RTE – Implementation Woes

Here’s an interesting editorial from Bangalore on some of the troubles brewing in RTE implementation:

DNA Bangalore article

Genuine Fear or Snobbery

Here’s an article from DNA newspaper, Bangalore. After reading it I have to say i was left feeling very uneasy (though conscious that there may have been some journalistic ‘spicing up’ to make a story out of it):

DNA Bangalore Article

What disturbed me was how two separate issues in the Right to Education Act (RTE) have apparently been merged in to a single issue:
a) Issue 1 is a requirement for all private schools to give over 25% of new seats in their admission year to take in children from economically weaker sections of the society,
b) Issue 2 is that no school would be allowed to suspend, discipline or expel any child up to Class VIII.

To see the two issues merged in this way smacks of snobbery to me. No wonder the parents quoted wouldn’t give their names. Where I come from there’s a name for this – NIMBY-ism, NIMBY standing for ‘Not In My Back Yard’. It means – yes, of course these children should have access to a decent education, but not in MY child’s school.

The suggestion that the innocent and blessed bachhas of the private schools might learn bad language from these children from ‘the wrong side of the tracks’. In my experience (and this goes certainly for UK and India), the worst ‘bad’ language is known and practiced by those at the very top and the very bottom of the society (socio-economically).

I grew up as a middle class kid, with a father in the army. When i was 11 I was admitted to an expensive English boarding school (paid for by the state because i passed some exams) instead of following my parents around the world like a nomad. The first few weeks amongst these ‘rich kids’ were a revelation and an ‘education’ my parents hadn’t bargained on – boy did I learn some spicy language!

Now before anyone cries out – “but that doesn’t apply in TSRS” I would caution them to stop for a moment – I move around amongst our students enough to know what goes on. There are also enough parents, teachers and others who can tell me – so i know that many have colourful and extensive vocabulary in both English and Hindi!!

Both Issue a) and Issue b) are very important and should have been part of a wider debate in the country long before now, but separately – no together. It’s not too late, but we do need the debate to be kept at a level where it doesn’t sink in to the realms of petty snobbery and classism.

Who’s Got it in for Private Schools?

It is perfectly possible to buy the arguments that the Right to Education Act is a piece of broad enabling legislation designed to guarantee the right of every child in the country to go to school and receive a quality education. It’s very plausible that the act is aimed to right the undeniable wrong that there are still millions of children in the country who are denied the right to go to school. That is, until you read the Act itself. Then, you soon realise that whilst that may be true of large parts of the text there are some very specific elements that have been ‘dropped in’ like depth charges that have very narrowly defined implications for the private unaided schools.

Now, again, critics could easily describe these as the self-serving protestations of greedy ‘fat cat’ educator barons who care only about profits and nothing for the education of the masses.

However, I believe you have to start suspecting that there is a very genuine intention on somebody’s part to fundamentally undermine the private unaided schools in this country when you see that so close on the heals of the RTE comes another piece of legislation – this time specifically targeting private schools:

I-Government Article

To read this article and especially the quotes from the senior source in the HRD miinistry one can immediately sense the scorn and derision towards these schools.

However, let’s share a few fact about these schools;
a) The vast majority of them offer more than one syallabus. Thus, whilst offering the International Baccalaureate or Cambridge IGCSE it is likely that they also offer CBSE (or most often ICSE), or occasionally state board. In other words, when it comes to their facilities and standards of education these schools are already answerable to an Indian authority body.
b) Beyond this, these are two organisations (IBO & CIE) of impeccable international reputations. Are they really likely to give affiliations to schools in India that undermine their worldwide reputation?
c) The IBO India representative is Farzana Dohadwala, CIE’s representative is Ian Chambers – both in my experience are thorough professionals committed to high quality education.
d) Taking CIE as an example, students in Indian schools affiliated to CIE have repeatedly won recognition, including coming top in the world in their subjects (hardly evidence of shoddy schools or examination standards)
India Edunews Article
e) The article casts doubt on the quality of teachers in these schools. ironically, if there is one major difference between these schools and government ones that really stands out it is accountability – teachers in these schools have to perform, otherwise they lose their right to keep their jobs! This applies both to indian and overseas teachers.

So, do we not have a basis for questioning the intent behind such actions?

In Delhi, the assault on private schools comes in many other ways;
a) Multiple court actions, usually instigated by the self-styled Social Jurist, lawyer Ashok Agarwal.
b) Just within the last few days circulars dated 12th April and 16th April from the Directorate of Education, firstly setting out stringent rules for the establishment of PTA’s (not bad in themselves), followed by a ruling that states that PTA’s must pre-approve fee increases before they are put to Managing Committees – a bit like inviting the diners of top restaurants to decide for themselves what the bill should be!

What motive could anyone have for wanting to pull down the private unaided schools? There is a radical viewpoint in the world, particularly held by some socialists that states that the only way to have anything approximating quality education for all is to abolish private education. Then, the wealthy and influential people in society would have no choice but to send their children to the local neighbourhood school. They would use their power and influence to ensure accountability.

Of course, nobody planning such a strategy would openly admit to it. They may even be able to hide their true motives from those they work alongside. Instead, they rely on the frog in the boiling water theory. India’s private schools could be in a battle for their own survival.

Right to Education Act

First off, here are two articles that begin to search the nuances of this amazing piece of legislation.

Some may have seen that last Sunday I had the good(?) fortune to appear on Barkha Dutt’s “We The People” as part of a group of people quizzing Mr Kapil Sibal about the act.

We The People

To be honest, the programme was pretty frustrating as it only allowed for very superficial discussion of some vitally important issues. But, then I guess that’s TV for you. A few things did become clear. The most worrying for me was the message that seemed to ring out loud and clear that the central government believes it has set out a visionary step forward, but implementation will be the responsibility of the states and schools. So, later it will be those who work in education who will be held to account.

The minister sought to give an impression that this was an Act about broad vision and that the detailed implementation will follow. However, one only needs to read the act to see just how vague it remains around the government sector and yet so specific about the private sector. In the short term we have genuine fears that the Act can and will be used as a weapon with which to beat private schools. It is an open secret that people in high office do ‘request’ seats in top schools and the schools can suffer greatly if they seek to take a moral stand. Now, with immediate effect they have a new weapon to use, even if schools are legitimately working towards compliance.

Here are two articles that highlight some additional issues:

Outlook Article
Mint Article

There’s something seemingly terribly ‘just’ about the 25% quota for a lot of people when they first hear about it. However, when you stop for a second and go a little deeper it’s full of problems:
We estimate that in 2011 this will amount to approximately 20,000 seats in Delhi. Already this year there’s a shortage of nursery seats in Delhi. Tiny tots of Delhi are already commuting daily out to Noida, Faridabad and elsewhere – what a travesty – and next year, it will be worse. Already, there’s a big disparity in the supply and demand of seats in private schools. On the other side the Act will give every aspiring poor parent a belief that their children are now going to get access to this far higher standard of education. However, the vast majority will be faced with enormous disappointment. The most coveted jobs in Delhi will be as drivers for Ministers!!

Another big worry is the denial of all rights for schools to have any kind of interaction with people before granting admission to a child. The Shri Ram School has been recognised as Number 1 day school in the country. An aspiring parent joked in Hindustan Times a couple of months ago it was like the Harvard of the East. This attracts vast numbers who want admission for their children. For many it’s the ideology of the school that appeals as it fits with what they’re looking for. However, for others it’s the name and the kudos that matter. They may really not agree at all with anything about the school’s educational philosophy. However, once they have joined the community they will be able to seek to cajole, pressure, lobby for changes.

The result – a homogenization of education as progressive, innovative schools like ours are pressured to conform to a ‘middle of the road’, more traditional, more backward looking ideology of what education is and how it is best carried out. What a tragedy that would be, especially as it still wouldn’t guarantee any improvement in grassroots education.

The next big worry i have is that this Act will force out of business the thousands of “irregular” private schools set up in small villages, slum areas etc. Their merits were well explained in the research of James Tooley in his book “The Beautiful Tree” – not least the fact that their children achieve better academically than those in neighbouring government schools.

We have seen ourselves, when anyone attempts to bring about change and improvement in the government schools the response is invariably, “Give us the investment, the infrastructure etc, but mind your own business when it comes to the education, teaching methods, absenteeism” and other ills that plague the government schools. Will any of that get changed?

Every child in the country aged 6-14 now has, on paper a constitutional right to go to school. However, only time will tell whether this delivers any meaningful progress in the quality of education in the country, and at what price.

Right of Children to Free & Compulsory Education Bill/ Act

This is potentially the most important piece of legislation to impact on Indian Education in the last 60 years. The country has waited a very long time for real education reform. What’s important now is that we don’t get carried away by the fact that something’s at last happening and see decisions passed which are not justified by rational objective analysis of what’s required and realistic analysis of current ground realities.

The reputation and respect that exists for TSRS puts us in a unique position to influence the decision making that is going to shape school education in the country in coming years. So, I want to use this blog as a forum to open up to get the broadest spectrum of views and opinions that should be fed in to the reform process -I want the views of parents, students, teachers.

The Act includes some pretty dramatic statements, most of which are not getting too much debate……. yet;

a) 25% reservation for EWS/ SC and ST in all private schools with government only reimbursing the amount they would have spent on that child’s education,
b) No teacher to deliver any tuitions or private teaching,
c) Teachers to work a contractual 45 hour week
d) School year for students to be 200 days in junior school, 220 in senior school.
e) No screening processes at the time of admissions (does this homogenize all schools to the level of the mediocre?)
f) No capitation fees at the time of admissions,

The reputation of The Shri Ram School gives us a unique position and opportunity. Both Mrs Bharat Ram and I have been invited to be part of a round table advising on implementation and helping to shape the education agenda in the country. So, this is a unique opportunity to gather people’s views and thoughts and reflect them in the wider policy decision making.

%d bloggers like this: