By Mukut Lochan Kalita and Tarun Dutta
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 came into force five years back on 1st April 2010. The Act derives from the 86th Constitutiol Amendment Act, 2002 and is an outcome of a hundred years of struggle with a vision of universalization of elementary education that the leaders of the freedom movement and the founding fathers of the tion had. The Act entitles each child aged 6 to 14 years to free and compulsory education as a fundamental right. A historic judgment of the Supreme Court of India concluded that this right derives from the very spirit and principles of the country’s constitution. Thus, right to education, today is a legally ensured right.
In our survey to assess how the Right to Education is being ensured in Assam, we had selected the districts of lbari, Dhemaji, Morigaon and Baksa with special reference to indigenous and migrant as well as margilized communities. We found worrisome shortcomings in ensuring RTE in the schools, and the problem stemmed from the shortcomings and weaknesses of the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) itself, the delivery mechanism to guarantee right to education.
It emerged from our discussions with various stakeholders in the field that the interventions like SSA, though started with ambitious aims and objectives, could not achieve much of them due to flaws both at policy and implementation level. Lack of coordition at policy level, centralized planning, dymics of political interference, lack of accountability and at times very grave corruption at various levels are some of the key malaise which often distorted the all noble aims and goals of SSA.
Very often we heard about the lack of transparency in the decision making process of SSA. Many complained about the decision making process becoming kind of a black box. There have been many changes in the delivery mechanism since the days of DPEP and early SSA in recent times. There is much more multiplicity of agencies involved in the implementation now. The above situation, leads to lack of accountability as no one is responsible. The various government agencies involved in the delivery of education have their own rules, norms and criteria leading often to situations where left hand did not know what the right was doing.
Too much of centralization has become a bane for SSA. The whole system was planned from the headquarters and there is very little local participation in the planning process. Many teachers, we found, were quite disillusioned and at times felt exploited by senior decision-makers. Sometimes they had to bear the brunt of becoming guinea pigs of various experiments designed from the top.
Various government policies such as providing free text book under RTE act, addition of class V to primary section, no detention policy etc. has also led to chaotic situations in many cases. For example, due to no detention policy, students may practically enter high school without really mastering basic competencies in either language or mathematics, creating frustrating situations for high school teachers.
The primary base of education is weakening day by day, now creating a very challenging situation for the secondary stage. The lack of specialist subject teacher at the elementary level later creates difficulties as the new curriculum and text books require much more specialized knowledge on part of the teachers. In such a scerio parents having to send their children either to private schools or provide private tuitions is becoming a reality.
A major handicap of the system, we found, is the lack of teachers for science and mathematics as current syllabus for these subjects is of much higher order which can be taught only by those specializing in these subjects. Though there have been trainings organized by SSA for equipping the teacher, often teachers do not take them seriously for various reasons - many feel they are neither relevant nor practical. There were complaints that often the trainings were either repetitive or perfunctory.
Changing courses and curricula are also affecting the education scerio. The curriculum and method of teaching is frequently changed. Interestingly, we were told, textbooks in State schools have changed four times in last sixteen years. Adding to class V the introductions to subjects like English, Hindi etc. is also creating problems in schools, because most of the teachers find the additiol subjects difficult. Same is the case with the mathematics of the class V level.
There have been problems in the distribution of free textbooks under RTE. In most of the cases textbooks reached very late, sometimes they were much less than required. There has been also allegations that in the me of free textbooks, the authorities suddenly introduced CBSE books which have been merely translated without any adaptation or localization. (To be continued)
(Mukut Lochan Kalita is Convenor, RTE Forum for Assam. Tarun Dutta is Lecturer at Assam University, Diphu)