RTE – Policy Implementation and Policy Intervention | Abigail Shannon Kellogg
Why focus on them simultaneously?
Through this article, I want to emphasize that civil society should focus on policy implementation and policy intervention simultaneously. There is a definite need to implement the law in its current state however flawed it might be. Since the civil society implements the laws at the grass root level they have the first-hand knowledge of difficulties faced during the implementation of a law or of loopholes in the same. Civil society should play a pivotal role in battling for clarity, amendments and notifications from the government to ensure that a policy is implemented to its full potential.
Let me explain this with an example of The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 or The Right to Education (RTE). This landmark law, mandating free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of 6-14 is one of the most important legislations that have taken place in recent years. This act was shifted from the directive principles to an enforceable law making RTE at par with the Right to Life. The RTE Act mandates that all children should get good quality primary education. The private schools in and through this act have been made responsible stake holders in the country’s educational scenario. The RTE act has instructed the private schools to take 25% of their children from the weaker and disadvantaged sections of society from class 1 onwards. The schools have also been given various infrastructural criteria that have to be met within 3 years, failing which the schools could face closure.
RTE definitely has had a positive impact on education in recent years. Reports released by the government of India suggest an increase of 11% in the literacy rates from 63.38% in 2001 to 74.04% in 2011’s census. The act has also come up with various new provisions like the School Management Committee (SMCs). The committee which includes parents of the students and oversees the activities of the school has to be setup in both government and private schools can prove revolutionary in nature, especially in government-run schools. Though not in the original draft, RTE later also included children living a disability with the disability list also including mental and multiple disabilities.
The act no doubt signifies a paradigm shift in the space of inclusive education in our country. However, there are a number of vital points which need further policy intervention and amendments to make effective and wholesome education for everyone a reality in our country. While civil society has played an important role in the rollout of the RTE in its existing form, it further needs to push for changes in the Act for its meaningful implementation.
Firstly, what are the children of the weaker sections who are admitted through a 25% quota in private schools going to do after the age of 14? It would just be so unfortunate to send them back to government schools which lack quality education. There is a need for some thought and action to be put into remediating this particular problem. No doubt, civil society has to work hard to implement the provisions of this act for as many children as possible. But at the same time, it also needs to play an active role in trying to increase the age of the children to 17 so that they get to complete their education. Since the children already admitted have started in class 1, there is time to go for amending the provision and the children already admitted will be able to take advantage of it. In this case we need to amend the existing act all the while implementing it and spreading awareness to all who can avail of this right.
Another example is with regards to children living with a disability. The original Act had excluded children living with a disability. It was only with the sheer efforts of the civil society that this error was rectified in a later amendment in 2012. Even then, there had to be further intervention for the correct interpretation of the rule. In Ahmedabad, the children living with a disability had to show their disability certificate along with their parents’ income certificate to avail of the benefits of RTE, making him or her no different from a EWS category student. Now according to the provision, a differently- abled child has to get admission on the virtue of just his or her disability. Hence a few of us did go to the DEO’s office to clarify this misinterpretation of the act and it worked in our favor. Now a child living with a disability does not need to show any income certificate for his or her admission procedure through RTE. This is a classic example of why civil society needs to intervene both at the grass-root level for effective policy implementation as well as in the policy level for its correct formation and interpretation.
Another thing in question is the ambiguity surrounding the SMCs. There is no clarity as to how the members of the SMCs are to be selected. Is it through an election procedure or through an appointment by the principal? What is mostly practised is that the principal “selects” the 5 SMC members. Changing “selection by principal” to “election by the parent body” will significantly alter the status quo in our government schools. In this particular provision, till policy amendment takes place, implementation is of no use.
If the private schools do not meet the infrastructural standards of the government, they might face closing down. With 35 million- 60 million children out of school, the closing down of private schools will put extreme pressure on the remaining schools. Universal literacy, hence will suffer a massive setback.
Out of the 12 lakh private schools in India, a fifth of them are unrecognized. These schools have only mushroomed due to the nonexistence of good quality government schools. What the government has done through the years is build schools and infrastructure without having the slightest care about the quality of education. The primary responsibility for good quality education in a country lies with the government. With the RTE, I believe they have just shifted this responsibility to the few private schools in the country to take up the mantle for quality education while continuously threatening them with closure as a bargaining chip. Are these stringent infrastructural standards being followed by the government schools themselves? A recent study of 188 government non-primary school revealed that 59% schools have no drinking water and 89% of them have no toilets. Under the dispensation envisaged in the RTE Act, the government schools will be completely safe. The irony is that premier government schools like the Kendriya Vidhyalayas and the Navodaya Vidhyalayas will be exempted from the ambit of the RTE.
Civil society so far has been satisfied in taking the private schools to task for the non-implementation of the RTE Act. While it should continue to do so, it is extremely important for it to start focusing on the government sector, to make major changes and shifts in the way that they function.
The other thing which is not being taken into consideration is the possibility of corruption as absolute power is given to the education department and education officers, who can and will easily take advantage of the same. Here policy intervention is needed to put sufficient checks and balances on the power given to the education department and its officers.
Through the many examples, I want to assert that both implementation of a policy and policy intervention should go hand in hand. As stated in a few examples above, had the civil society focused on just policy making, the large body of work that it has done in implementation of the same policy at the grass-root level would have definitely been missed. But at the same time, if civil society is not involved in pushing for systemic policy interventions, then effective grass-root level implementation would be meaningless.