The Hindu, 05 April 2013
Implement RTE Act clauses in letter and spirit with a focus on learning outcomes, say civil outfits.
With the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 completing three years of implementation, representatives of civil society organisations have urged the Centre and the State governments to implement this right with a focus on learning outcomes, and make it a fundamental goal to ensure that all children in India reach well specified learning goals over the next five years.
Civil society activists working in the field of children's right to education said three years since the passage of the Right to Education Act, an ever increasing number of children have access to education but a large and growing amount of data points to the fact that student learning levels are unacceptably low, and that improving schooling inputs have had a very limited impact on improving learning outcomes.
The representatives recommended that the clause mandating 25 per cent reservation in unaided schools for children from economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups be implemented in letter and spirit and the families of the students enrolled under this provision should be reimbursed 'out of pocket expenses' such as book and uniform.
According to Ashish Dhawan of Centre Square Foundation, some States that include Bihar had hardly done any reservation under this quota while in Uttarakhand, only 15,000 seats were filled in 2012-2013 against the 25,000 available.
As the RTE's enforcement deadline expire on March 31, the representatives said that enrolment data across the country showed that government schools were losing students as parents opt to send their children to low-fee private schools. However, many of these private schools face closure from April 1, if they fail to comply with infrastructure and teacher salary norms, which is completely counter-productive because these 'input based' markers of school quality are not correlated with quality of learning outcomes.
"We, therefore, call for an approach to private school regulation based on transparency, and disclosure of audited performance metrics as opposed to input," Sridhar Rajagopalan of Educational Initiatives said while appreciating the approach adopted in Gujarat's Model Rules of recognising private schools based on meeting performance standards.
Highlighting an urgent need to find models that work and replicate them so that school management committees (SMCs) can become a powerful tool for communities to ensure that their children receive quality education, the civil society members said that unfortunately the implementation of SMCs has been uneven across States.
The next 10 years will see the largest ever number of citizens in the school systems at any point in Indian history, and it is critical that this generation that represents the demographic dividend be equipped with the literacy, numeracy, and skills needed to participate fully in a rapidly modernising world, the representatives said adding that the only way to achieve it is to make learning outcomes an explicit goal of our education policy and invest in regular, high quality and independent measurement of learning.
Some of the organisations that were represented are Katha, Accountability Initiative, Educational Initiatives, Akshara Foundation, Pratham Books, Pratham Gujarat, Centre for Civil Society and Gyan Prakash.