The Union human resource development (HRD) ministry decision to merge its three flagship education development programmes — Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and CSSTE (Centrally Sponsored Scheme on Teacher Education).
We have seen media report regarding the government plans to merge the above schemes. We understand that the government has issued orders to initiate integration of administrative structures of SSA, RMSA, and CSSTE and is planning to merge the three schemes starting from the coming financial year. This decision, therefore, is going to be a progression of the administrative level to that of the budgetary and programmatic level.
Merging Legal and Scheme Commitments
While for government’s measures for administrative streamlining inherent in the present process are welcome, we feel that this measure cannot be viewed in isolation from questions of budgetary resources and the ways of working of the new scheme. Our main worry arises from the fact that the merger of SSA and RMSA at the budgetary and programmatic levels may result in the application of lower voluntary commitments prevalent under the RMSA in place of higher and legal commitments under the RTE. The result could be significant erosion of the commitments of the RTE Act. In our considered opinion the right course of action of the government should have been to merge the RMSA with an expanded RTE, including school education seamlessly through the pre-primary to the upper secondary level. Doing so would be in line with the direction of the deliberation in the CABE Committee on extension of RTE to pre-primary and secondary levels.
Addressing existing access gaps
While considering any merger of SSA and RMSA it should be borne in mind that access to secondary school is currently severely limited. We hope that the framing of the new restructured scheme would include considerable investment in addressing access gaps at the secondary level. In so doing, however, it would be critical to ensure that the unique role of Elementary Education as a critical area of investment both in terms of ensuring quality and equity should not be compromised.
While an emphasis on quality is welcome, it is also our view that, the objectives of access and improvement of quality should be pursued side by side and not one at the cost of the other or one at a higher priority than the other. On the basis of our review of the implementation of RTE Act over the past seven years, we believe that considerable work remains to be done to ensure access and retention even in elementary education. Therefore, in this sector also, the two goals i.e. access and quality improvement should be pursued side by side rather than having a scheme that overwhelmingly focusses on improvement of quality education.
Ensuring adequate inputs in education as a prerequisite of quality
We are of the view that we cannot achieve optimal results in quality achievement without taking care of the interrelated aspects of infrastructure, classroom and school environment and related facilities in the school. Consequently, the scheme should provide stronger investments in school facilities and teaching learning materials as essential prerequisites for enhanced learning. Indeed, the above merger would require the formulation of an amended version of the RTE Act 2009 including revised timelines based on more or less on the time span of the deadlines of the original RTE; and the indication of the resources required for implementing such revised legislation.
However, there is a considered view based on empirical studies that separate pedagogical approaches for education are needed at different stages of education and accordingly training requirement of teachers at the two levels and the nature of support extended to them will need to be different. Having a single school having classes 1-12 under the same roof, under similar management school and public supervision will not automatically lead to improvement of quality education.
Stronger emphasis on equity
It is critical that the new scheme should consciously emphasize equity in education. This includes robust efforts to address the barriers to girls’ education as a cross cutting issue and include strong mechanisms for addressing the education of Dalits and Adivasi children. Thus, the invention to set up integrated schools for grades 1-12 should not lead to closure of schools in thinly populated areas and significant enhancement in residential schools as the strategy of choice for India’s tribal populations. The intention to simplify disbursement of incentive schemes should not lead to cash transfers into parental accounts instead of distribution of textbooks and uniforms to students from poor families.
Strengthening monitoring mechanisms
Ensuring access and quality of education requires application of minimum sets of norms and standards, enforcement of time limits, and monitoring of the progress made in both elementary and secondary education. Stronger investment should be made in strengthening monitoring systems within the administrative system and strengthening mechanisms of community based monitoring including further strengthening School Management committees and PRIs to enable them to play the role anticipated.
We feel that this merger of the most critical schemes in education will have extremely far-reaching implication for the school education system. Therefore, its framework document should be made available and discussed in the public before any decision is taken. The ways how the restructuring will converge with the plans for the amendment of the RTE Act that is under discussion in the CABE and the impending roll out of the New Education Policy due to be finalized by the end of this financial year, would need to be looked at.
We would like to conclude that the merger should dovetail with existing processes to implement the RTE Act and should be part of the overall process to expand its mandate to cover pre-primary and secondary education. All efforts should be made to avoid the risks involved in merging the norms of the RTE Act with voluntary provisions at much reduced level of commitments in the RMSA.