February 13, 2009 1:44:05 am
Should the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill,2008 be passed in its current form without discussion? The HRD Ministry seems to be quite keen to get the Bill passed in this session. This almost certainly means that it will have to be rushed and passed without amendments. Normally,public reaction is invited on such bills by the parliamentary committees. But,in case of this Bill,which has been in the public domain for just under two months,no responses from the public have been invited. It is this authors observation that state administrators,political leaders,and the public at large are unaware of the contents and implications of the Bill,which is going to impact practically every child in the country not only now but for years to come.
So,there is justifiable suspicion that the government will not follow the due democratic process in a matter so important.
While the Bill has many details about setting up of and admission to schools,it does not adequately address the issue of attendance. Both,government commissioned and independent surveys indicate that while over 95% children are enrolled,the attendance against the school roster is only about 68 per cent in primary and 75 per cent in upper primary schools. The percentage of children who do not show up at all is not known. Street children,beggars,and runaways are in critical need of the compulsory education but there is no mention of compulsory attendance or a mechanism to ensure such attendance in schools.
The Bill essentially assumes that if a school that does not charge fees is set up near a childs home,and if trained teachers are appointed,education will happen. Just take a look at municipal schools in cities like Mumbai,and Delhi. The schools and trained teachers exist,but are all children getting education? A clause in the Bill categorically forbids holding back or failing a child in school. In most states it is already a practice not to fail children at least until Std III or V. The government would like it extended till Std VIII. Not failing a child is the right thing to do but what if the child does not learn what he/she is expected to? The governments own as also independent surveys show that at least 50% children in Std V do not know the basic skills expected to be acquired by the end of Std II. In spite of this deplorable quality of education,the Bill is completely silent on any monitoring or accountability towards the quality of learning achievement. It says nothing about what should be done to help children who do not achieve even the basic skills and knowledge expected of them. There is a schedule for norms and standards for a school,there are clauses about prescribing curriculum and about teachers completing syllabus,but nothing that says what is at least the minimum learning that constitutes elementary education. That the government cannot provide education up to Std X or XII is bad enough but the child of the poor who completes 8 years of education is not even guaranteed a State Board Certificate after examination. The right to education is critically important to the disempowered. So,one would have expected an accessible grievance redressal mechanism. The government has done well in this matter in NREGA and the Right to Information. However,grievance redressal in the Bill on education is more suited for the unions and the managements rather than for the poor.
There are several other issues related to the Bill that deserve closer inspection. For example,how transparent will the process of recognition process be? What is the basis of calculation of the per-child expenditure that the government will pay to unaided private institutions for admitting the 25% children from weaker sections? The idea of paying such schools for teaching the weaker sections is interesting,but it is one that deserves closer inspection. Under the circumstances,not only should various amendments be considered, the Bill should not be rushed.
The writer is President of Pratham,and was a member of the now dissolved National Advisory Council
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