New Delhi: In yet another signal that the ruling Congress party is getting ready for the next general election, the National Advisory Council (NAC), which sets the social agenda for the Union government, has sought an institutional audit of the implementation of the government’s marquee Right to Education (RTE) programme. NAC is headed by Congress party president Sonia Gandhi.
The move, which comes barely 10 weeks before the 31 March deadline for achieving RTE metrics, calls for a review of the parameters including enrolment, education infrastructure, filling up vacant teachers’ posts, and training teachers already in the system. While the record on enrolment is very impressive, there have been shortcomings on other parameters.
Analysts believe the adverse findings may result in the government deciding to extend the tenure of the programme, enabling the Congress party to score critical brownie points on its claims of social inclusion.
“This is politics and they are looking at rural votes. With elections coming in a year’s time and the Congress party being in a mess, they need talking points and RTE is one of them,” said S.L. Rao, a Bangalore-based sociologist and former director general of the National Council of Applied Economic Research. “They want to go to the electorate and say that we have given you rural employment guarantee and we have sent your children to the best schools.”
On the draft recommendations, he said, “The trouble with NAC is they have wonderful ideas, but they don’t look at how to implement them in a serious and phased manner.”
NAC has suggested forming an inter-ministerial coordination system involving three ministries—human resource development (HRD), women and child development, and panchayati raj—for better implementation of the RTE Act and an institutional audit of 1.3 million schools, to monitor, address grievances, and bring accountability to the system. The NAC draft recommendation was made on 10 January.
As per RTE, all schools need to achieve all parameters by 31 March, three years after it came into existence.
RTE is one of three key flagship social programmes of the Union government along with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the National Rural Health Mission. And for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, RTE is even more significant as it came into force on 1 April 2010 during the second term of the UPA.
The women and child development ministry houses the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), and the panchayati raj ministry houses the gram panchayats, designated as local authorities in rural areas in most states. NCPCR is currently the official monitor of the Act. RTE caters to some 200 million students in the 6-14 age group pursuing education in over 1.3 million schools.
NAC has said that monitoring, accountability and grievance redressal mechanisms are “urgently needed” and in its absence “the education system may soon be confronted by a range of legal complaints, that generate a reactive and adversarial relationship between the school system and citizens”.
About institutionalizing the audit of schools, the council has advised that the “purpose...is to create a mechanism of public accountability involving the community in verifying data and identifying problems”.
It said that NCPCR, which has piloted an audit in some states, should transfer the know-how to enable the nationwide audit of primary schools. The report should be submitted to all stakeholders, including NCPCR, and finally placed in the public domain.
On ministries joining hands, NAC suggests that officials from other departments such as drinking water, sanitation and public works should also be “oriented on RTE”.
Apart from enrolment, which currently stands at nearly 99%, several other parameters including building school infrastructure, teachers’ appointments, playgrounds and provision of drinking water, fall under the Act. HRD minister M.M. Pallam Raju had said on 21 November that he sees teachers’ training and vacancies as a huge task. There are 1.3 million teachers’ vacancies in schools, according to government data.
The 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17) documents also underline that although “the number of elementary schools has increased to 13.04 lakh, many schools lack the basic infrastructure facilities required under the RTE Act. For example, the retention of girls in schools remains difficult given that over 63% of rural schools have no usable toilet facilities for them”.
While the suggestions are laudable, the reality is that inter-ministerial coordination is not an easy task and the situation in Delhi and in the states is completely different, said Madhav Chavan, founder of education not-for-profit Pratham.
Enrolment was increasing, but that’s not the point, he said. Infrastructure is growing slowly and even three years after it was initiated, progress is not satisfactory, he added.
“The learning outcome is not going anywhere. We have been telling in our annual reports and now the 12th Plan documents tells that focus should be on learning outcome,” said Chavan.
Vinod Raina, another educationist, said that compliance on the RTE Act is poor. “If you take into account all the parameters of the Act, then perhaps only 6% of all schools have complied with the requirement,” said Raina, who is also a member of the Central Advisory Board of Education, the apex advisory body to the HRD ministry. He, however, feels that the suggestions, especially the audit of schools, are very important.
NAC has also suggested a set of recommendations to end discrimination in schools, including preparing teachers to handle such issues, and budgetary provisions to promote equity and inclusion in schools. RTE reserves 25% of seats for underprivileged students living in the vicinity of the schools.