RTE Requires More Than Lip Service


Even though it completed its five years last month, the all-round execution of Right to Education is still far and shrouded in vagueness. Children wandering unattended, a usual scene at every government school in the country exposes how the ambitious Act, aimed at imparting free and compulsory education till completion of elementary education in a neighbourhood school, is disorderly on the ground. Ramesh Kumar Raja discussed with Vimala Ramachandran, national fellow and Professor at National University for Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), New Delhi, a range of issues related to the RTE. Vimala Ramachandran has been working extensively on elementary education, girls’ education and women’s empowerment. She was involved in the conceptualisation of Mahila Samakhya (Education for Women’s Equality) – a pioneering Government of India programme – and served as its first National Project Director from 1988- 93. The eminent educationist is also credited to have established Educational Resource Unit in 1998 as a network of researchers and practitioners working on education
Vimala Ramachandran
Vimala Ramachandran National Fellow and Professor, National University for Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), New Delhi

How do you look at the current status of RTE? Do you see the fruits of this Act reaching out to the disadvantaged section of the society?

Given that majority of the poor children attend government schools – and given that government schools are yet to conform to the RTE requirements in terms of facilities/ number of teachers/ overall study environment (including absence of corporal punishment) and actual teaching-learning time spent in school – I think that the children of the disadvantaged sections of our society continue to be neglected. They have not yet realised the right to learn and right to be taught in a caring and non-discriminatory environment.

Most of schools in the country lack the basic infrastructure for RTE. In such situation, does RTE have any chance of success?

Well, let me reiterate that RTE is not only about infrastructure. Yes, most schools are yet to conform to the RTE norms. RTE would not have a chance to succeed if the government continues to pay just lip service to it.

What sorts of rules and regulations are required to make RTE more practical?

Rules and regulations alone do not make a system work – it is about enforcing the rules and regulations, ensuring that the school head and teachers adhere to them, that the administrators who oversee the schools adhere to them. India has many rules and regulations – the problem is that they are not observed in letter and spirit.

What should be done to discourage school dropouts which is still a problem area across the country?

Children drop out of schools – because they learn little. Very little teaching and learning happens, the most disadvantaged children are treated shabbily and they experience both physical and verbal abuse/ punishment. I for one believe that children do not drop out – they are pushed out of the system. It is insensitive and uncaring.

Don’t you think there is a lack of coordination and cooperation between the Centre and State governments?

The main responsibility of implementation is with the state government and not with the central government. So co-ordination between them is not the main hurdle.

The literacy rate in urban areas is relatively higher but the scene of street urchins is still ugly. Don’t you think awareness for this fundamental right is still too low among urban working children who need it most?

What has literacy rate to do with homeless children and street children? It is the new migrants into cities, the very poor and distressed who end up being homeless. It is not only that awareness of fundamental rights is low – but more importantly it is the lack of employment / food security / displacement from their homes or villages that lead to this situation. As we all know, the poorest people in India are also the ones who are not literate.

What should be done to bridge the wide gap between the urban and rural literacy?

In both rural and urban areas, the government should not only ensure that the children have access to a functioning school but also that they are treated with love and care. In urban areas – given that people migrate from different states / language regions – the school system should reach out to the children, and where necessary, enable them to learn in their own mother tongue.

What according to you is ‘real life’ education and how is it important in encouraging the literacy scene of the country?

Real life education is a combination of basic reading-writing-arithmetic skills, building self-confidence and self-esteem, acquiring some essential skills for employment / self-employment.

Do you think the involvement of NGOs and corporate foundations can make a difference in enhancing India’s fundamental literacy?

There is an ample space for everyone in India – government, corporates and NGOs. We have so much to do that every little support is important.