The Rajasthan government is planning two significant amendments to the Right to Education (RTE) Act: reintroducing exams in at least three classes from Class I to 8, and giving more weightage to “learning outcomes” than to physical infrastructure of schools while deciding on their recognition or registration.
A senior Rajasthan government official told The Indian Express that during Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s “sarkar apke dwar” programme, parents suggested that a complete ban on exams till Class 8 was not in the best interest of the child. “A child must acquire class-appropriate learning skills, and not just be present in a brick-and-mortar classroom,” the official said. Accordingly, the state is considering evaluations in Classes 3, 5 and 8.
The second important amendment relates to focusing more on “learning outcomes” of schools than on hardware such as school buildings, playgrounds etc. Here, the Rajasthan government has taken note of the closure of a large number of private schools in several other states because they could not manage the RTE-mandated physical infrastructure requirement.
The National Independent Schools Alliance (NISA), an association of budget private schools, estimates that 4,331 schools have shut down, affecting about 8.66 lakh students, and another 15,083 schools were facing threat of closure as on March 18, 2014. The Centre for Civil Society, on the other hand, estimates that at least 34.94 lakh children have been affected with 19,414 schools across 17 states having been closed or issued notice for closure for not fulfilling the norms related to infrastructure and teacher salaries.
“We are confusing ‘building schools’ with school buildings. The state plans to restrict the weightage on infrastructure and other inputs to 30 per cent or less, and instead focus on absolute, relative (compared with previous year) and scholastic learning outcomes,” the state government official said.
These are not the only two changes the Rajasthan government is considering. It is planning to allow teachers to conduct tuitions after school hours to boost their incomes, and also let private school managements decide teachers’ salaries instead of taking directions from the government on the issue.
It also plans to hand over education vouchers to parents, instead of the government paying the schools directly, so that the child does not get shamed by schools if the payment from the state does not reach in time. The state will also make government schools as accountable as their private counterparts to ensure equality.
Significantly, realising the aspiration levels of the poor, the state plans to do away with the “neighbourhood” criteria while admitting poor children in private schools. This will help the brighter children among the poor join the best private schools, even if they are not in their neighbourhood.
According to senior government officials, these amendments are being discussed internally, and will be presented to the Chief Minister soon. “Once these are approved by the Chief Minister, these will follow the same legislative route as labour law amendments. A fresh Bill will be placed before the Assembly, and once cleared, sent to the President for his assent,” the official said.