Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Right to Education Bill, full of wrongs

As many of you know the draft of right to education bill is being discussed currently. Here is a critique of the bill:


Some Excerpts:

"Initially, when the Indian Constitution was framed, Article 45 said free and compulsory education for children up to the age of 14 would be a state responsibility and that it would be implemented within 10 years," he says. "Since then, different schemes have come out with different time-frames." The state's responsibilities have been diluted since then, as has the time-frame, which has moved well beyond the initial, stipulated time period to 2010, 2015 or 2020, depending on which scheme one is looking at. Thus, 55 years after the Constitution was passed, India is no closer to achieving its initial goal of universalising education."

"The draft Bill doesn't make any provision for seeking action against the government authorities. "It's a law without teeth, the authorities can't be hauled up in court for violation," emphasises Sadgopal. The Bill instead lays the blame on parents. It suggests that School Management Committees, to be set up with representatives from parents, teachers and local authorities under the Act to monitor the working of schools, can ask parents or guardians to "provide assistance by way of childcare in the school". Says Sadgopal, "Ninety-nine percent of such parents identified by the school committee will be poor people who don't earn minimum wages, or belong to migrant families." By framing such a rule, the government had failed to recognise poverty as a major reason for children not attending school in the first place. And by asking parents to help in the schools, it would put their daily wages at risk, he adds.

Rakesh Senger, an advocacy coordinator for Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) and the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, both of which are NGOs working with child labourers, says that the government doesn't even acknowledge the fact that child labourers and migrants seldom figure in the enrolment surveys it conducts. "The government has to realise that poverty, illiteracy and child labour are part of a triangle paradigm. The children who aren't going to school are the ones who are or go on to become child labourers," he explains.

This is why the government cannot look at education in isolation, say educationists. "The availability of schools, even good schools, cannot ensure that every child will have an education. There are other socio-economic issues that play a role and the success of the Bill depends on changes in other areas - there has to be a complete change in development policies and the education system," points out Tyagi.

Chakrabarti says that the reasons why a child is out of school could include: the fact the child has to work; the caste system in many places such as West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, where the so-called upper castes don't allow the 'lower castes' to even enter the premises of the school; and the lack of facilities in a school, such as toilets, which deter girls in particular from attending school. The distance at which a school is located is also a factor - in tribal areas, for instance, the rule is that there has to be a school for every 300 people. "In one tribal village, there will be say, 125 people, and from that village to the next, the distance could be five kilometres," says Chakrabarti. It would be difficult for children to negotiate this distance daily.

That any attempt to ensure every child has a right to education should take these factors into consideration is clear from a visit to Viratnagar in Jaipur district, Rajasthan. Gulab Chand Balai, a 17-year-old who attends the Rajkiya Madhyamavik Secondary School here, says that the 'upper castes' would not allow Dalits to enter the school earlier, until BBA activists stepped in. As part of its project for 'child-friendly villages', BBA works in the area, creating awareness among people about child labour - many of the children in the villages are engaged in carpet weaving - and encouraging parents to send children to schools.

It fell upon a panchayat of children, created under the BBA project, to lobby for classes to be introduced up to the 10th standard in the sole school in the area. Earlier, schooling was available only up to the eighth standard. "Girls wouldn't study beyond that because the school was so far away," says 16-year-old Hitendra Kumar Sharma, a tenth standard student. There were no toilets for girls either, which deterred many parents from sending their girl child to school. Today, there are toilets and hand pumps to provide water, but despite all the efforts, the school has only two teachers for all of 500 students. "The older students help the teachers manage the lower classes," says Sharma.

This is precisely the situation that educationists want to avoid. Senger stresses that there is no point in claiming every child has the right to an education if the education provided is in itself wanting. A recent 'school report' of 14 developing countries in the Asia Pacific prepared by the Global Campaign of Education, a coalition of development organisations, ranked India ninth in its support for education, trailing behind Bangladesh, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Says Senger, "There are no women teachers in schools, no water, no blackboards despite Operation Blackboard (a scheme that envisaged providing blackboards in all schools). What is the point of a Bill if such practical problems aren't addressed?"


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