Social Issues

The ABC of the RTE and Challenges

Dhyeya IAS | IAS, PCS, UPSC, Best Institute for IAS, PCS Exam Preparation

Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act -2009

  • The Right to Education (RTE) Act, which aims to provide primary education to all children aged 6-14 years, stipulates that no child can be held back in a grade, regardless of his performance, all the way up to the eighth grade.
  • This means that a child is entitled to an eighth grade diploma even if he cannot recognise a single letter or a number if he has spent eight years in school.
  • Free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14 in India under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution.
  • India became one of 135 countries to make education a fundamental right of every child when the act came into force on 1 April 2010.
  • It has inserted 21A and 51(k) in constitution.


Other Features:

The Act promises free and compulsory education to any child in the age-group 6-14.

  • It also encompasses mentally and physically challenged children.
  • The schools should be within a radius of 1-3 km from where the child lives.
  • All government-aided schools have to reserve 25% of their seats for students from economically weak sections (EWS).
  • Private schools that are not government-aided also have to reserve 25% of their seats in Class 1 for EWS students; the government will compensate them.
  • All government schools will have school management committees, 75% of whose members will be parents or guardians of the children. Fifty per cent of these have to be women.
  • State child rights commissions will monitor implementation of the RTE Act in their respective states. All states have to set up state education advisory bodies. School management committees will maintain the records of all children in the age-group 6-14 years and ensure that they are in school.


Concerns of NITI Aayog:

  • It said the good intention behind the norm is detrimental to the learning process. The Aayog pointed out that the purpose behind this provision is to minimise the drop-out rate, since demoralization resulting from failing a class leads to children withdrawing from school altogether.
  • But despite this good intention, the provision has a detrimental effect on learning outcomes, since it takes away the pressure to learn and to compete, it said in its review of the 12th Five Year Plan.
  • The real problem, the Aayog said, is the quality of education as measured by student achievements.
  • According to Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2014, one of the largest non-governmental household survey, the proportion of children aged 6-14 years enrolled in school in rural areas has been above 96 per cent for the past six years.
  • The ASER report finds that more than 50 per cent of the fifth graders cannot read second standard level text.
  • Even more disconcerting, the trend between 2010 and 2014 has been worsening instead of improving performance.


Other Problems in RTE:

  • On age criteria, the act allows only children between the ages 6-14 to get the privileges. It leaves out 0-6 years and 14-18 years despite India has signed the N. charter which states clearly that free education should be made compulsory to children of 0-18 years old.
  • On reservations, the act talks about 25% seat reservationin private/public unaided school for lesser privileged children.
  • Children out of the fold of schooling are the most hard to reach, such as girls, the disabled, orphans and those from single parent families.
  • The fees of these students will be borne by state government. The fee will be reimbursed at government rate.
  • There will be a wide gap between the cost of education per child and the reimbursement by the government. There comes the question of who will bear this deficit portion?
  • Moreover, what about the overhead expenses such as uniform, books, stationery, etc of attending a private school? The chances are high that the parents themselves would feel intimidated at the thought of sending their kids to private schools.
  • Changes in living standards - Further the kids will be suddenly exposed to a different living standard. Will they be treated with dignity and equality by their peers and teachers? Will it not be traumatic for the poor kids to cope with that?
  • Lack of awareness about the Act, inability to meet the distance criteria and difficulty in obtaining necessary certificates from government authorities could be some of the reasons for the poor response from the public.
  • On bridge courses,the act stipulates that the child should be assigned the class according to age, which is a good step because wasted years can be saved; but no bridge course is suggested that can prepare the child to adjust to the admitted class.
  • On Automatic passage, every student will be passed to the next class. This can promote indolence and insincerity among children towards their studies and carelessness and laxity among the teachers.
  • The Act will create a system with no incentive for students to try to improve themselves. It compromises their ability to withstand pressure and compete harder in order to excel. This will create a generation of drifters who have never tasted hard work or competition.
  • On School management Committee, the act requires every government and aided school to form a School management Committee (SMC) which will be most comprised of parents and will be responsible for planning managing the operations of the school. But SMC members are required to volunteer their time and effort. This can be a burden for the poor parents. And for the aided schools, the SMC rule will lead to a breakdown of their existing management structures.
  • Pupil – teacher Ratio: According to the Education Department’s data, under the Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE) database 2015-16, 33% of the schools in the country did not have the requisite number of teachers, as prescribed in the RTE norms, for PTR at the school level. The percentage of schools that were PTR-compliant varied from 100% in Lakshadweep to 16.67% in Bihar.
  • Under a provision of the act, the academic calendar will be decided by the local authority, which, for most States and Union Territories, is the panchayat.  It is socially acceptable that priority will be given to local event and festivals and not schooling.


The way forward:

  • Focus on retention: Though the Act envisaged that the state, i.e. State governments and panchayats, would aggressively ensure that each child is brought into the schooling system and also “retained” for eight years. The problem now is more about dropouts than children who were never enrolled. The solution has to be localized and contextualized.
  • No meaningful teaching-learning is possible unless trained teachers are physically present at school. Teachers also need to avail of leave or undergo training, so that ‘two teachers per school’ basic requirement gets fulfilled. It will further help to maintain a required Pupil – teacher Ratio.
  • Decentralization- if panchayats, perhaps at the district level, decide the working days and holidays, this would not only exponentially increase attendance and teaching-learning but also strengthen local panchayats, being closest to the field, to take ownership of their schools. 
  • Coupons can be provided to each student to get educated in the school of their choice in nearby schools.
  • The proposal of NITI Aayog is necessary to bring quality in education but it’s not a sufficient condition.
  • Instead of automatic passage, focus should be on bridge courses and quality of overall learning  process.
  • Lastly, Scheme need to increase its reach towards girls, the disabled, orphans and those from single parent families. In this process, NGOs and civil society can work as helping hand to implementing agencies.  

A law is as good or as bad as its implementation. It is unfair to blame legislation alone for the sad state of affairs without implementing it in full measure, especially its enabling provisions. Open-minded adoption of these provisions, keeping the child in mind, can go a long way in radically transforming our school education sector.