Friday, April 13, 2012

Right to Education Act

The RTE Act coming into force is an important landmark in the evolution of this country. From long years of neglect of primary education to providing access to superior schooling to the underprivileged is indeed an astonishing transformation. As an unabashed champion of inclusiveness, I cannot help feeling a wave of exultation.

Alas, as a hard-nosed observer of the Indian system and a cold-blooded student of management, I cannot help having reservations. The idea is laudable. The poor should be able to walk into any school in their neighbourhood, not just into a municipal school. But will reserving 25% of seats in private schools (leaving aside exceptions) work? First, the central and state governments will bear some of the cost, not all of it. The rest of the cost will presumably be passed on to the 75% well-off children through higher fees. (The government will pay as per the fee in the central Kendriya Vidyalaya schools).One can expect private schools to face the usual hassles in settlement of dues on account of the reserved category.

Alright, suppose the financial part is taken care of. What then? We will have children from the disadvantaged category sitting next to well-heeled children. The differences in status will be glaring and is bound to tell on morale and confidence in the reserved category. One can expect discrimination from the teaching staff. The reserved category may face a high failure rate, which could itself prompt drop-outs.

Most importantly, the reserved category will find the going difficult beyond a certain class- say, seven or eight- for the simple reason that, even in so-called good quality private schools, the overwhelming burden of teaching- or preparing for the exam- rests with private tutors and coaching classes. In many schools, in the tenth grade, even the pretence of teaching disappears. There is mass absenteeism for much of the year as the children are busy preparing on their own by attending classes outside. You could argue that poor children suffer from this disadvantage - of not being able to afford coaching classes- even when they attend public schools. True, but now they will find themselves in the CBSE and other schools where the handicap could prove more crippling than in the state boards.

In a municipal or public school, the poor child is less likely to feel socially handicapped, whatever the other problems. Can poor children do well in schools where they face enormous hostility and serious handicaps in coping? These are the issues one has to reckon with. I would imagine that the government will have to step in with cash vouchers that enable the children to attend coaching classes as well.

This is a bold experiment that deserves a try. The results should be closely monitored and correctives introduced from time to time. I doubt, however, whether it can be an alternative to adding to and improving the quality of public schools.


JC said...

well the government has also brought in regulations to ensure that no student can be failed till 8th class. So the children of the poor can have a jolly good time...

sujatha said...

T.T.R, you have said it all!
Social ostracism is a concern which will be a challenge to the educators and a trauma to the under privileged. What is of greater concern is will this measure increase enrollment? Many children from this section do not wish to go to school for two reasons:
1. They have to financially support their families.
2. The do not find academics (theoretical studies) interesting. They would rather do mechanical / physical work.
What I have always felt is in the public schools besides basic academics, if half a day could be spent on imparting vocational training, these students will be equipped with skills which will help them in earning a livelihood once they are out of schools. Otherwise schools will be churning out tons of unskilled dropouts.

chandramouli said...

I fully agree with the professor that the best solution is the improvement in the quality of Municipal or public schools. But a few personal thoughts on the post:
1. 75% well off students, who pay heavily for coaching classes should be able to subsidise partially the cost of 25% deprived students. In fact, today we are so self-centric that we feel it a pain to sacrifice even a little towards the less endowed of our society.
2. Let us understand the social fabric of our society and our parliament. Majority of us are poor, illiterate, living in rural areas and this composition is also reflected in the elected representative of our country. The members of parliament reflect the social fabric of our society and still the country is governed. The same social fabric should also be reflected in a classroom to the extent possible. That is the idea of RTE. Yes there will be problems of inferiority complex, morale etc. But is it not there in our society today? And are we not living with it? RTE, no doubt, has lot of gaps but the strong points of RTE are overwhelming.
3. Let me talk from my own experience. The composition of my class in the school I went had say about 50% Christians, 25% from well-off families and 25% from lower middle class families (me included in this category).Yes, we had the complex may be up to standard 8 or 9, which we never bothered. But it all vanished once we reached our 11th standard. Again in the college there was no complexes and we dominated in our performances and I can say that all of us have been successful in life. In fact, success is actually achieved after your schooling. So this complex, morale is only a myth, and RTE in fact, tries to remove the same. Many of Indians had a complex with the westerners, but after independence with freedom, we started moving all over the world and we do not today have any complex in dealing with the westerners. At least the generation post independence have no such problems.
4. Coaching classes are thriving because of the nature of our education system which is very academically oriented. The entire syllabus can be standardised and intensive coaching can be given to students to score 100% marks. But this produces only successful ROBOTS but not thinkers and innovators. That is not the goal of education. This can be partially solved if consideration is given to the suggestion of Ms. Sujatha (who has respondended to this post herein), which is highly worth considering. But, nevertheless, our education system needs lot of improvements so that we can produce majority of students with an analytical and innovative mind.
5. System of cash vouchers for attending coaching classes is not workable and is also not recommended for obvious reasons.

Manoj Meena said...


Great Article. I just wanted to point out one issue. RTE is applicable only till 8th class. So I believe that the coaching and tuitions would play only a limited role. Apart from that, I agree with you that this historic legislation deserves closer study, and tweaking it to make it more robust before country wide implementation.

cfp123 said...

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Debtblank said...

Of all the 5 years I spent in India, the one I noticed is that Indians are wonderful in education. Especial the intermediate education is really good which is really the one that matters the most.

Krishnan said...

The idea that you can "engineer" a (any) social "good" is hard to argue with - those that advance such ideas are just absolutely sure that it will work OR they will make it work.

No one will deny the value of a good education - and yes, we must find a way to make sure that anyone can get a good education - but we cannot do this by "reservations" or "affirmative" action as it is called in the US - We cannot undo years of discrimination by discrmination - this time against the children and grand children of those that may have been responsible for the original discrimination.

Just about most highly regarded/respected universities in the US admit students with less than stellar records in the name of "diversity" - these students are often unable to keep up with the others - and often fail - when they could have excelled somewhere where they were better matched with their peers.

Economists from Duke University recently asked "What happens after enrollment?" (Peter Arcidiacono and others) - they discovered the rather unpleasant truth that "good" intentions do not always make for "good" results - the authors were excoriated for daring to examine data and drawing conclusions that were unpalatable to the ruling and governing class.

The way forward is not to penalize those that can and are able - Far too many very good students in India cannot get to the Colleges they want because of artificial barriers that have nothing to do with merit - The solution to the education problem at the elementary and middle and high school levels is to expand the opportunities for all and not to discriminate against some - and be aware that change will come, but it will not happen overnight.

I am aware that the problems faced by the poor and less able in India are significant - and historical attitudes about class and caste and position and all that are difficult to overcome - but by instituting discrimination against a group whose ancestors were responsible for many problems is not the way to solve todays' problems.

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