Quality Education for all

03 Nov 2016

Thomas Chandy, CEO, Save the Children India shares his thoughts on the challenges or complexities in implementation of Right to Education Act and suggests ways to resolve them

Education is a key tool for social change by sustaining social initiatives of the government and the private sector, resulting in communities rising above poverty.

The Constitution (86th Amendment) Act 2002 made elementary education a Fundamental Right and its consequential legislation the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009. This Act puts the responsibility of ensuring student enrollment, attendance and completion of elementary education on the Government. 99% of India’s rural population has a primary school within 1 km radius and there is a 55% decline in dropouts in the age group of 6 to 14 years, from 13.46 million in 2005 to 6.06 million in 2014.

While it is evident that the enactment of RTE led to significant improvement of school infrastructure across the country, however, core issues like teacher training, classroom processes, learning outcomes still remain a major challenge.

The fact that India is ranked 102 out of the 120 countries on the Education for All (EFA) Development Index (Global monitoring report 2012) is a stark reminder of the situation. Furthermore, the UN Report on MDGs (2015) states that India is off-track on the targets to achieve universal enrolment and completion. There are large number of children who still remain out of school and fail to complete primary education. According to Census 2011, 8.4 crore children don't go to school at all (which constitute 20 % of the age group covered under the RTE Act) and as many as 78 lakh Indian children are forced to earn a livelihood while they learn. The RTE Act has brought education back into focus but the emerging challenges pose a threat to the dream of ‘Quality Education for All’ Unequal learning opportunities to girls, minority, Dalit and tribal children.

The majority of the children going to public schools belong to Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes and other marginalized groups. While enrollment rates for all children from 6-10 years is estimated to be at 99.3% (U-DISE Provisional data (MHRD 2014), a further breakup of the data indicates that it is the most disadvantaged and marginalized children (6-10 years) who dropout - 18.3% girls, 16.6% SC children and 31.3% ST children. The Annual Average Dropout rate for Muslim children is at 9.18 (boys 9.89 and girls 8.52) followed by tribal children at 8.43 (boys 8.03 and girls 8.85) and from Scheduled Caste at 4.38 (boys 3.75 and girls 5.04).

This is further worsened by the severe shortage of teachers. There are about 9.4 lakh vacant posts for teachers; 5.86 lakhs in primary schools and 3.5 lakhs in upper primary schools in the country,severely impacting the quality of in-school processes.

While the RTE is progressive with Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act mandating all private unaided schools to admit at least 25% of students from socially disadvantaged and economically weaker groups, the lack of awareness amongst parents and ineffective implementation prevents children from availing this opportunity. In the last five years of implementation of the Act, only five states have had more than 50% seats filled under this provision.

School closures and mergers
Save the Children’s study titled “School Closure and Mergers: A Multi-state Study of Impact of Policies”in 3 states, indicates that close 26,200 schools are closed. One of the findings of the study is that the closure has negatively impacted the schooling of children and has resulted in a considerable population of those who attending schools to drop out after the closure/merger and this is especially true for young girls. These closures/mergers of schools have violated section 8 (b) and (c)of RTE.

Growing Urbanization and Migration
Across India, approximately 72 million people migrate from their remote villages every year, in search of labor, to work in salt pans, brick kilns, and agriculture etc.This form of migration has further impacted education as children accompanying their parents in the 0-14 year age-group constitute about one-third of the total migrant population who find their schooling interrupted.

Save the Children’s flagship report,Forgotten voices The world of urban children in India, 2015 mentions thatchild population (0 to 18 years) increased by 12.8% in urban areas during the preceding decade, but however neither did enrolment at the school stage nor the number of education facilities and teachers increase proportionally. Studies indicate that in Delhi, almost 31.5% of slum children have never attended school and the main reasons cited range from being underage (46.5%), financial constraints (36.6%) to the negative perception of education among the parents(10%).

Child Labour
Census 2011 puts the number of children (6-14 yrs.) working at 8.22 million (main and marginal). Further, the passing of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2016 poses a new challenges to keep children in school and out of labour. This amendment will allow children to work in family-based enterprises. A Save the Children-Young Lives India study (2015) suggests that 65.5% of children aged 12 who spent three hours or more attending domestic chores dropped out from the schools. The amendment violates the spirit of RTE Act and it will be very difficult to monitor child labour.

Under Performing Pre-school education in ICDS
13.1% children in our country are between 0-6 years of age (Census 2011). Majority of them begin their education in primary school from the age of six years in public schools.UNICEF’s

State of the World’s Children Report (2016) reports that in India, around 20 million children (3-6 yrs) do not attend pre-school. Early Childhood Care and Education (3- 6 years) is not part of the formal education system governed by MHRD, but falls into one of the 6 components of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme implemented by the MWCD. In this structure, the education component of ICDS has been far less effective and fails to prepare the young children for schooling.An effective pre-school component would positively prepare children for primary schooling which would make them confident to learning.

The Draft National Education Policy (NEP) has made certain key recommendations to address the equity gaps. It has recommended that outlay on education should be raised to at least 6% of GDP without further loss of time. This draft NEP further recognizes the importance of Pre-school education and suggests amendment of the RTE Act to make preschool a right.

With an ambition of becoming the global leading child rights movement by 2030, Save the Children, India has embarked on achieving the breakthrough of ‘All children learn from basic education” through improving quality of education and learning outcomes. The role of the private sector is very crucial in ensuring ‘Quality Education for All’.The new set of SDGs highlights the role of private sector in achieving the 17 goals by 2030. Building vibrant and systematic partnerships with the private sector is a vital prerequisite for the successful implementation of a transformative agenda and achieve the goal 4 – “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”in the post-2015 era. The role of the private sector needs to move beyond financial donations towards contributing in bringing best practices in education from across the globe and contextualizing to suit the Indian context. Investments need to be made towards improving the ‘soft component’ of education and its processes like teacher training and strengthen community participation in education governance. The resources of private sector should complement the government efforts and bring value addition and enable innovations in education sector.