools more inclusive
- Empowering teachers as key change agents
- Focus on learning outcomes not just access
- Private school regulation based on transparency
- Fairness in implementing 25% reservation for EWS
- More power for school management committees to ensure quality education
- Increase the number of qualified teachers
- Improvement of evaluation and assessment tools
To ensure quality education, parents and community members have to be involved in school development and overall planning process. The Act is a source of national pride and offers an unprecedented opportunity. It is a challenge, but with the resources and political will fuelling progress, it is not an impossible task. What is critical now is that national and State governments take stock of the progress achieved and the gaps which remain in order to complete unfinished RTE commitments as a matter of urgency.
Just imagine India when all of its children will have completed eight years of good quality education. What better way to secure the country’s future? To sum up, India’s past achievements in education indicate that it is possible to reach its goals and the Act sets a target that can be met. Let us work together to translate the promise of RTE into quality education with equity and a brighter future for India and for its children.