Right to Education Act, 2009 – a landmark act that gives every child in the age group of six to fourteen years the right to full time elementary education? Or, an act that is incapacitating the education sector due to unduly stringent regulation and norms?
For India to grow economically, and for this growth to be inclusive, the country needs to ensure an educated and skilled population – one that we are currently struggling to provide. An act that ensures universal access to education should therefore be welcomed with open arms. However, with its current flaws and bureaucratic obstacles, the Act is undermining the very purpose it stands for.
The RTE, in its current structure, emphasises solely the duties and inputs into provision of education, implicitly assuming that adherence to these will ensure a healthy sector, which will increase access as well as quality. However, we have seen that this just isn’t so, and numerous reports exist to support this (for example, ASER 2013). Further, it is odd to note that an act that aims to provide universal access to education, is leading to closure of schools, especially those that provide quality education to the poor at affordable prices (see Punjab: a hotspot for closure of budget private schools).
Instead, why not prioritize learning outcomes and shift towards a model that promotes quality and choice? Why not shift focus away from ensuring that teachers meet a minimum qualification, towards ensuring that teachers are motivated and principals have the autonomy to operate their schools? Why not encourage innovation and competition and establish independent assessment centres that monitor learning outcomes? These questions may seem rhetorical but perhaps they are a good starting point for debate and discussion that will ultimately lead us to a new era, a new policy that will ensure universal access to equitable and high quality education.
It's time now to assess the structure, impact and limitations of the RTE 2009, and make appropriate amendments – it's time now to move towards RTE 2.0.
Conceptually, the new amended act, RTE 2.0, should reflect the need to shift focus towards learning outcomes, and ensure that every student acquires age-appropriate learning levels. Further, taking a cue from Gujarat State RTE Rules, norms and standard for school recognition should take into account learning outcomes, and extra-curricular activities. Finally, the amended act should also allow for greater autonomy, and decentralisation so that school leaders are able to effectively operate their schools, and school management committees have more authority, especially in matters related to teacher hiring and assessment.
These are just a few suggestions that I believe will ensure that every child has access to high quality education, and is able to acquire age-appropriate learning levels. However, there are many more issues that haven’t been discussed yet, and solutions need to be identified for the same – so what is stopping us from having this discussion?