The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE Act came into force on April 1, 2010. The Act provides every child from 6 to 14 years of age to get free and compulsory elementary education in a neighborhood school. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCRs) and Sarba Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) have been authorized to keep an eye on the implementation of this extraordinary right. School Management Committees (SMCs) and State Advisory Councils (SACs) also have been tagged up for the purpose.

It is almost six years now and, therefore, a stock-taking is necessary, particularly in the Odisha context. Some time back a consultation on RTE was organized by Multiple Action Research Group (MARG) in collaboration with Odisha RTE Forum. The idea of the consultation was to bring together all stakeholders working on Right to Education and protection of child rights in Odisha.

This consultation brought to light several anomalies and drawbacks in RTE in Odisha. One glaring pitfall is that although the RTE Act puts the responsibility of enrollment, attendance and completion of education solely on the Government and makes the State and local bodies accountable for the implementation, there is a wide gap between intent and execution.

Everyone will agree that there should be equality of opportunity in education and all discriminatory practices should end. This is a big challenge for the State apparatus, and it is easier said than done. To ensure that every child gets quality education, participation of the community and institutions is imperative. Only when there is a collaborative effort between the Government and non-Government stake holders, things could be taken to their logical conclusion.

There are several gray areas in elementary education and unless there is clarity of thought and action, the implementation is well -nigh impossible. One dreary part is massive privatization of schools. Two: Growing dropouts in Government schools. Three: Waning enrolment in Government schools. Last, but not the least, ideas like model schools. At a time when the Government schools are in a shambles, model schools are uncalled-for.

And now for some brass-tacks: Only three per cent of all the schools in Odisha comply with the provisions of the RTE Act leaving the other 97 per cent acting on their sweet -will. In districts such as Malkangiri and Nabarangpur, the RTE compliance is even lesser – just 1 per cent. Almost 3,000 schools have only one teacher. As much as 57 per cent of schools have no functional toilets and 76 per cent have no hand-wash facilities.

Hold your breath! About 79 per cent of high schools do not have menstrual hygiene management facilities. Thousands of schools don’t have buildings and other obligatory infrastructure. Then, schools are being closed indiscriminately.

According to Odisha RTE Forum convenor Anil Pradhan, the major failure of implementation of the Act is the reduction in number of enrolments in Government-run schools. Enrolment of students in Government schools has come down by about 1.30 lakh in 2014-15.There must have been a further fall during the intervening period.

If students are not joining the Government schools, it is the Government that has to fix the problem. The migration from Government to private schools of an overwhelming number of students even from poor families makes a mockery of the lofty national purpose of universal, free and compulsory primary education.

Education as a fundamental right means little if there is no impartiality. When poor families abandon villages and move to the cities to huddle into increasingly congested, unhealthy habitats, there is sure to be pressure on the Government schools.

As said by RTE campaigner Ambarish Rai, while the RTE Act prescribed a student-teacher ratio of 30:1 for primary and 31:1 for elementary levels, the actual ratio is quite alarming. One big reason for the sorry state affairs is the large scale vacancies of teachers and lack of quality teachers. Nearly 50,000 teacher posts are vacant in elementary schools in the State and the State Government is just staid about it. Most of the teaching posts are being filled up by contractual teachers, who lack motivation to work. Inadequate number of teachers and lack of rationalization in postings are among the prime culprits for the grim scenario.

Former Minister Panchanan Kanungo is more incisive. According to him, instead of spending huge amount of money on setting up new model schools, the State Government should spend the funds in improving the existing school infrastructure.

So, there is a long way to go before Governmental commitments are fulfilled and the Supreme Court’s orders are fully complied. RTE will remain in paper unless vigorous and bold efforts are made at the Government level. No lip service can help.

Source: Daily Pioneer