Monday, 8 February 2016

Schooling without learning

The Right to Education Act needs to be focussed back to its core intent instead of allowing the authorities to impose extraneous conditions on schools

Contrary to popular perception, the vast majority of the 3.3 lakh private unaided schools in India are low-fee establishments. Only about 16,000 of them are ‘elite’ high-fee schools affiliated to the Indian Council of Secondary Education and the Central Board of Secondary Education. According to the National Sample Survey 2014, the median fee in rural India was Rs. 300 per month and the median fee in urban India was Rs. 416 per month for all the high- and low-fee private unaided primary schools taken together. There are inter-State variations, however; in Uttar Pradesh, the median fee in rural and urban India was Rs. 117 and Rs. 250 per month, respectively.

By contrast, in government schools, per pupil expenditure on teacher salary alone is around Rs. 1,300 per month. At the same time, the achievement levels of children in the budget private schools are no worse (and maybe somewhat better) than those in government schools, after adjusting for family background.

Shutting down of schools

Despite giving far greater value for money (learning per unit of cost), thousands of low-fee private schools are being forced to shut down in India. According to media reports and Right to Information inquiries, by March 2014, about 4,355 private schools had been closed down and another 15,083 had received notices to close down, affecting the educational rights of nearly 39 lakh children.

The reason: the requirement of the Right to Education Act (RTE) that all private schools must mandatorily get government recognition by complying with the norms stipulated in the RTE Act and in State RTE Rules. For good measure, many additional conditions for ‘recognition’ have been added in States’ Government Orders (GO). For example, a GO of U.P. dated May 8, 2013 notifies about 40 different conditions a private school has to fulfil in order to obtain recognition.

Simultaneously with private school closures, many government schools are also shutting down because of a lack of demand for dysfunctional schools where teachers are often absent. Meanwhile, the population of children who are of school-going age is rising by 3.8 per cent per year, according to the Censuses of 2001 and 2011.

This situation where both private and government schools are shutting even as more children are going to school has created a national crisis. It has also created a paradox: an Act that vows to promote children’s right to education is itself potentially violating the same. It is also violating fee-paying children’s right to attend a school of their choice.

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