The implementational issues involved in the Right to Education Act were the subject matter of an animated discussion at Bangalore International Centre on 5th June 2012. The discussants were Dr. JyotsnaJha, Director of Centre for Budget and Policy Studies, Bangalore; Dr. ArchanaMehendale, an independent researcher working in the area of child rights, particularly Right to Education, Inclusive Education and Child Labour; and Ms. NooraineFazal, the Managing Trustee, CEO and Co-founder, Inventure Academy, Bangalore. The discussion was chaired and moderated by Mr. G. Kumar Naik, Secretary, Deptt of Primary Education and Secretary Education, Govt of Karnataka.
Opening the discussion, Mr. Naik drew attention to the over-all high enrolment figures at the level of elementary education in Karnataka and the fact that the existence of large number of aided institutions was indicative of a long-standing PPP model. He recognized that the fulfillment of the statutory obligations required large quantum of funds and appealed that all the sectors of the Civil Society must join hands with the government to achieve the objectives under the Act. He also agreed that the governmental machineries would have to be revamped and mind-sets would need to be changed for this purpose.
In a wide-ranging review, Dr. ArchanaMehendale traced the background of the developments leading to the amendment of the Constitution to provide for the Right to Education and the enactment of the statute to provide for free and compulsory education to children from 6-14 years. She noted with regret that this was to a certain extent a regressive step as it effectively excluded early childhood care and education (0-6 years) from both the constitutional and statutory right. She noted that the primary difficulty in implementing the statutory provisions in Karnataka was because of the delay in notifying the rules. Another difficulty was the quantification of the funds required and there were wide variations in the various estimates made by the official agencies from time to time. She highlighted the fact that there was an enormous quality-deficit in the government-run and aided schools which was leading to an unnatural pressure on those unaided institutions which are perceived to be of better quality. Hence the qualitative norms in government-run and aided schools needed early implementation.
Ms. NooraineFazal emphasized that while unaided institutions were willing to play their expected role, they were apprehensive as to whether this would adversely impact on their viability. She was also unsure about how the official machineries at the cutting edge level would use the powers, conferred on them under the Act, in dealing with the unaided institutions. She suggested that the Act be implemented in phases, so that one can learn all along the path and the learning experiences get reflected in the implementationalstrategy. She stressed that the teaching-learning process cannot be standardized into a one-size fit and that this has to be necessarily tailored to take care of varying individual needs.
Dr. JyotsnaJha, on the other hand, was of the opinion that there were distinct advantages in adopting the statutory norms which were based on long years of experience as well as sound pedagogic principles. She felt that the physical norms laid down did not pose any problem; however, there could be interpretational issues in teacher-related norms and process-related norms. She also felt that the challenges facing the government-run and aided schools were much more than unaided schools as they had to compensate the children for what they were not able to get at home and the surrounding environment by way of support. She suggested that the unaided institutions should shed their misgivings and apprehensions about the financial viability of their institutions after taking 25% of students from the weaker and marginalized sections. She noted that several top-level private schools also have inhibitions about admitting students from a strata lower than their usual stream of students and urged that this kind of insensitivity needed to go.A stimulating interactive session followed in which Mr. Kumar Naik clarified that the issue of covering a few minority-run schools under the Act would be looked at when they come in for recognition, after taking into account all the judicial pronouncements made in this respect. However, it was clear that all the other provisions laid down under the Act, excepting those on admitting 25% of students from backward/marginalized sections, were applicable to all minority-run institutions.