New Delhi: A week before the implementation deadline for its flagship Right to Education (RTE) Act expires, the government on Friday accepted that it had failed to achieve many of the targets of what it envisaged as a landmark measure.
At least 13 states have written to the human resource development (HRD) ministry for an extension owing to their inability to fulfil all the requirements of RTE, including the key challenge of training all untrained teachers in elementary education.
“The entire thing has not been met, it’s an open secret,” HRD minister M.M. Pallam Raju said in New Delhi on Friday. “That does not mean we can leave the desire (of achieving RTE targets).”
The minister said the government will, however, push for the fulfilment of RTE’s conditions even after the deadline. He also announced the formation of a committee to review RTE or the progress of RTE adoption.
The Act, often referred to by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government as one of its key achievements in its second term, has failed to keep pace with the schedule of implementation.
RTE is one of three key flagship social programmes of the Union government, the other two being the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the National Rural Health Mission.
RTE is even more significant to its poll fortunes next year as it came into force on 1 April 2010, during the second term of the UPA. The other two schemes came into force during its first term.
HRD ministry officials said the Union government has allowed the states to train 600,000 teachers through distance education in the next two years as many of the states don’t have enough teacher training institutes. The minister didn’t name any of the states that are falling behind.
Raju said that he will try his best to ensure that targets are met and will discuss the matter with state education ministers at a conference scheduled for the first week of April.
Some states have “risen to the occasion and some are trying”, he said. “The states must know that the Centre is quite serious.”
Raju also said that since teacher training is a key challenge, he’s providing a stronger focus on 193 blocks where scheduled caste, scheduled tribe and minority groups are in greater numbers.
The RTE Act aims to provide compulsory schooling to all children in the 6-14 age group. It also has a mandate to train all untrained teachers across India, bring the teacher-student ratio to 1:30 in primary schools, and improve infrastructure facilities including playgrounds, drinking water and separate toilets for girls. Besides this, it also provides for the reservation of 25% of seats in all private schools for underprivileged children living in the vicinity.
The desired teacher-student ratio still remains elusive, and over 700,000 teachers are yet to be trained, ministry officials said. One-fourth of 1.3 million elementary schools lack toilet facilities, and the quality of education remains a key worry as several research reports have highlighted how even 50% of Class V students cannot solve Class II-level arithmetic.
The 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17) documents underline that although “the number of elementary schools has increased to 13.04 lakh, many schools lack the basic infrastructure facilities required under the RTE Act. For example, the retention of girls in schools remains difficult given that over 63% of rural schools have no usable toilet facilities for them”.
The only thing that has improved is enrolment, which is nearly 100% now, but the dropout rate detracts from this.
In January, the National Advisory Council (NAC), which sets the social agenda of the Union government, sought an institutional audit of the implementation of the RTE programme. NAC is headed by Congress party president Sonia Gandhi. It had also suggested forming an inter-ministerial coordination system involving three ministries—HRD, women and child development, and panchayati raj—for better implementation of the RTE Act and an institutional audit of the 1.3 million schools to monitor and address grievances, and bring accountability to the system, Mint reported on 16 January.