The National Council in August 2017 proposed the setting up of a cadre of activists for the Forum and voted for the launch of a campaign on the RTE to run up to the next Lok Sabha election. These are linked since a group of trained and dedicated activists would be necessary to run a successful grounded campaign. 15 Assembly elections are also due before, simultaneous or immediate after the national election. education in the elections (both national and state), but also address the ongoing issues of poor RTE implementation. This calls for a group of people who are willing and able to work on this on a war footing with a view of bringing about change.
At the same time, the RTE Forum came into being in the follow up to the passage of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 (RTE Act) and was established with the vision of its full implementation. The RTE Act was a milestone in the history of elementary education in India as it reflected a shift to a rights-based approach towards education, though it has its limitations. The RtE Act prescribes basic norms and standards for all schools to comply and cater to the educational and overall needs of all children in schools, irrespective of their social and economic backgrounds, gender, abilities or competencies. However, despite high expectations from civil society, RTE implementation has been slow from the very beginning. Our field experience highlights that there are challenges and issues pertaining to enrolment, access, school infrastructure and other services such as availability of quality teachers, SMC composition & functioning, inadequate management and monitoring in the educational system at district level and so on. In addition, we see the gap between the rural and urban areas, particularly in maintenance of records, appointment of teaching staff, infrastructural development, challenges in enrolling children and reducing dropout rates. Thus, there is a need to strengthen the governance systems for full implementation of the RTE Act. In the face of apparent government apathy to the issue of RTE implementation it might be time to strengthen the grassroots of the movement to force the State’s attention.
There are also many new challenges today. School closures are taking place in the name of rationalization and privatization of educations seems to be growing speed. The once thought upon Common School System now seems like a distant dream. This debate, however, needs to be reignited.
There has also been a structural shift within the movement over the years. The Forum has moved far from being the informal convergence of some Delhi based activists and national networks and is now the world’s largest national education network with formal presence in over 20 states and having an even wider footprint in practice. The presence of State Forums (and district processes in some locations) is the RTE Forum’s strength. However, much of the recent discussion has been among the converted within civil society. More concerted efforts are needed to build stronger mobilization of youth, teacher activists, representatives from marginalized communities and citizens at large are and a mechanism created to bring existing activists unaffiliated with any NGO into the fold.
While the Forum has social media presence and connection with digital campaigners, more could be done to bring into the fold those with robust social media presence on education, especially as we move towards. A greater effort would also need to be made to reach out to younger people and those residing outside Delhi. The fact that the Forum is now the single biggest network on education in the country raises high expectations. While it has brought together education activists from across the country and been the platform to raise and amplify peoples’ voices pertaining to all aspects of the right to education in India, it has been more difficult to sustain action on specific issues. While the Forum is big, there is only a relatively small core nucleus of people that are engaged on all issues. Investing in capacity building and learning among activists would help to strengthen the second line and help the Forum to respond to the range of challenges that the country faces. A dedicated group of activists is particularly needed if we intend to make a dent in the agenda of the political parties in support of public education.
The other objective with which the RTE Forum started was the creation of a common school system. This is a bigger mission that entails more intensive dialogue to change social norms (especially in terms of rebuilding faith in the public school system), working to strengthen public institutions, and addressing right violations. This struggle would again require dedicated people who spend time and effort to change peoples’ hearts and minds on this issue.
The RTE Forum Activist Cadre
The Right to Education Cadre is seen as a first step in the process of creating a social movement on education. They will be self-driven individuals who will construct a pan-Indian social movement on education.
The cadre would be a core group of individual activists, who may or may not be part of existing RTE Forum processes but which are able and willing to spend time to nurture the movement in their own capacity.
The cadre would work
- To bring education on the electoral agenda: Mobilize public opinion in support of public education and work across party lines to bring education to the forefront in the state and national elections.
- with people: Mobilize citizens in support of quality and equitable education for all and work to change social norms in support of public education
- to change Policy and Practice: Provide rapid response- real time response to policy developments at the state and national level and upscaling problems faced by citizens at the grassroots
- to strengthen the Movement- Serve as messengers of the Right to Education and bring new people into the movement.
Criteria for the cadre:
The intention is to eventually have at least one person in each district. Given this ambition, the people trained initially would form a pool of master trainers who can then grow the movement in their own states. The intention would be to tap into the existing contacts of State Chapters, take suggestions from the international agencies that are part of the Forum, include activists from social movements who are not currently Forum members and also independent activists who may not be formally part of the processes. There is a recognition that there may be a degree of flux in the list since not everyone trained initially may take the process forward in the long run (although an effort would need to be made to minimize attrition through appropriate initial identification), but some new activists may emerge over time.
- In view of the above, the cadre will consist of
- education activists
- student leaders *
- artists/film makers *
- Journalists *
- Lawyers *
- Other allied social movements like right to food, right to information, labour rights, farmer movements etc.
- Representatives of tribal, Dalit, disability and women’s movements
Of these, it would be important that the groups marked with asterix in the list above are part of the initial training. Specific effort must be made to ensure gender balance and diversity in terms of representation of marginalized communities while nominating potential master trainers.
To summarize, the cadres
- Will belong the various fields (as discussed above), having previous experience of working on the issue and willing to contribute to the RTE agenda
- should not be directly linked to Political Parties
- will be voluntary engaged without any personal remuneration
- Preference given to Women, Dalits, PWDs and also minorities while making the final list.
The State Cadre Nomination/selection process:
- Nominations for the cadre will come from multiple sources- viz. nominations from the State RTE forum core members, from national organizations and movements and through direct application online.
- An online form will be created by the RTE Forum secretariat to receive direct applications from outside our direct contacts. This will disseminated widely by all contacts nationally and in the states to ensure the biggest possible outreach.
- The State RTE Forum Convenors are to hold a meeting within the State to discuss the idea with the State membership and discuss the process of nominations.
- A Selection Committee is to be formed in the State (having representation from the Forum, and allied movements) that would go through the applications and agree on the final list. This will strengthen collective ownership over the process. While selecting the final list a few names would also be identified as standby in case those selected cannot travel.
- Those selected will be emailed with a response and then called to confirm their participation. Regret letters would not go until the final confirmations have been done.
- Trainings will take place for a few states together. The first round is Udaipur (for Rajasthan, Gujarat, MP and Chattisgarh). The UP training will cover UP, Uttarakhand and Bihar.
What the cadre will do
The RTE State Cadre will identify agendas, provide support, upscale grassroots issues, advocate for policy change. This will happen with full support of the State RTE State Forums. Some possible activities could include
- Organise State level meetings on specific issues
- Publish Articles in Print media
- Represent RTE forum Views in the Visual Media
- Organise talks in Colleges and Universities
- Engage with candidates prior to /during elections
- Engage with Government Officials to negotiate for policy and guidelines
- Expand the movement further by helping to identify additional people into the movement.
There will be an organic link between the National RTE forum to the State RTE Forums and then State Cadres to activists working at the grassroots. Ideally, one should have friends of RTE in every village in India; an expansion strategy that envisages cadres at the grassroots level would strengthen the movement.
What is needed at this stage
Development of the outline of the framework for the initial training of the activists. This will be developed by a mixed team of education activists, academics/pedagogy experts and those with an experience of social movements. Flexibility would need to be given to the individual activists to figure out their own priorities and agendas. The content would include a combination of the overall context and contemporary realities with respect to education providing an overall positioning for the work and addressing the specifics of finding solutions to specific problems faced by activists in the State, address skill gaps (eg. use of social media) and provide space for planning (including development of an action plan and setting up longer term ways of working). We are currently looking at a 2.5 day programme with an idea that refresher would be required. An effort will be made to shape thinking, provide motivation and ensure that specific immediate needs of activists are addressed to enable them to take action on present day problems.
Mechanism of facilitation and Core team for the training- while the cadre would presumably eventually be to an extent self-driven, a group will be needed that would devote time to nurturing the community, provide updated intelligence and provide technical inputs on emerging issues. These are different skillsets and therefore a pool of informal supporters would be needed who have the time and willingness work with these enthusiastic (and potentially younger) people. This would involve the creation of a pools of volunteers from within the existing Forum membership, allotment of responsibilities to specific RTE Forum secretariat members and involving allied academics. To ensure more regular process of dialogue in the initial stages it would be important to consider mechanisms for keeping the core community alive through either face to face meetings for some of the members or regular calls. The selection of the mode to be adopted would be at least partly be driven by cost implications. . Irrespective of how the pool is identified, it would be essential to ensure that the facilitators devote adequate time to nurture the community.
Website, Social media and platform for cadre to stay in touch. Keeping the activists active and engaged would require more attention to social media aspects of the campaign and to ensure that basic systems for engagement are in place. At the same time, the Forum website that would need to be updated to ensure that the activists find the materials that they need for their action. A mailing and the whatsapp list would also be needed. Posting by the Forum secretariat into the master group will be in English, but eventually state specific lists may be needed where people write in their own languages.
A core group of members interested in supporting the process to initiate the work of the cadre with a real need for exchange and work towards a common goal. This would be created in dialogue with state networks (to encourage appropriate members to take part) and an open call towards participation. At the initial phases this support would be provided by the trainers who were part of the training of the particular set of activists. The Regional Forum Conveners and other activists within the State would then act as Mentors for the activists since they are better aware of the State’s realities and can give more focused advice.
Core Principles for the Cadre: Given that the process is likely to be fairly decentralized, it would be useful to develop a written document with the overall positions and approach that new prospective activists agree/sign onto when they volunteer. Having some core positions stated up front would help to minimize subsequent disagreement over basic issues.
Need to tap into the experiences of social movements and youth movements. While this process may be new for the education movement in India, other social movements and campaigns have gained experience of doing similar work. A meeting with representatives of allied movements, social group movements and youth organizations to get their involvement in the process, discuss strategy and tap into their expertise of running similar processes of building grassroots presence.
It is critical to ensure that these structures and processes are not established mechanistically and decisions are not taken top down without dialogue with the cadre themselves. Fundamentally, communities thrive because they deliver value not only to the organization, but to the community members themselves.