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Delhi: Dismal report card

EducationWorld June 13 | Education News EducationWorld

The Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA-II) government at the Centre modestly celebrated completion of four years of its second consecutive five-year term in office on May 22. But the shocked citizenry punch drunk by the unprecedented scams and scandals which have marked its second term, has been in no mood to join the celebrations. Nevertheless the UPA-II government routinely released its self-congratulatory annual Report to the People (RtP) on the occasion.

According to the report, there is near universal enrolment in primary education and a steady increase in the number of years of schooling of the child population. Moreover, although three years after it became law the RTE Act, 2009 is floundering in shallows and misery, the RtP hails it and the mid-day meals scheme as great successes. The report states that 2,441 primary schools and 2,453 upper primary school buildings with 190,000 classrooms, 8,887 drinking fountains and 269,000 toilets were constructed with an aggregate outlay of Rs.23,836 crore in 2012-13.

However, Vinod Raina, visiting professor at the Lingnan University, Hong Kong, and a pillar of the education establishment who played a major role in drafting the RTE Act, and a member of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), is disappointed with half-hearted implementation of the Act. “Enacting RTE is the most notable achievement of UPA-II. However, the Union and state governments have shown noticeable reluctance to implement it. The first priority of providing a neighbourhood school adhering to prescribed norms for all children in three years has been grossly neglected. The government’s attitude is to implement the RTE Act and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (education for all) programme as a traditional welfare scheme rather than as a right,” says Raina.

The Delhi-based RTE Forum, a national coalition of civil society organisations associated with 10,000 grassroot NGOs, education networks, educationists and social activists, is also disappointed with the UPA-II government’s RTE implementation initiatives. According to an RTE Forum survey of 18 states, only 8 percent of India’s 1.30 million schools countrywide are RTE-compliant.

“When the UPA-II govern-ment pushed the RTE Bill through Parliament in 2009, it aroused great expectations. But three years later, the government’s lack of commitment towards discharging its obligations under the Act is obvious as is its reluctance to strengthen the public education system. According to the government’s own data, 8 million children are still out of school and 12 million work as either child labour or live as street children, even as children of migrant labour and those living in civil strife-torn areas are being deprived of their right to education. The failure of the State to bring all these children into mainstream schools is massive,’’ says Ambarish Rai of the RTE Forum.

Unsurprisingly, this pessimistic perspective is not shared by spein-masters of the Congress party fighting a desperate battle to stay in the reckoning in the run-up to the General Election due next summer. According to the RtP, under a national mission on education through information, and communication technology (NMEICT), 400 universities and 117 colleges have been connected through 89 virtual labs, and six new medical colleges modelled on AIIMS, Delhi and sited in Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Jodhpur, Patna, Raipur and Rishikesh, will admit 300 students this year in addition to 26 new medical colleges being sanctioned.

However, according to knowledgeable monitors of the national education scene, many past announcements have been “carried forward’’ into the Twelfth Plan (2012-2017). For instance, 196 SC/ST/minority concentrated districts will get block institutes of teacher education (BITE) during the next five years and 661,000 teachers in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, and Uttarakhand will receive in-service training in the distance mode. Likewise, the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) has been redesigned and allocated Rs.123,000 crore for child care and nutrition during the Twelfth Plan period.

“In higher education, the UPA-II government hasn’t made any headway at all. It introduced several complex and ill-drafted Bills which have met with stiff resistance in Parliament. Consequently there’s been little forward movement in this sector,’’ says Raina.

In his foreword to RtP 2013, prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh admits that public perception of the UPA-II government’s achievements is less than favourable. “…. To our critics I would only say that in many of these areas since the glass was almost empty when we started, it will take some time before it is really full. The important point to note is that it is being filled,” he writes.

But the question is why was the glass “almost empty’’ at the start of the Congress-led UPA-II term in office? After all the Congress party has ruled over independent India for almost half a century.

Autar Nehru (Delhi)

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