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Should the education Bill be scrapped?

December 02, 2005 12:16 IST

The Bill is well-intentioned, but it may stifle the development of private schools and add to the bureaucracy

Partha J Shah, President, Centre for Civil Society

The only positive aspect of the Right to Education Bill 2005 is the formation of School Management Committees for state and aided schools. Three-fourth of the members will be parents, which will give them genuine power in the committees. The rest of the Bill is a catastrophe.

Unrecognised private schools will be smothered. Between 1991 and 2001, India's literacy rate increased by about 13 percentage points -- from 52 to 65 per cent. This is the highest increase in any 10-year period. This was achieved despite an actual decrease in government educational expenditure in the early 1990s due to the IMF's (Internation Monetary Fund's) structural adjustment programme. Unrecognised private schools for the poor, charging Rs 25 to 200 per month, had come to the rescue. And the Bill assumes that it is helping the poor by outlawing this sector.

The Bill mandates automatic promotion for students and focuses only on the inputs into the education system -- the outlays. No standards are set for learning outcomes. A case of guaranteeing graduation but not education.

The Bill seeks to expand access by two means: by greatly increasing the number of state schools and by the minimum 25 per cent reservation of seats in all private schools. Now, if the government wants to open more schools, certainly no new law is necessary. So, after all the rhetoric, the Bill expects the private sector to discharge the constitutional obligation of the state! Though the success of the Bill depends heavily on capacity addition in the private sector, it does nothing to remove the license-quota raj in opening new schools.

The Bill creates a National Commission for Elementary Education, State Regulatory Authorities, and several "competent authorities", "local authorities", and "empowered authorities" on the top of the existing educracy. The system will be bureaucrushed.

Unlike for private schools, the process of attaining recognition for state schools is not prescribed. It assumes that state schools would automatically meet the standards. Is the government ignorant of the abysmal infrastructure in state schools?

All state teachers will be assigned to a school and will never be transferred again. A teacher will spend her entire working life in one school. If this is what the ministry of human resource development offers as a good HR policy, it's time to close it down.

Only parents and teachers suffer penalty for dereliction of their duties. There is no penalty on the government for failing to meet its obligations.

The outcome of the Bill will be to restrict the school choice of parents and of teachers and to expand the layers and powers of the education bureaucracy. This is not the Bill that would serve the cause of education.

R Govinda, Professor, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration

The enactment of a law making Right to Education a Fundamental Right has become necessary since the goal of Universal Elementary Education has remained elusive despite being a Directive Principle for more than five decades. The majority of those excluded from the ambit of schooling are children of the poor; and the nature and quality of school provision has accentuated inequities in the society.

By getting the participation of private schools in the process of implementing an equitable system of elementary education, the Bill attempts to reduce the widening social divide between the education of the rich and the poor by ensuring that they sit together and learn in the same classroom.

The purpose is not to seek a cross-subsidy from the rich for the education of their poorer kin. Requiring that all elementary schools satisfy certain basic norms in terms of infrastructure, learning facilities and the academic calendar will take care of the problems posed by the mushrooming of sub-standard schools, both in the government and private sectors.

Removing the "transfer of teachers" power takes care of a system, which has resulted in serious malpractice, nepotism, political interference and corruption in the administration of school education.

The Bill requires that every teacher be appointed to a specific school where there is a vacancy, which is normal practice the world over. A teacher can move to another school or to a higher position through open advertisements and competition among those eligible.

This move, coupled with the proposal to empower the School Management Committees to manage the local school, should free schools from bureaucratic control and develop a greater sense of local level accountability and ownership.

Parents would have a significant stake and voice in school functioning as they constitute 75 per cent of members of the Management Committee.

The Bill also proposes the establishment of a National Commission for Elementary Education, as an independent professional body with overarching authority to monitor the implementation of the provisions of the Act.

The NCEE, to be established through processes similar to the NHRC, is envisaged to act as an ombudsman, with the scope to independently assess the situation and instruct the government or any other authority for effective implementation of the provisions.

NCEE's role is critical for the implementation of the Right to Education in a proactive manner, thus protecting the interests of the child.

Finally, elementary education from Kerala to Bihar is not a monolith. A Central legislation cannot be a magic wand for rectifying every problem of the system. Some aspects of the Bill may require fine-tuning. But there is no ground to stall the Bill from being debated in Parliament and eventually becoming a law.