Educating underprivileged children in India: Still miles to go…

SkillingIndia on July 18, 2012 Comments
Puja Marwaha, CEO, CRY

Impact of RTE Act two years after its enforcement

Access to education has always remained a longed for luxury for underprivileged children in our country. To overcome that, for the first time in the history of our country the fundamental right to free and compulsory education for every Indian child was enforced in April 2010 through the landmark law, The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 more commonly referred to as the Right to Education (RTE) Act. According to ASER 93% of schools in India are in the government sector – either directly operated, funded or aided – which leads to the estimation that 60% of school-going children attend government schools. On these terms, what the Act was offering seemed like a windfall – a quality neighbourhood school, qualified teachers, school management committees representing the community members, with no fees and no admission tests or screening procedures.

However, the statistics have a different story to tell. In the 4788 villages and slums that Child Rights and You (CRY) works in, there is evidence of child labour being intrinsically linked to the lack of free, quality government schools near home. Lack of infrastructure and teaching faculty, irregular teaching, and lack of separate toilets for female students are some key realities that push children out of school and into work. In fact, the Annual Status Report of Education 2011, Union Government Annual Economic Survey 2011-12 confirms that about 56% of the schools still have no separate toilets for girls, 60% of schools still do not comply with the teachers-pupil ratio of 1:30 as stipulated in the RTE Act, and 16.6% have no provision for drinking water.

Of course, the outcome of RTE Act should be that as more children go to school, the number of child labourers would fall. Moreover, when clubbed with the Mid-day Meal Scheme that guarantees one nutritious meal for children at school, it would ensure, in effect, better health and nutrition for children between the ages of 6 to 14 years. This, however, brings us to a serious flaw in the Act. It practically leaves out half of India’s children: those below six years and those between the ages of 14 and 18 years. Children at the age of 14 years are no longer entitled to free education. This could very well lead to many children dropping out of school without completing their education. The likelihood of these children then being compelled to work is more, with the added concern of the employability of a 14-year-old drop out in an economy where even graduates struggle to find jobs.   

Another key obstacle to ensuring quality education for children in India is the implementation of the Act. Two years after the RTE Act was put into action, information and trends gathered by CRY at grassroots level across several states indicate that providing free and compulsory education to all under this legislation continues to remain a big challenge. In fact, only 14 States have notified the formation of State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) – the monitoring mechanisms stipulated in the Act.

In addition, various case studies conducted by CRY and its partners in several states show that children are still denied admissions in schools on various grounds despite this Act being in place. These include admissions being denied for not having a transfer certificate, birth certificate or local residence proof. In many cases where parents paid an admission fee with monthly fees, no receipt was provided for it.

Two years after the RTE Act is implemented, it is clear that there is an urgent need to strengthen the delivery mechanisms stipulated within its legislation. But, what is more important is the need to create greater awareness at the community level about the Act. In the 4788 communities, slums and villages that CRY works in, evidence shows that once parents and communities are fully aware of the rights of their children; they come out to demand what is due to them under this Act. The importance of this Act and the sheer potential within its sphere to impact children’s issues including education was, and still remains, unprecedented. This, above all else, is what will help in the effective implementation of this Act, not only in letter, but also in spirit.

(CRY is an Indian NGO. For over 30 years, CRY and its partners have worked with parents and communities to ensure lasting change in the lives of more than 20 lakh underprivileged children.)


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