Kiran Bhatty | 46 | Policy Maker
Former National Coordinator, National Commission For the Protection Of Child Rights
Reports from students and parents from across India indicate that while RTE is an enabling Act, not much has changed on the ground. What’s your view?
I’m not entirely pessimistic. But the pace of change has certainly been slower than what was expected or desired. In the first year, I think a fair amount of work was done. Changes were made in the primary education structure and finances. The pre-existing Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan norms were revised. The financial structure was revisited. But after that, one expected that things would start moving downwards, closer to the people. But that process has really not taken off.
The other criticism is that people at the receiving end say they don’t care so much about whether the right kinds of tables and chairs or even bathrooms exist in schools. What is more worrying is the quality of education being so poor.
There’s no doubt that the quality of education leave a lot to be desired. It’s true that one should not focus only on infrastructure but if you don’t even have the basic infrastructure, it becomes very difficult to get to the next level in terms of quality. If a child doesn’t have water to drink or is desperate to go to the toilet and there is none then there is not much learning s/he can do anyway. The fact that RTE is asking for the professionalisation of the teaching cadre is a huge step. All of that adds towards changing the quality but this will take time.
Do you see the first steps being taken in that direction?
They need to give this more attention. There is not enough political will shown by the HRD ministry. They have to put more money into this system and also sort out the institutions that are meant to provide education. From teacher training institutes to textbook formulation bodies and the block administration office that is the closest administrative unit to the people… all of these are thoroughly dysfunctional and they need reform.
Can you break this down into its microcosm to explain how change can be effected at the block level?
For RTE to actually mean anything, there has to be a paradigm shift from the old way of delivering education. Grievance redressal, which becomes the crucial aspect of enforcing a right, is not in place. That is where the block and the panchayat become important because it is there that parents can go and complain that the teacher didn’t turn up or the textbooks haven’t arrived. The block office and panchayats have been given an important role under RTE in grievance redressal but the Panchayati Raj institutions are completely unaware that they have such a role. There has to be a conversation in the Panchayati Raj at the ministry level to sort this out. The HRD ministry has to fix accountability for all the entitlements in the Act at various levels. Who is responsible for corporal punishment? Is it the teacher or principal or secretary of education? Who is responsible if a teacher doesn’t come on time? Responsibility has to be fixed locally because you can’t have complaints coming all the way to the capitals for them to be sorted out.
Last year, you had said that NCPCR is going to focus on precisely that: grievance redressal. So what has changed?
We did make a start. First of all, we got a clear understanding of what is the Panchayati Raj’s role in this whole structure of reform. We had a meeting with the Panchayati Raj minister. In fact, they sent out letters and guidelines to all the state secretaries asking them to start doing what the Act asked of them. To have a special gram sabha, to see what can be done… but nothing came of it.
Whose fault is that mainly?
To a large extent, I will lay the blame on the HRD ministry’s doorstep because if the Panchayati Raj institutions are not doing what they are supposed to, then it is the ministry’s responsibility to ensure that they do.
As a monitoring body, what are the broad conclusions the NCPCR has drawn on why the RTE hasn’t moved at the right pace in delivering quality education?
It was a very good idea to have an independent agency like the NCPCR to monitor RTE implementation. But having put that in the Act was not enough. Because they have given only 50 per school per year as the allocation for monitoring this entire exercise. Second, there is no structure or proper system that has been established in the NCPCR. There are no posts, it is run in an ad hoc manner by people on contract. On the whole, many states are trying very hard to implement RTE. But they have to start almost from scratch. The RTE Act has certainly given a new lease of life but a lot more needs to be done.
Is it a resource problem or the lack of political will that’s holding it back?
It’s largely due to lack of political will. The other problems are resource allocation and the flexibility of allocations and usage of funds. In Bihar, there is a requirement for three lakh teachers. The state is giving money for that in incentive schemes and the Centre then need not replicate it. They have to allow for money to be used flexibly.