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Immeasurability: 25 % reservation under Section 12 of the RTE Act

Reservation of seats

Arvind Ilamaran

Associate, Research

Centre for Civil Society

The Section 12 of Right to Education (RTE) Act provides 25 per cent reservation to children from weaker sections of the society in private schools. The professed dual purpose of this regulation was to increase the institutional capacity to absorb more out-of-school children (provide access to education) and to create a socially inclusive society by facilitating the mixing of kids from all sections of society within the classroom.

For the former, there is a lot of support and a lot of opposition. Given that there is a lot of literature, both academic and non-academic, in the public discourse on the need to increase the institutional capacity, I will focus on the latter purpose i.e. –facilitating social inclusion.

From the moment advocates of Section 12 of RTE started using the words ‘social inclusion’ in their justification for imposing the norm on private sector schools, there has been a significant amount of commentary on whether or not it is possible to achieve social inclusion within the school’s ecosystem through the reservation. A multitude of explanations has been provided by both the proponents and opponents of Section 12. But what is visibly lacking in the discussion is a reflection on what social inclusion means and how we are we going to measure it.

The different governments of the country have been known for enacting legislation without a clear understanding of how they operate at the grass root level. Lack of such knowledge makes it improbable that they will be able to conduct a credible impact assessment of such policies and plan their phasing away in due time. The same is the problem with Section 12. From a positive action point of view, the advocates make a claim of social inclusion by its enforcement. What they essentially claim is that physical inclusion of children from various sections of society into the classroom will ensure their social integration. To facilitate the same, the advocates provide a toolkit of supplementary measures such as teaching aides and other forms of physical inputs to bridge the gap. But the larger narrative is the provision and facilitation of physical factors to achieve social inclusion, for which there is no credible supporting scientific evidence.

Academic research in education has shown that school leadership plays a vital role in ensuring quality education. While to a certain extent this can be captured by good processes, people in the leadership roles contribute greatly to keep the downstream workforce motivated enough to deliver through various incentives and disincentives. With respect to RTE, this observation becomes all the more pertinent because all sections of the legislation are enforced and do not provide an opportunity for voluntary participation of the private schools. No public policy can succeed unless the structural change facilitated by the policy is preceded, or at least accompanied by, a social change. Unless the facilitating agents–namely the school administration, teachers and other staff in the school–have an innate drive to foster social inclusion, they do not have any other form of tangible incentives (or disincentives) to do so.

The greatest fallacy of a policy maker is to make policies that cannot be evaluated for its impact. The same is the problem with Section 12 of the RTE Act. The downside of this immeasurability is that one is unable to find when the policy has either succeeded or failed its professed objectives. Also the immeasurability makes it difficult to put a sunset clause on the policy which makes them immortal and a dead-weight if they are poorly designed.

A social change enforced by policy most often fails in achieving its goals. The only way to create positive social change through public policy is to simultaneously create supporting institutions with the near-optimal incentives and disincentives. Such institutions and incentive frameworks require measurability and close observation of the policy’s impact. It is high time that measurability of social inclusion becomes part of the larger discussion on its implementation issues.

 

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