India passed the Right To Education (RTE) Act in April, 2010, with the idea to provide compulsory education for every child under the 6-14 age group in India. Although the thought of education for all is a good one, the concept of education and its implementation in India is totally flawed!!
The RTE Act is heavily focused on school infrastructural needs – playground, library, teacher-student ratio, student enrollment rate etc. Although these things are important, one shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that quality of education is as important, if not more important, than quantity.
Let me try to explain my rationale by pointing to the following 3 things:
1) The Annual Status for Education Report (ASER) 2010 for India clearly shows that the quality of basic education is pathetic – 6% of 5th Graders cannot read basic text (expected of a 2nd Grader) in their local language, 64% cannot do basic arithmetic function like division, and on an average a quarter of the 8th Graders are not able to answer basic questions on everyday Math. The Grade repetition and drop-out rates are high by international standards. Hence, clearly something is not right. It’s either the teachers, the teaching method, or just the whole education system. Just focusing on the school infrastructure is NOT going to magically improve student outcomes.
2) Teacher Accountability is very low in India, with teacher absenteeism rates being the highest in the world. And nobody wants to address or even talk about the issue. The teacher unions have political contacts, and the teachers (mostly in the public education) have very little motivation for various reasons – low accountability, job stability, pay is seniority-based and NOT performance-based….the list goes on.
3) Non-Formal Education in India which do not meet the ridiculous school infrastructural needs will have to be shut down. Kids from the low-income households in India, who are even willing to pay a minimal fee for a better quality education, go to these well-run, non-formal private schools with motivated teachers. They will now be forced to either completely drop-out of schools, or to enroll in one of the public schools providing abysmal quality of education. Many regions in rural areas in India do not even have access to public schools, and these non-formal schools is their only hope for education. What will happen to the kids in these rural areas? Just doesn’t make sense…does it?
The focus of RTE is on the inputs to the education system, and NOT on the most important part – the student outcomes or the quality of education. RTE is impractical, flawed and just outright ridiculous. I wonder if the guys who worked on drafting this act have ever actually been on field visits to rural India, or ever seen the reality on the ground. Just guaranteeing schooling does NOT guarantee education!! India needs to immediately shift its focus to improving the quality of its education system, by taking into account the REAL ISSUES on the ground. And the first step should be amending the RTE Act. I’m a born optimist, but a practical one at the same time. And I’m convinced, that if the quality of basic education doesn’t improve in India, the blessings of a young demography will turn into a curse and an outright disaster for India in coming decades.