RTE Act 5 Years Later: Pandora’s Box

EducationWorld June 15 | Education World

Ground reports from across the country indicate that implementation of the RTE Act which became law on April 1, 2010 is piecemeal and inchmeal by state governments gripped by financial constraints, bureaucratic corruption and teacher shortages  Summiya Yasmeen

On the fifth anniversary of the landmark Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (aka RTE) Act, 2009 which makes it mandatory for the State (i.e Central, state and local governments) to provide free and compulsory elementary education (class I-VIII) to every child between 6-14 years of age and prescribes minimum infrastructure, teacher-pupil ratios and other norms for all schools, there’s little cause for celebration. Ground reports from across the country indicate that implementation of the RTE Act which became law on April 1,2010, is piecemeal and inchmeal by state governments gripped by financial constraints, bureaucratic corruption and teacher shortages that routinely haunt government schools even as the nation’s 319,990 private schools are struggling with the burden imposed upon them by the Act to provide highly subsidised elementary education to poor children in their neighbourhoods.

Two deadlines — March 31, 2013 for all elementary schools to meet prescribed infrastructure norms and standards and March 31, 2015 for all primary school teachers to attain minimum qualifications (i.e clear the Teacher Eligibility Test) — set by the RTE Act have elapsed, with little to show for them.

According to the RTE Forum, a Delhi-based national coalition of over 10,000 NGOs, educationists and social activists which held its fifth National Stock Taking Convention on the status of implementation of the RTE Act on March 25, 90 percent of the country’s 1.2 million government schools are non-compliant with the infrastructure norms and standards prescribed by the Act. Moreover, the forum estimates a shortage of 500,000 teachers with the country’s 29 state governments having failed to fill teacher vacancies and/or to upgrade the skills and knowledge of 7 million primary school teachers to standards prescribed by the Act. Pass percentages in the Teacher Eligibility Tests (TETs) conducted by state governments are pitiably low, ranging between 0.3 to 6 percent countrywide.

“For the past six decades, Central and state governments have conspicuously failed to deliver on their commitment to provide quality universal primary education. Heavy cuts in the school education budget show that even the new BJP government at the Centre is least bothered about the unsatisfactory implementation of the RTE Act. In Union Budget 2015-16, the BJP government has brazenly cut the RTE-Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (elementary education) budget by 23 percent to Rs.22,000 crore.

More than six million children are still out of school and 41 percent of students drop out before completing class VIII. There’s a shortage of 500,000 school teachers and an additional 660,000 teachers countrywide need training. State governments continue to violate provisions of the RTE Act by recruiting contractual and untrained teachers and teacher training colleges provide sub-standard education. Even so, there’s no clear road-map to improve the quality of teacher training even though the March 31, 2015 deadline for teacher qualifications and training has lapsed,” laments Ambarish Rai, convenor of the RTE Forum.

Though the country’s 1.2 million government-run primaries have missed the infrastructure and teacher training deadlines of the RTE Act, the legislation doesn’t impose punishments upon non-compliant state governments. On the other hand, the punitive s.19 of the Act stipulates that all private schools which haven’t upgraded teacher-pupil ratios, buildings, toilets, drinking water facilities and playgrounds etc by March 31, 2013 “shall” be derecognised and forcibly shut down by the competent authority (local and/or state governments).

This stringent provision has especially clouded the future of the country’s estimated 400,000 ‘unrecognised’ private budget schools with a reported aggregate enrolment of 60 million, which have mushroomed countrywide as a refuge for children from low-income but aspirational households fleeing dysfunctional government schools. Since they levy market-determined tuition fees in the Rs.100-500 per month range, private budget schools cannot afford the infrastructure facilities prescribed by the RTE Act. According to the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), a top-ranked Delhi-based think-tank, over the past two years this targeted provision of the RTE Act has forced the closure of 2,983 private budget schools countrywide with another 5,097 issued closure notices. 

Even as private budget schools have become easy pickings for notoriously venal bureaucrats and inspectors of education ministries in the states, the country’s 320,000 recognised unaided private schools are struggling to devise ways and means to finance highly subsidised education to poor children in their neighbourhoods as mandated by s.12 (1) (c) of the RTE Act. This provision requires all private schools to reserve 25 percent capacity in class I for poor children in their neighbourhoods and provide them free education all the way up to class VIII. The tuition fee of EWS (economically weaker sections) children thus admitted is to be paid by the State (i.e, the Central, state, local governments) which has a limited obligation to reimburse private schools’ fees equivalent to the actual per student expenditure incurred by the government in its own schools.

This controversial and vigorously contested provision of the Act was upheld by the Supreme Court in a questionable judgement delivered in April, 2012, in Society for Unaided Schools of Rajasthan vs. Union of India (Writ Petition (c) No. 95 of 2010). However, the 2-1 majority judgement substantially diluted the impact of s.12 (1) (c) by exempting minority (and boarding) schools from its purview.

Even so, of the estimated 2.1 million seats in private unaided schools which should be made available to children of EWS households, only 610,000 (29 percent) have been filled, according to State of the Nation: RTE Section 12 (1) (c), a nationwide study conducted jointly by IIM-Ahmedabad, the Delhi-based Central Square Foundation, Accountability Initiative and Vidhi Centre for Legal Studies. The 150-page report released on March 24, reveals that five years on, the RTE Rules and notifications framed by state governments to give effect to s. 12 (1) (c) are ambiguous and discretionary with wide disparity in compliance across states. For instance according to State of the Nation, some states have a pathetic compliance record — Andhra Pradesh (0.1 percent), Odisha (1 percent) and Uttar Pradesh (2 percent).

Unsurprisingly, with state governments which have a poor record of managing public schools obliged to frame eligibility and s.12 (1) (c) admission rules, its implementation is mired in chaos and confusion countrywide. Rules relating to awarding minority status to private schools, determining the boundaries of ‘neighbourhood’, and selecting poor children for admission into highly prized (and priced) private schools invest vast discretionary powers in block education officers and other educrats.

Nevertheless, the main complaint of private schools against state governments is delayed reimbursement of even the rock bottom fees payable for  RTE children. For instance in Delhi, even though for the past four years the national capital’s 4,000 private unaided schools have been admitting and providing subsidised education to EWS children, the state government has not reimbursed them even one year’s tuition fee determined by it as Rs.14,280 per student per annum.

The infirmities and inconsistencies of the hastily-drafted RTE Act rushed through Parliament by Kapil Sibal, former Union HRD minister of the Congress-led UPA government,  are not limited to ss.19 and 12 (1) (c). S.16 of the Act mandates  automatic promotion of all in-school children until class VIII, a provision which has diluted  learning outcomes in primary school and the preparedness of students entering secondary education. According to the Annual Status of Education Report 2014, published by the highly-respected Mumbai-based education NGO Pratham, the percentage of class V children in rural India who can read class II texts has dropped from 52.8 percent in 2009 (the year the RTE Act was passed unanimously by Parliament) to 48.1 percent in 2014. Worse, the percentage of class III children who can do simple subtraction sums in 2010 fell from 33.2 percent in 2010 to a mere 25.3 percent in 2014.

At a meeting of state education ministers convened on March 22 by Union HRD minister Smriti Irani to discuss a New Education Policy proposed by the year-old BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, a number of them complained about s.16 which has disabled students from coping with high school (class IX-X) curriculums. Last year, a committee constituted by the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) recommended a review of s.16 on the basis of representations made by over 20 state governments.

Five years after enactment of the RTE Act, amid hosannas and acclamation for guaranteeing universal primary education, the pace of change is painfully slow with over 90 percent of the country’s 1.30 million primary schools having missed the infrastructure upgradation/teacher-pupil norms deadline of 2013, and the second 2015 deadline for upgrading teacher qualifications. Moreover, several provisions of the hastily drafted Act which pass on government responsibility to educate the masses to private institutions on its (government’s) terms and conditions, have wreaked chaos while weakening the autonomy of India’s 319,990 recognised private schools, and simultaneously endangering the future of 400,000 unrecognised private budget schools.

“In the five years of its existence, the RTE Act has created large scale resentment among the citizens, especially the parents of poor children  who feel cheated since their children’s education has not benefited an iota from this Act… the RTE Act 2009 has failed to achieve the objective of providing adequate neighbourhood schools, quality education with good learning outcomes, and high teacher accountability; it has led to declining educational standards; has denied access to education in private schools to the economically weaker children; has exacerbated the fault-lines between minority and non-minority educational institutions; has greatly eroded the autonomy of private unaided schools; and has led to the large scale closure of private unrecognised schools, thereby depriving children of their right to education,” writes Dr. Jagdish Gandhi, the iconic founder of the City Montessori School, Lucknow which with 20 campuses in the city and an aggregate enrolment of 52,000 students is acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest urban school, in a letter (May 21) to prime minister Narendra Modi to replace the RTE Act, 2009 with a new Right to Quality Education Act.

In the pages following, EducationWorld presents interviews with principals/directors of a mix of private, government and budget schools countrywide, highlighting their experience of implementing the RTE Act over the past five years.

“We welcomed the RTE Act with open mind”

Sarojini Rao is principal of the IBO, Geneva-affiliated Indus International School (IIS), Bangalore, ranked India’s #1 international day-cum-boarding school for three consecutive years (2012-14) in the EW India School Rankings. This 12-year-old school has an enrolment of 1,300 students, including 30 children in classes I-II admitted under s. 12 (1) (c).

On April 1, the RTE Act completed five years. What is your assessment of the Act’s impact on Indian school education?

The RTE Act has succeeded in spurring a debate about the collective social responsibility of education institutions in leveling the uneven social fabric, and has increased awareness of marginalisation of the underprivileged in education. It has prompted private schools to connect with their local communities, encouraging them to experience firsthand the social, economic and nutritional deprivation underprivileged children suffer. By guaranteeing the right to education, the RTE Act has provided them a voice and nurtured their hopes and dreams.

What is your school’s experience of implementing s.12 (1) (c) which requires private schools to allot 25 percent of seats in class I to underprivileged children in their neighbourhood?

From the beginning, IIS welcomed the RTE Act with an open mind, admitting children from surrounding villages. RTE students have added a new socio-economic layer to our school environment. The first year is an important time for them to acclimatise to our international school environment, which hosts students from 27 countries. We have found these children’s readiness to learn is adversely affected by a variety of factors such as lack of nutrition and home support. From the initial settling in to adjusting to new learning routines, we help them to integrate and participate in all school activities.

Is the state government’s reimbursement of tuition fees of s. 12 (1) (c) children sufficient?

The reimbursed (Rs.11,482) annual tuition fee is certainly not sufficient, but we regard acceptance of a small number of poor neighbourhood children as our social responsibility.

What is the impact of the Act’s ‘no detention until class VIII’ provision on learning outcomes in your school?

The no detention policy resonates with our own, since the IBO’s primary years programme follows an intrinsic motivation approach to self-discipline.

How satisfied are you with the implementation of the RTE Act by the Central and State governments?

The RTE Act is idealistic and has raised many implementation questions. Will schools treat students from the lower strata equally? What is the emotional impact on RTE students when they are placed in higher social and economic peer groups? How will student expectation be supported after class VIII? The government should conduct welfare sessions to help parents understand their responsibility in supporting their children’s educational journey. Also, the process of RTE admissions is not transparent, and at times the most deserving are not admitted into private schools.

Government schools improvement plea

Mudit Mehrotra is chief operating officer of two CBSE-affiliated Neiil World Schools in Morena and Guna, Madhya Pradesh with an aggregate enrolment of 1,700 students. Every year, each school admits five students under s.12 (1) (c).

Five years on, what is the impact of the RTE Act, 2009 on Indian school education?

The RTE Act has found acceptance in private schools during these five years. Admitting EWS children is now a smooth exercise in our schools.

Your school’s experience of implementation of s.12 (1) (c) of the Act?

Public awareness about the RTE Act has significantly increased in the smaller towns of India, as indicated by the increase in the number of s.12 (1) (c) applications. This year, we received ten admission applications for every seat available in our two schools.

What’s your comment on the MP state government’s reimbursement of tuition fees under s.12 (1) (c)?

The state government has been regular in transferring the statutory reimbursement — Rs.3,472 per year — fee to us. It’s a small percentage of the amount Neiil World Schools spend on schooling each child per year. But timely reimbursement is proof of smooth implementation of the Act.

How have your schools met the challenge of integrating children from lower socio-economic backgrounds?

The first step to ensure equity for EWS students is not to disclose their names to teachers. The academic performance of some EWS students has been quite outstanding. Actually, EWS students are less concerned about academic and social integration than their parents. We can do much better if we receive better participation from parents.

How satisfied are you with the implementation of the RTE Act by government?

The district education department has been very supportive. We consult them at each stage of implementation of the Act. The process of implementation has stabilised now.

Any other comment?

I wish and pray the effort put in to implement the RTE Act in private schools is replicated in improving the quality of education in government schools. We are ready to provide all possible support in this endeavour.

“No impact on learning outcomes”

Ashok Thakur is promoter-director of the CBSE-affiliated private budget Muni International School, Mohan Garden, Delhi, which has 750 K-X students (tuition fee: Rs.850 per month) on its muster rolls.

On April 1, the RTE Act completed five years. What is the Act’s impact on Indian school education?

The RTE Act has had little impact in comparison with the government’s midday meal scheme. However, both have contributed significantly to improved GER (gross enrolment ratio). But the story stops there. Learning outcomes continue to remain poor in government schools.

What is your school’s experience of implementation of s.12 (1) (c) of the Act which requires private schools to allot 25 percent of seats in class I to underprivileged children in their neighbourhood?

We are compliant with our registration norms. Thus far, no children have applied for admission under s.12 (1) (c). We fulfill the major norms such as pupil-teacher ratio, toilets, even if not a playground.

Is the state government’s reimbursement of tuition fees of s.12 (1) (c) children sufficient?

No.  As I said, nobody has applied to our school.

What is the impact of the Act’s ‘no detention until class VIII’ provision on learning outcomes in your school?

It doesn’t have much impact in our school as we have made learning interesting and our students realise that learning outcomes are important. But there’s no doubt the no-detention policy has made students lax and complacent.

How satisfied are you with implementation of the RTE Act by the Central and state governments?

I am satisfied that for the first time there is a law, standards and norms for schools. As an educationist, it’s now my turn to sincerely deliver quality education to children.

“More on paper than on ground”

Subrat Das is principal of the ‘recognised’ private budget R.K. Public School, Gurgaon. Affiliated with the Haryana state board, this K-X school has an enrolment of 628 students.

On the RTE Act’s fifth anniversary, what’s the Act’s impact on Indian school education?

RTE is more on paper than on ground. Its effect is not visible. There’s no improvement per se in primary education quality and standards because of the RTE Act.

What is your school’s experience of implementation of s.12 (1) (c) of the Act which requires private schools to allot 25 percent of seats in class I to underprivileged children in their neighbourhood?

Norms have been prescribed but as I’ve said, there’s nothing happening on the ground. So we are not bothered about implementing it. However, we provide facilities such as toilets, drinking water, play space etc. We are not facing any pressure from the government and if we receive admission applications, we will adhere to the provisions of s.12 (1) (c).

What’s the impact of the Act’s ‘no-detention until class VIII’ provision on learning outcomes in your school?

The government’s intention behind this policy is motivation and retention of students. But mere attendance in school is not enough. Learning outcomes have suffered in our school and others.

How satisfied are you with the implementation of the RTE Act by the Central and state governments?

The RTE Act has made no impact. The government needs to motivate and uplift the morale of teachers. If teachers are not inspired, student learning outcomes will obviously suffer.

Government should mind own schools

Deepak Madhok is promoter-chairman of the Varanasi-based Sunbeam Group of education institutions (estb.1972) which comprises 19 schools, a women’s college and three free schools with an aggregate enrollment of 22,000 students mentored by 2,000 teachers.

What’s your assessment of the impact of the RTE Act on Indian school education?

I believe the Act is excessively inputs-focused rather than outcomes-oriented. What’s also surprising is that even after five years, many state governments are yet to enact proper rules and regulations for implementing the Act.

What is your school’s experience of implementation of s.12 (1) (c) of the Act?

Since we are a private, unaided, Sikh minority education institution, we are exempted from the purview of s.12 (1) (c) by a Supreme Court judgement.

What’s your comment about the UP state government’s reimbursement of tuition fees of s.12 (1) (c) children?

The method of calculating per child fee reimbursement excluding capital costs has hurt private schools which have implemented the RTE Act. Fixing a uniform fee reimbursement is unfair. We need a graded system in which schools are classified based on infrastructure, academic delivery systems, and other parameters. Also reimbursements have to be made on time which isn’t happening now.

How has your school overcome the challenge of integrating — academically and socially — children from lower socio-economic backgrounds?

As I said, we don’t come under the purview of s.12 (1) (c). However, being well aware of our corporate social responsibility, we have promoted the Sunbeam Gramin School, Karsana, free-of-charge for students from weaker sections of society. Children from all Sunbeam branches visit and interact with children of the Sunbeam Gramin School.

How satisfied are you with the implementation of the RTE Act by the Central and state governments?

I believe the RTE Act in its present form has neither been able to achieve its prime objective of ensuring every child between 6-14 years is in school, nor has it been able to deliver quality primary education. At best, it is a populist measure. It’s far more important for the government to improve academic standards of its own schools where 85 percent of the country’s children are enroled.

Mixed feelings

Ashok Pandey is principal of the Ahlcon International School, Delhi (estb. 2001). This CBSE-affiliated K-12 school currently hosts 300 children under s.12 (1) (c) of the RTE Act.

On April 1, the RTE Act completed five years…

The RTE Act is landmark legislation. No one can dispute the intent of the Act which is to provide every child in India quality schooling. Two issues, however, need official attention. One, the reimbursed tuition fee is inadequate. Second, the obligation of state governments to improve their own schools in terms of infrastructure, teacher availability, class sizes, quality of instruction etc is being ignored.

What is your school’s experience of implementation of s.12 (1) (c) of the Act?

Our experience has been good. Our students, parents and teachers have been exemplary in their efforts to implement this provision and the school management has also gone all out to create an inclusive environment. However, the academic progress of s.12 (1) (c) children requires far greater inputs than we anticipated.

Is the state government’s reimbursement of tuition fees of s.12 (1) (c) children sufficient?

In Delhi, there have been no reimbursements whatsoever. On the contrary, the state government has tried to force the obligation of providing free books and uniforms to RTE children upon us. The fee reimbursement issue is currently in the courts.

What is the impact of the Act’s ‘no detention until class VIII’ provision on learning outcomes in your school?

The overwhelming opinion seems to be in favour of abolition of this provision. Compulsory promotion is a disincentive for teaching-learning. Having said that, detaining a child should not be the first choice of schools dealing with academic under-performance.

Are you satisfied with the implementation of the RTE Act by the Central and state governments?

The first five years have seen a transition from scepticism to acceptance. What’s required now is to create models of best practices to mainstream RTE students. Three years from now, the first batch of RTE students will be in class VIII, the last year of education guaranteed under the Act. What happens next remains to be seen.

To sum up, state governments must review the fees reimbursement issue, and focus on improving the quality of education delivered in their own schools.

Too early to judge

Abha Meghe is director of the Nagpur-based Meghe Group of Schools comprising 23 institutions with an aggregate enrolment of 19,757 students.

Five years on, what’s the impact of the RTE Act on Indian school education?

I believe the Act is a qualified success. However, it’s still too early to comment. It will take some time before the RTE Act truly transforms the lives of children and their families from underprivileged strata of society.

What is your school’s experience of implementing s.12 (1) (c)?

Thus far, our experience hasn’t been good as it’s very difficult to verify documents presented by parents. Many parents present fraudulent financial documents and address proof to secure admission into private schools.

Is the Maharashtra state government’s reimbursement of tuition fees of s. 12 (1) (c) children sufficient?

Not at all. The sad part is that for the past three years, private schools have not received even a single paisa from the state government by way of reimbursement of tuition fees of s.12 (1) (c) children. 

What is the impact of the Act’s ‘no detention until class VIII’ provision on learning outcomes in your school?

I believe this provision is one of the major flaws of the Act. It doesn’t motivate students to perform well in academics.

How satisfied are you with the implementation of the RTE Act by the Central and state governments?

The Central government has done well in legislating the Act. But because of the Rules framed by the Maharashtra state government, there’s lack of clarity on some issues such as admission of s. 12 (1) (c) students in nursery classes and reimbursement of tuition fees.

Moreover, parents of EWS children are getting financial relief only by way of tuition fees waiver, they still have to incur expense on books, uniforms, etc.

Any other comment.

Overall, the RTE Act is a great step forward to improve the education system. Properly implemented, it has the potential to enable students from lower strata of society to access quality education.

Sufficient fee reimbursement in TN

S.S. Nathan is CEO of the CBSE-affiliated Bala Vidya Mandir (BVM), Chennai, two BVM Global Schools in Chennai, and one each in Bangalore, Tiruchi, Salem and Coimbatore with an aggregate enrolment of 5,000 students.

What’s the impact of the RTE Act, 2009 on Indian school education?

In Tamil Nadu, the impact has been poor. According to data from the District Information System for Education, over 575,000 seats in private unaided schools are available for EWS children in the state. However, only 11.3 percent of these seats have been filled. Even those who have been admitted come from undeserving families who can afford the fees, but have taken advantage of the Act to get into high quality private schools.   

What is your group’s experience of implementing s.12 (1) (c) of the Act?

In our two Chennai schools, not many parents from underprivileged sections have applied for admission under the quota, as they fear their children may not understand English or be able to cope with the applications-oriented CBSE syllabus. Our experience with RTE admissions in BVM Global School, Bangalore has been good. We have admitted 20-22 students in the past two years.

What is the record of the TN state government in reimbursing tuition fees of s.12 (1) (c) children?

The TN state government hasn’t reimbursed fees for the past two years, forcing private unaided schools to deny admission to children under s.12 (1) (c) in the new academic year. But on May 16 the state government sanctioned the reimbursement amount, following which schools have agreed to admit EWS children. I believe the fee reimbursement is quite sufficient given that the government exempts city schools from paying corporation tax and provides power subsidy. Therefore if schools complain, it’s only because they are reluctant to admit children under the RTE quota.  

What is the impact of the Act’s ‘no detention until class VIII’ provision on learning outcomes in your schools?

We have been practicing the no-detention policy for the past 55 years since our first school Bala Vidya Mandir, Adyar was established in 1960. Our learning outcomes have not been affected and we have succeeded in nurturing leaders. 

How satisfied are you with the implementation of the RTE Act by the Central and state governments?

I’m happy with the RTE Act but dissatisfied with its implementation. It’s the government’s obligation to find out what’s wrong with the execution and correct it.

Migrant children hurdle

A Delhi government school principal spoke with EW on condition of anonymity. Sited in the heart of the city, at the foot of a flyover on one of the main connecting roads, the modestly equipped government school offers a sandy football-sized field and separate, if not entirely clean, toilets for boy and girl students.

On April 1, the RTE Act completed five years. What is the Act’s impact on Indian school education?

As a principal in New Delhi, I can’t say a lot has changed. A major part of the problem is there is a large number of migrant daily wage labourers who don’t have fixed working sites. Therefore it’s difficult for them to send their children to school. However, the positive is that when parents demand it, education is being provided.

S.19 and Schedule of the RTE Act mandated all schools including government schools to meet infrastructure and teacher-pupil ratios by March 31, 2013. To what extent has your school met these norms and standards?

Nearly 100 percent, as there is regular monitoring by the authorities. However, a problem that is rarely mentioned is the extremely adverse teacher-pupil ratio after class IX.

What’s the impact of the Act’s ‘no detention until class VIII’ provision on learning outcomes in your school?

Complacency has set in among students, not to mention that students who perform poorly get further discouraged and often stop attending school.

How satisfied are you with the implementation of the RTE Act by the Central and state governments?

While the 25 percent quota for EWS students in private schools is a good idea, the few students who do get admissions into these ‘superior’ schools, find it almost impossible to integrate. Students from wealthy families often discriminate against them.

With Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai), Autar Nehru & Girija Shivakumar (Delhi)

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