Submission to the Drafting Committee of the New Education Policy

The RTE Forum, as a civil society collective working in 19 states of the country, has been advocating for the complete implementation of the RTE Act, 2009 for the last seven years. The Forum has closely tracked the implementation of the Act on the ground and regularly shared its recommendations with appropriate authorities.

On the basis of its collective strength and experiences of its members who have been closely associated with school education since decades, the RTE Forum would like to draw your attention to the following recommendations with regards to the New Education Policy:

  1. Adherence and new timeline to support the RTE Framework for Elementary Education 

The provisioning of free and compulsory elementary education has become a fundamental right in India – a part of right to life. It is also widely recognized that right to education is a pre-condition for a citizen’s ability to exercise other fundamental rights. Subsequent to the recognition of right to education as a fundamental right in a Supreme Court judgment, the Constitution of India was amended to insert Article 21-A that enshrines RTE in the Constitution. The amendment provided that the government will enact a legislation to implement it. Consequently, the Right to Education Act (RTE Act) was passed unanimously by the Parliament in 2009 and entered into force from April, 2010. Behind the RTE were two national education policies of 1968 and 1986 as amended in 1992 and the recommendations of a number of committees and commissions set up both before and after India’s independence, to make elementary education free and compulsory. The RTE Act can, therefore, be legitimately regarded as one of the highest points reached in the evolution of the education policy in India. It is also the most elaborate framework for providing free and compulsory education. It is, therefore, imperative that a new education policy must be in compliance with this Act and should not in any way detract or deviate from it.

Principles underpinning the RTE Act:

In any case, there should be no going back on the following essential principles underpinning the RTE Act including

(1)   Free and compulsory education is a fundamental right that is legally enforceable.

(2)   The Central Government has assumed the Constitutional obligation to enable the children of India in the relevant age group to exercise this right. The Central Government can seek the collaboration and assistance of all relevant entities including the state governments, local authorities, civil society and the private sector, to discharge this mandate, but it cannot shift this responsibility to any of these entities.

(3)   

Principle that free and compulsory elementary education is a public good to be provided by the government.

(4)   Time bound provisions. The Government cannot take its own time in discharging this obligation. The legislation lays down a time limit within which quality elementary education for all must be universalized.

(5)   Set of legal norms have been prescribed through this legislation. When applied to all schools, these norms will reduce discrimination in the school education system. The poorest children will benefit most from the application of these norms because it is they who are condemned to schools providing abysmally low quality of education. Consequently, any sets of norms and standards laid down in the policy must not fall short of these legal provisions.

(6)   Holistic approach to universalising a segment of school education i.e. by deciding to act on all the relevant variables at the same time.

(7)   The RTE Forum, as a civil society collective working in 19 states of the country, has been advocating for the complete implementation of the RTE Act, 2009 for the last seven years. The Forum has closely tracked the implementation of the Act on the ground and regularly shared its recommendations with appropriate authorities.

On the basis of its collective strength and experiences of its members who have been closely associated with school education since decades, the RTE Forum would like to draw your attention to the following recommendations with regards to the New Education Policy:

  1. Adherence and new timeline to support the RTE Framework for Elementary Education

The provisioning of free and compulsory elementary education has become a fundamental right in India – a part of right to life. It is also widely recognized that right to education is a pre-condition for a citizen’s ability to exercise other fundamental rights. Subsequent to the recognition of right to education as a fundamental right in a Supreme Court judgment, the Constitution of India was amended to insert Article 21-A that enshrines RTE in the Constitution. The amendment provided that the government will enact a legislation to implement it. Consequently, the Right to Education Act (RTE Act) was passed unanimously by the Parliament in 2009 and entered into force from April, 2010. Behind the RTE were two national education policies of 1968 and 1986 as amended in 1992 and the recommendations of a number of committees and commissions set up both before and after India’s independence, to make elementary education free and compulsory. The RTE Act can, therefore, be legitimately regarded as one of the highest points reached in the evolution of the education policy in India. It is also the most elaborate framework for providing free and compulsory education. It is, therefore, imperative that a new education policy must be in compliance with this Act and should not in any way detract or deviate from it.

Principles underpinning the RTE Act:

In any case, there should be no going back on the following essential principles underpinning the RTE Act including

(1)    Free and compulsory education is a fundamental right that is legally enforceable.

(2)    The Central Government has assumed the Constitutional obligation to enable the children of India in the relevant age group to exercise this right. The Central Government can seek the collaboration and assistance of all relevant entities including the state governments, local authorities, civil society and the private sector, to discharge this mandate, but it cannot shift this responsibility to any of these entities.

(3)    Principle that free and compulsory elementary education is a public good to be provided by the government.

(4)    Time bound provisions. The Government cannot take its own time in discharging this obligation. The legislation lays down a time limit within which quality elementary education for all must be universalized.

(5)    Set of legal norms have been prescribed through this legislation. When applied to all schools, these norms will reduce discrimination in the school education system. The poorest children will benefit most from the application of these norms because it is they who are condemned to schools providing abysmally low quality of education. Consequently, any sets of norms and standards laid down in the policy must not fall short of these legal provisions.

(6)    Holistic approach to universalising a segment of school education i.e. by deciding to act on all the relevant variables at the same time.

(7)    Obligation assumed by the government to commit all the resources required for its implementation. Normally the legislation should have contained a Financial Memorandum, spelling out the magnitude of the resources required and the government’s commitment to provide resources. The fact that no such Memorandum is attached to the legislation does not absolve the government of this commitment.

The broad perspective of education as a public good and an instrument for social transformation and source of Nation building should be incorporated in the vision of the policy. It is imperative that the vision also emphasizes the values of social justice, inclusion, equality and egalitarianism ascertained in our Constitution.

At the stage of basic education, we feel the policy should, furthermore, reiterate the following issues:

 

  • Enrolment, Attendance, Retention and Completion of school education for all the children from pre-primary to secondary level with a certain standard of quality as the basis of all planning.
  • The constitutional principle that primary education should be given in the mother tongue is a pedagogically sound idea, and does not need to be opened up. Decentralization and democracy should be the governing principles for school education, while quality idea may also be related with our national agenda at the higher levels. Support would, therefore, need to be given to education in the mother tongue and reviving tribal and other languages in the education system.
  •  The RTE Act, 2009 must be implemented in a comprehensive manner. Piece meal work will be counter-productive, for example, no detention policy without proper implementation of a system of continuous and comprehensive evaluation has already created so much of confusion. Learning and assessment go hand in hand and there is no evidence that retaining a child in the same class leads to an improvement in level of learning.
  • Action must be taken to ensure that all teacher vacancies are filled by professional, qualified and motivated teachers. Efforts must be made to immediately institutionalize fully functional, adequately staffed and fully funded academic support structures for teachers across the country. Cluster Resource Centers as a mechanism for academic support to teachers need to be strengthened. Gaps in the capacity of teachers must be addressed and in-service training provided to teach first-generation learners. Child centered pedagogic practices must be encouraged and teacher training programs need to be urgently aligned with the present challenges. Simultaneously, pre-service training through the process of strengthening DIETs needs to be also enhanced.
  • The overall accountability of the system must be enhanced. The policy should clear indicate measures to strengthen the monitoring and grievance redressal mechanism. Community participation through SMCs should be strengthened so that a strong school-community interface could be developed for monitoring quality of school education.
  • The national education policy, must also reiterate the nation’s commitment to establish a common school system for universalistion of equitable school education and spell out the manner in which this goal will be realized within a specified time frame. This will plug the deficiencies inherent in the Act which legitimize a multi –layer education system. 
  1. Expanding the Framework: Early Childhood and Secondary Education 

Elementary education is a constitutionally mandated responsibility of the government. This right ought to be extended at both ends, that is, pre-school below six, and secondary education up to the age of eighteen. The stress on skills, a welcome idea, needs to be institutionally secured at the secondary level. This is also key given India’s commitment to delivering the SDG framework that commits us to delivering of preschool education and at least 10 years of compulsory education.

  1. 3.        Equity and Non- Discrimination

The Education Policy should explicitly emphasize the ways and means in which the education system can become an instrument of social change and empowerment. India’s society is highly stratified along caste, class and other lines and it becomes critical that the educational process becomes a process of empowerment whereby inequality in society is overcome. All barriers to the education of India’s marginalized- especially Dalits and Adivasis must be overcome. This would include more investment in teacher awareness on equity, mother tongue language intervention programmes, disability specific accommodations and other interventions needed to level the playing field. Equity is, however, needed not only in terms of access, but quality. Additional resources must be allotted for poor and underserved areas and region specific strategies to ensure the best quality of teaching and learning developed. A clear gender perspective is critical given continued discrimination against girls. 

  1. 4.        Strengthening State Responsibility

It is, fundamentally, the responsibility of the State to deliver quality education. As such, the policy must, strengthen the role of the State to be able to deliver this vision. Thus,

  1. As reiterated by preceding policies, this policy must also commit at least 6% of the country’s GDP towards financing of the education system.
  1. Private providers must be regulated in the education sector and a comprehensive, central legislation should be framed. This legislation should not only address the comprehensive question of the need for regulation of private schools (going beyond the question of regulation of fees that is part of several state Acts) but also cover private teacher training institutes that have mushroomed across the country. The results of TETs at the time of recruitment of teachers reflect the poor standards of training provided by these institutes. 
  1. Nearly 2 lakhs Govt. schools have been closed down across the country after the enactment of RTE Act in the name of consolidation/merger of schools for different reasons prominently due to low enrolment. Instead of making any effort to enroll and retain children in Govt. schools through mapping of children, recruitments of qualified & trained teachers so that quality of education improve in government schools, unplanned closure of schools is leading to massive drop out of children specially girls. It is clear cut violation of children’s right to education, too. 
  1. The Process

It is recommended that once the draft is prepared and before the policy is finalized, a minimum time of six months is allotted for wider deliberations and debates on the draft throughout the country. This will help to build ownership of the document among those who will be tasked with its implementation. 

Ambarish Rai

National Convener,

Right to Education Forum (RTE Forum) 

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