The Right to Education Act 2009, since its enactment, has led to a significant shift in our education system. It has brought about a steady progress and for the sixth time in a row, the country has witnessed an enrollment rate of 95 per cent.
While this impressive figure can be construed as a credible success, a closer look, however, lays bare the shortcomings in the implementation of the act. The most telling example is the fact that despite achieving a high enrollment rate, the learning outcomes have drastically reduced over the years.
The recent ASER 2014 report states that about 50 per cent children studying in the fifth grade cannot read books belonging to the second grade while an equal number cannot do simple subtraction or division.
Similarly, 32 per cent children in the second grade, who should be reading simple sentences by the end of the term, cannot recognise letters, while only about 40 per cent of them recognise numbers till 100.
The report concludes with the fact that 50 per cent of children studying in class 5 have not yet learnt basic skills that they should have learnt by class 2.
So where are we going wrong? For education to be transformative, it has to be effective.
While it is an indisputable fact that early learning is crucial to acquire basic skills, there are several structural issues that play an important part. The most significant being quality infrastructure and quality human resource – both having a huge impact on the learning outcomes and retention of children in schools.
The Right to Free and Compulsory Education 2009, makes it mandatory to have a set of infrastructural arrangement in schools and had even set a three year deadline to achieve the same. However, six years post its implementation; not only have we missed the deadline, we are still struggling to provide a conducive environment for both children and teachers in schools.
Child Rights and You recently undertook a survey on the status of infrastructure in schools across Madhya Pradesh. The study covered 190 schools in CRY intervention areas spread across 13 districts. The results of the survey were disappointing, especially since it reflected the larger picture of the status of infrastructure in the state.
While 96 per cent of the schools surveyed did not have benches, a whopping 94 per cent had no electricity. More than 60 per cent schools did not have a library whereas 77 per cent had no boundary walls meant to ensure safety of children within the school premises.
The status of toilets is particularly concerning. While 8 per cent schools did not even have toilets, a shocking 77 per cent of them had no water access in it. As a result, almost half of these toilets remained unused. Moreover, none of the schools had separate toilet cleaning staff.
Similarly, in Uttar Pradesh, where we conducted a survey of 66 schools across 6 districts, most of the toilets were found to be locked up due to unavailability of water. 32 per cent of the schools surveyed did not have drinking water facility and an equal number of schools did not have the basic utensils to serve mid-day meals to children.
Security was also a major concern as cooking devices, utensils and even appliances were being stolen regularly from the school premises.
The national figures on infrastructure are also not very encouraging. 76 per cent schools across the country do not have electricity and computer facilities. Almost 12 per cent schools have their drinking water source (tap/hand pump) outside the school premises and more than 2 lakh schools do not have separate toilets for girls (DISE 2015-16).
Availability of all-weather classrooms (pucca), drinking water facilities and functional toilets have a direct bearing on the attendance of children.
Our on ground experience has repeatedly shown us that girls in particular are more prone to absenteeism and dropping out of school due to lack of separate or clean functional toilets.
Even the Supreme Court in 2014 ruled that drinking water and separate toilets for girls and boys are not just requirements in schools but are also essential for basic human rights.
In the same light, electricity is needed to ensure a comforting environment for children to study in. Computerization of schools also takes a backseat in the absence of electricity, which is unfortunate, given the digital world that we now live in.
Besides physical infrastructure, human resource – qualified and well trained teachers – is another important element that is pivotal to the learning process. According to the 2014 Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) report, there is a shortage of 9.4 lakh teachers in government schools.
As a result, there are still more than one lakh single teacher schools and about 50 per cent of all schools are said to be functioning without a head teacher (DISE 2015-16). Shortage of teachers adversely impacts the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) and leads to less or no individual attention.
In Bihar, for instance, 69 per cent government schools do not follow the prescribed pupil-teacher ratio of 30:1 at primary level whereas 46 per cent government schools in Madhya Pradesh have pupil-teacher ratio greater than the prescribed 35:1 at the upper primary level.
Teacher shortage also limits classroom interaction due to greater involvement of teachers in other administrative processes besides promoting multi-grade teaching.
What teachers know and how they teach can greatly enhance student learning and keep up their interest levels. However, data reveals that more than 9 lakh teachers don’t have the professional qualification required as per the Right To Education norms, while 20 per cent teachers in the country are still untrained. Moreover, the proportion of trained qualified teachers has been almost stagnant since last five years.
Need-based and on-site training of teachers is crucial to equip them with subject knowledge and pedagogical skills that will allow for greater student participation and greater student-teacher engagement.
It will also help them to identify and course correct problems faced by children like slow learning, lack of interest and disciplining.
Teachers, especially those serving in rural areas, should also be sensitized and trained to deal with the diverse socio-economic backgrounds of children, many of whom are first generation learners, so that discrimination does not become a barrier in education.
Other non-structural challenges that affect qualitative outcome are teacher absenteeism, involvement of teachers in non-teaching duties like election duty, census data collection and long distance posting. These factors, along with the lack of basic infrastructure like black boards, course material, staff rooms, not only keep teachers away from their core duties but can also affect their motivation levels and ultimately their teaching.
Teachers are the cornerstone of education and investing in them is important if we are to ensure meaningful education of our children. The deteriorating learning levels only reiterate the need for well qualified and trained teachers.
The Right to Education Act is based on the premise that education is the fundamental right of every child.
However, for it to be a success there should be as much focus on imparting quality education as there is on the free and compulsory aspect. Bringing in infrastructural reforms will not only motivate students to complete their schooling but will also encourage out of school children to be part of the system.
Education should not be merely seen as a preparation for the future but rather as an investment on our children in the present. Investment in terms of quality education will make learning more holistic and lay a strong foundation for our children’s future.
– Soha Moitra is Regional Director- North for, Child Rights and You (CRY)
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