HYDERABAD: The implementation of Right to Education Act may have got a shot in the arm with the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding the 25% reservation in unaided private schools for children from lower income group families but in Andhra Pradesh (and possibly other states in the country), the Act might soon figure among the many well-intentioned government schemes that do not impact, leave alone benefit, its target group. At best, the Act might give a humble building watchman’s child admission in a private school, but its impact could just be limited to that — the urban poor — that too with a modest success rate.
And here’s why. As per government records, there are 1.07 crore children in the 6-14 age category in Andhra Pradesh. As per the government’s own estimate, over 67% of the state’s 8.7 crore population lives in rural areas and the remaining 33% in urban. So, of the 1.07 crore children, at least over 60 lakh live in rural parts, where government schools are famously poorly equipped and there are no private schools. Despite the introduction of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, it has been indicated in many studies and surveys conducted by non-government bodies that precious little has changed in the condition of schools.
While a freshly published, voluminous tome on the implementation of RTE sits on the desk of the school education department and focuses largely on schools in rural areas, including steps to beef up infrastructure, adding transportation facilities etc, the worrisome part is that the entire planning is based on what activists point out are questionable figures. As per government statistics, just about 3 lakh children in AP are out of school. The NGO statistics are at the other end of the spectrum pegging this figure at a disturbing 18 lakh. The truth possibly lies somewhere in between. As per the state’s Human Development Report 2007, about 12 lakh children in the 6-14 age group in AP were out of school, which shows the government estimate of 3 lakh out of school children rather too miraculous.
And over-reporting of enrolled schoolchildren is the first roadblock that RTE’s implementation will face. “All the implementation exercises are for the 3 lakh children,” says M Venkat Reddy, national convener, MV Foundation.
Clearly, children numbering between 9 and 15 lakh are not on the government radar, leave alone that of RTE. Funds from the Centre for initiatives to enrol out of school children are calculated based on the 3 lakh figure. Add to that the number of children in government schools in rural areas, where it’s not only the infrastructure but also the quality of education that is poor. If RTE makes them legally entitled to better quality education not only in government but in the best quality private schools, they have no access to either. Take for instance the schools in Kowdipally mandal in Hyderabad’s neighbouring Medak district. The mandal has about 100 schools but caste-wise enrolment figures here indicate poor OC (other castes) numbers and high SC/ST numbers. “There are private schools about 20 kms from here and those who can afford it, send their children there,” says M Subhash Chandra, Centre for Action Research and People’s Development.
But P M Bhargawa, former vice-chairman of the Knowledge Commission and staunch critic of RTE says one needn’t go even that far. “In the heart of Hyderabad are government schools where students from Class I to X have just two teachers,” he says. “All government schools should be high quality but that will never be done. Where is the impetus to do that,” Bhargawa says, adding that what the Act envisages works for cities.
The Act’s limited scope is a big dampener particularly for the state’s SC/ST population. B Dhenuka Naik, who has been working on tribal rights issues, wonders how the act would help the state’s 13 lakh ST population in the 6-14 age group and believes not even 1% would benefit. Officials overseeing education in the state’s tribal parts note that there are many habitations that are 4-5 km away from schools. “Transportation is not possible in all the cases because the regions are hilly and there are no roads,” says Ashish Chandra, state coordinator for tribal education and Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya.
Officials, however, maintain that all efforts are being made to implement RTE effectively. “We want to implement the Act in right earnest. Basic amenities remain a source of concern and we are trying to address it. We will require involvement of all stakeholders,” says V Madhusudan, state coordinator for RTE implementation. The funds too, he says, are in place as the Rs 4,800 crore allocated for SSA will be used for RTE implementation.