RTE at three – making learning the priority

New Delhi, March 28, 2013: Three years since the passage of the Right of Children for Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), an ever increasing number of children have access to education. Yet, a large and growing amount of data points to the fact that student learning levels are unacceptably low, and that improving schooling inputs have had a very limited impact on improving learning outcomes. Thus, the RTE’s focus on inputs to education rather than on learning outcomes of students may ensure that children are in school, but is unlikely to result in them getting a meaningful education.

With RTE’s enforcement deadline expiring on March 31, 2013, we would like to raise some core concerns around the Act’s enforcement so far and share some possible solutions:

1) There is still no focus on learning outcomes in the RTE: In recent speeches our Honorable Ministers of MHRD have acknowledged the need to shift the focus to quality of education. However, the effort to provide a free and compulsory education that is also of high quality requires learning outcomes to be at the centre of every policy for real results. We, representatives of civil society organizations committed to children’s right to quality education, therefore call upon the Centre and State Governments to view RTE’s enforcement through a lens of learning outcomes, and make it a fundamental goal to ensure that all children in India reach well specified learning goals over the next five years.

2) Large number of low-fee private schools irrespective of their performance on learning outcomes face closure: Enrolment data across the country shows that government schools are losing students as parents opt to send their children to low-fee private schools. However, many of these private schools face closure from April 1 if they fail to comply with infrastructure and teacher salary norms, which is completely counter-productive because these ‘input-based’ markers of school quality are not correlated with quality of learning outcomes. We therefore call for an approach to private school regulation based on transparency, and disclosure of audited performance metrics as opposed to inputs. The approach outlined in Gujarat’s Model Rules of recognizing private schools based on meeting performance standards is a path-breaking model to follow.

3) 25 percent reservation needs more to be effective: Section 12 of RTE mandates 25 percent reservation in unaided schools for children from economically weaker section and disadvantaged groups. This landmark mandate provides an opportunity to parents and children from these marginalized communities to access schools of their choice, and will also reduce socio-economic stratification across schools. We therefore call for focused implementation of this clause – with special emphasis on parents becoming aware of their right to this option, schools adopting best practices in integrating classrooms (with government-funded support from NGOs), and governments clarifying and simplifying the application and admission practices and ensuring timely and adequate reimbursement to private schools. We recommend that the government reimburse families of children under the 25% reservation for ‘out of pocket expenses’ such as books, uniform etc.

4) SMCs need capacity building support: The formation of School Management Committees (SMCs) is the RTE’s central provision to increase the accountability of teachers and schools to communities. Well-implemented SMCs can develop effective school development plans and monitor various aspects of school functioning such as teacher and student attendance, student learning outcomes, and addressing relevant infrastructure needs. Unfortunately, the implementation of SMCs has been uneven across states. We therefore highlight an urgent need to find models that work and replicate them so that SMCs can become a powerful tool for communities to ensure that their children receive a quality education.

5) Need for increasing the number of qualified teachers: The Pupil-Teacher Ratio proposed by the RTE, is likely to overwhelm the already strained teacher pipeline as an additional 12 lakh teachers will need to be recruited and trained. Several states will be stretched to meet the March 2015deadline for teacher certification. We call for innovation in teacher education, the use of technology for scale and for the creation of alternative pathways into the teaching profession so that we can meet the goals of certification without compromising quality.

6) Need to improve evaluation and assessment tools: The continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) system, if used appropriately, is an effective tool for teachers to document the progress of the children in their class. However, CCE does not provide data on a systemic level that allows for measurement of student progress. We therefore call for regular, independent monitoring of children’s learning outcomes through standardized assessments that do not add pressure to children and teachers but do produce meaningful and measurable data.

The RTE has created a powerful vision of education for all of India’s children. Today, all states and union territories have notified their rules and addressed the provisions of the Act in accordance with their needs. It is now time to take the next step in fulfilling the fundamental promise to Indian children that they will truly get an education and not just access to schools.

The next ten years will see the largest ever number of citizens in the school system at any point in Indian history (or future), and it is critical that this generation that represents the demographic dividend be equipped with the literacy, numeracy, and skills needed to participate fully in a rapidly modernizing world. The only way to not fail this generation is if we make learning outcomes an explicit goal of our education policy and invest in regular, high-quality and independent measurement of learning to monitor our progress vis-à-vis this goal.

And finally, we must also continue to participate in international benchmarking assessments such as PISA to track our progress as we aspire to ensure that Indian children are not left behind those in the rest of the world.

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