Free and compulsory but what about quality education?

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By Keisam Pradipkumar
In Manipur, a  stocktaking on implementation of Right to Education will indubitably bump up against  more letdowns than relative success stories. The two crucial nitty-gritty  of “The Right of  Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009”  (RTE) i.e.–  the true spirit  of  “Free Education”  and the  state’s obligation upon ensuring “Compulsory  elementary education” to every child in the age group of 6-14 years, is virtually not implemented even in the government  schools, let alone the private schools. The dichotomy of “Quality Education” and “Free and Compulsory to Education” remains rather in a disharmonious way. Like various free gift items offered in the market are usually of less quality, the qualitative contents and outputs of free education are also unquestionably questionable. Many government schools continue to collect money from the students under one or another pretext. In hill districts government schools collects  money for  “Glory Festivals”, while valley based government schools largely collect games and sports fees, some schools still charge tuition fees, if not admission fees.  Parents and guardians of some state run model schools, used to subscribe money to help the school management. They called it Donation not Fees, as to get away from the stricture of RTE.  Such misdeeds flouting the RTE provisions are being covered up as money receipts are not deliberately issued to the students, so- that no evidence of violation of RTE’s mandate is traceable.

Everyone is aware that the slight increase in the enrolment rate in government schools in recent times does not necessarily mean that government schools start imparting quality education resulting to migration of students from private schools. Because, only the poor and disadvantaged section of the society are migrating from private schools to government schools mainly to get free education facilities, such as free uniform, mid day meal, free text books etc. Government schools could not catch the attention of middle class families till now. If free education is not available in government schools, even the lower class families will not be attracted at all. The State authority has failed to strengthen and confer the rights and responsibilities of existing School Management and Development Committees (SMDCs). Most of the SMDCs are formed for formality sake. If these SMDCs are not able to protect their own rights, then how could they protect their children’s right to education, for which they need to exercise their authority enshrined in RTE Act, over monitoring, planning and implementation. It is high time to ensure a meaningful community ownership in school management through a sustained intervention of genuine and capable SMDCs.  Parents and guardians in SMDCs should envision children’s right to equitable quality education within the purview of free and compulsory education. Because,  a cheaper or free education sans quality is not the goal.

However, it is shattering to learn that subletting of teachers is undertaken with the benefaction of some village authorities, headmen and local authorities, who knowing or unknowingly, pledge to legitimize the unlawful practice. Making the fraudulent act a socially acceptable tradition, some influential people try to justify it by saying that subletting of government appointed teachers is good, as it provides employment to educated unemployed local youths. In fact, it is a serious crime against the state and society as a whole. If person appointed does not intentionally perform his official duties, he should be penalised and removed from the post and an alternative arrangement should be made officially to fill-up the vacancy. If doctors, engineers or army officers cannot be substituted by any Tom, Dick and Harry,  there should not be any exception for the Teachers too. Profession of teacher is not for sale or subletting. In private sector, private minority schools even try to ignore RTE stricture on screening process in admission, and face strong resistance from Child Rights organisations. Private institutions are not fully ready to follow provisions of RTE, and not a single private school has not implemented 25 % reservation for children belonging to socially disadvantaged groups and weaker sections.

There are still various barriers in the education system in India even after the enactment of RTE Act. Primary barrier is on socio- economic basis. The Central Schools, JNVs and Sainik Schools,  which are India’s  pace setter schools, enjoying special relaxation on RTE’s strictures, fail to reach out to the poor and disadvantaged students. Infrastructure and arrangement to ensure “Barrier – free excess”   for children with special needs in schools   remain a dream yet to be realised.The object and reason of RTE is primarily to bring a just and humane society, it is to strengthen the social fabric of democracy through provision of equal opportunities to all, and it is to guarantee that every child has a right to be provided full time elementary education of satisfactory and  equitable quality in a
formal school which satisfies certain norms and standards.  Therefore, the vision of imparting “Equitable Quality” cannot be neglected, but must be a driving force for free and compulsory education mission. Then, what does the Quality Education stand for?  Simply, an inclusive quality education must provide vital things such as life skill, livelihood skill, moral education etc. apart from conventional scholastic education. A progressive society needs responsible and creative minds who could dedicate their life for the betterment of the society and humanity. Selfishness, corrupted, irresponsibility, unethical, dehumanisation and demoralization are visible syndromes of a seriously diseased society. The tragedy is that our society, which is terminally ill, has exposed all these syndromes.

Are we getting quality education from the highly prestigious schools? If we could truly get quality education from the highly paid private schools or government run special schools, we must have had a clean administration, justice and good governance in return. Because, many people in executive, legislature and judiciary including doctors and engineers had received so called quality education from these prestigious institutions which produce outstanding students and toppers. In fact, an ideal and visionary teacher could evoke and inspire his students’ mind and spirit and his ultimate teachings have a life -long effect.   Such inspired and empowered students, in their future life would be enlightened ones, they could not be easily misled by the negative environmental factors and selfish motives, but could still take the best ever decision in any critical circumstance without losing rationality and
ethical values. The real need of the hour in our society is such enlightened personalities not the mere self acclaimed educated and high sounding degree holder individuals.   Our society makes an uproar over the impoliteness and notoriety of some police commandos who committed extra judicial executions, involved in drug trafficking. However, they are energetic youths of the society.  Similarly people are also fed up with various unjustifiable violent activities of non state actors thereby distancing themselves from genuine revolutionary identity. They are also energetic youths of the society. Both category of youths who are in state and non state actors, received similar quality of education and groomed in similar social environs.  Besides, we do experience uncontainable corruption in public offices, and malpractices in all walks of life. There would be varied reasons for all these social evils and crimes, however, a primary factor would be the failure to impart proper and holistic quality education to our past generations for which we are now bearing the utmost brunt. Our education system failed to evoke their mind and spirit, they are neither inspired nor enlightened, rather they had be trained  to be anti social, corrupted, self centred, chicken hearted, wicked and inhuman. Then, before striving for any kind of social reformation and revolution, we must all set to change the education as a whole, from policy, system, structures to individual’s mindsets to ensure truly equitable, inclusive and meaningful quality education to our young generation.

(Keisham Pradipkumar is a Child rights activist)

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