The Right to Education

Some thing most of us take for granted, but is out of reach for so many of our fellow Indians.

Every since the Supreme Court ruling judgement upholding the applicability of the Right to Education Act (RTE) even to unaided schools, has come out, I have been reading up articles, opinions, blogs related to it. I have an added interest because we are moving back  to India this year, and I wanted to understand how it would affect us.

Let me clarify, that I have managed to secure admission in one school in Bangalore – not the school that I wanted – but the only school which had vacancies for Grade1, which indicates that most schools are completely full. I am happy to go with what we have got, with the hope that daughter will be fine, and where ever the school lacks, we will be able to pitch in and support her. My choices were further reduced because I did not want to opt for schools that ask for donations – as far as I could.

Now, going on to this RTE debate. I am not entirely sure where I sit on whether the 25% quota is a good thing or a bad thing. Clearly education is a fundamental right, and it is sad that so many of our children go without education. And something definitely needs to be done about it, I am just not completely sure if just reserving 25% seats in private schools is right or even enough.

In order to understand the statistics better, I was trying to look up information. According to Wikipedia(not always the most accurate, so if you have more reliable sources, please can you let me know? Would be really grateful), 80% of all schools in India are Government Schools. That makes the government the largest provider of education. But here is the interesting part, despite 80% of schools being government schools, 27% of the children in India, are being educated in private schools. Which begs the question, are the existing government schools being utilized to their full extent? Are they being monitored? Are there parameters set to figure out how the schools are performing.

My daughter goes to a state school in the UK here. We pay nothing for her education – not a penny. We could easily afford private education for her, but chose not to,mainly because good state schools are comparable to private education – at least in the primary years. Of course, all state schools might not be great, just as not all private schools are really good, but we’ve been fine, thankfully. Here, only about 7% of the children attend private schools. Since then, I have also heard of the ‘snob factor’ that is there in private schools, and it makes me happy that my daughter is not in an environment like that. I am happy for her to be in a more inclusive environment rather than a super-privileged environment. Of course, there have been times, when I wonder if I were too idealistic in my beliefs, but so far have been convinced that the school she is in, is great for her.

There are all sorts of state schools, and one thing I have noticed here is the accountability of the teachers, the staff. The fact that there are independent agencies like the Ofsted(click on the link, and you will be able to see how they work), which review and rate schools. Schools that are not performing to the expected standards are evaluated and the govt takes measures to ensure better performance. If I wanted to find out how the school works, I can find full reports with all the information I might need. Some schools still don’t perform as well as others due to other factors that affect it, but at least we don’t feel as cynical as we do about the Indian govt.

I would have been delighted if I could send my daughter to a state school in India as well, but clearly, that would be out of question for a variety of reasons.

If the real reason children do not have access to education is the lack of seats in government schools, then I would entirely agree that private schools need to do their share of giving back to the society. For some reason, it feels to me that the government is shirking its responsibility of providing education to every Indian. I would have been more impressed if it came up with a methodology to bring up the existing state schools to a level where every parent would be happy to send their child, rather than make it a refuge for parents who can’t afford better. After all, not all government schools are bad, why can’t we try to get all our schools to an acceptable level?  I do believe that some states have better govt schools than others. What stops us from replicating their success? Political will, I suppose. The RTE act itself has a lot of good guidelines in regulating the school conditions, but why have no measures been chalked out yet, that the government would undertake to ensure that schools run at the minimum acceptable standards.  If along with improvement schemes to the existing state schools, the government also included the 25% quota, I, as a parent, would have been very happy. In the current scheme of things, I can’t help feeling that this is more of a quick-fix measure, which might not really make a huge difference in the years to come. A law can only do so much. Law enforcement is as important as drafting a sensible law, in my opinion.

As for the  ‘class divide’ question which a lot of parents feel concerned about. I feel that the class divide needs to go. It might not go in a hurry, but things might change if our children grow up without the class divide in their minds(and if we try not to put these things into their minds). If they learn to accept that their friends come from different backgrounds, and just having more money or a more plush lifestyle does not make a better or worse person. I think it would do our children, a world of good, to be able to the person, rather than the packaging.

So what do you think about all this?

PS: I’ve mentioned again and again how wonderful daughter’s teachers are! And when I see adverts like this, I feel like teaching! Along with RTE, I wish we had a campaign to encourage people to go into teaching. After all, most of us will have at least one teacher, who left a lasting mark on our minds..

Edited to add: Check out this campaign by HT.

21 thoughts on “The Right to Education

  1. Awesome awesome post Smitha…THIS is why I admire you so much!

    Thank you 🙂 That s huge coming from you 🙂

    I have been having my thoughts about the 25% reservation as well…On one hand, I feel, why cant the Govt get better facilities in place and on the other hand, I think, perhaps making private schools responsible will have a positive effect which is much needed…

    I know.. It is so difficult to come to some sort of a conclusion, you know

    Few things

    1) Amma has been a teacher all her life…she started teaching class 12 and then progressively came down to teach class 3 (yaa one of those teachers who degraded herself 🙂 )anyways, she always says that the teaching should be done at basic level..what you learn in your primary classes is what will stay with you forever…What we need today in India is good primary school teachers..if they make your life interesting and enlightening, you would want to keep studying for ever

    I can totally understand that. Primary levels can build up your confidence, make your basics strong, and lay a very good foundation, for the rest of your life. Provided you have good teachers, and a good environment – all around.

    2) The last school she worked in had kids from very poor background…parents were often drivers, maids, etc…and then again there were kids from slightly better background like engineers, etc…she mentioned that at the primary level, it didnt matter, a driver son was friends with an engineers son and they barely understood the economic difference, but slowly as they started moving to secondary classes, there was a visible difference in the groups that was of the middle class and one was of the economically backward class…so the actually removing the economic class divide in India is going to be very very tough and let me tell you there were hardly any ‘rich’ kids in Amma’s school

    Dear me! It makes me feel so hopeless when I read all this, RM. I wish there was some way of tackling the class divide..

    3) While you mention that you have put Poohi in a public school which I am assuming is the equivalent of a municipal school here, I really doubt any one of us would put our children in a municipal school…because there are no facilities there, no teachers, no blackboards, kids run here and there, there are no classes..while I have seen the BMC schools providing uniform, bags and books to the kids, I have also seen kids running away from the school 😦 Whose responsible for this? the under paid over worked teachers or the parents who are barely educated themselves???

    You can’t compare state schools here and in India. Here, the quality is amazing. The dedication of the teachers! It’s midboggling. The kind of reports that they give us, the feedback, the methodology – which is why we don’t worry about sending our children to a state school.

    Sorry for the long comment, its almost a post in itself!
    Thanks for a comment like this, RM! It adds so much to the discussion – for instance, I had no idea tht the class divide slowly grows..And can’t help wondering if it grows because our entire society operates on those terms. Being rude to maids, drivers, treating them as second class citizens, being rude to anybody who is in a less powerful situation. Do you think children pick up on these things, as they grow older. In the initial years, they might be more accepting because they haven’t yet absorbed how society works? What do you think?

      • Oh it does Deeps..after like they are in class 5 or 6 , I think kids do start to understand who can afford what and who cant…

        @Smitha: yep I guess you are do pick up the rudeness, the way you talk to the drivers,maids, thing I will be forever grateful to my parents is that they ensured we were polite to EVERYONE…meaning EVERY one…they were polite and we were supposed to be polite..whether it was the bhaji wala or sweeper or the maid of the house..everyone was aap, everyone was requested to sit on the sofa and everyone was given water in the same glass as ours…I admire my parents for teaching me and RMB equality!

  2. A very thought provoking post Smitha. I am really impressed by the way education system is managed in UK or the western countries. The state of govt. provided education in schools in India is pathetic to say the least. We all know the conditions of govt. schools in villages or the muncipal schools in cities. There is a huge difference in the quality of education offered by these schools and private schools. The private schools on the other hand take advantage of this fact and have commercialised education charging exhorbitant fees and donations. I have heard that the economic status of the parents is considered before giving the children admission in many schools. Kendriya Vidyalayas are one govt. run schools which have a better reputation in India, but then again it varies from place to place.

    I agree.. I wish our govt would take the primary responsibility of ensuring that good quality education is within the reach of everybody.

    I think it would have been better if the govt. had set up a body to regulate the fees structure in these schools rather than providing reservation. Also, improving the quality of govt. schools would have gone a long way in providing good education to all sections of the society.

    True. The Fees are mind boggling. When I started school hunting, I was stunned to see how much I would have to pay for a decent(hopefully) education in India. It makes me wonder – I am sure there will be those who know, but with these super expensive schools mushrooming, have the benefits trickled down to the teachers as well? I mean, when schools charge 2 lakhs + per annum, hopefully teachers are better paid as well?

    • Also, if we had good govt schools, the demand for these expensive private schools would go down. That would force them to regulate the fees, don’t you think?

      Today, people are ready to pay exorbitant amounts because that is the only way to try to ensure that their child gets a decent education.

  3. Sounds like the education strucutre in India is a mess – I thought we were bad here in the UK.

    In all honesty, the education system in the UK is pretty good. What ever you want to know about the school is only a few clicks away. The government here, cannot afford to let a school in UK fail, if it every got to that point, the public would be up in arms demanding answers.

    • That’s the thing, you know. ‘The government here, cannot afford to let a school in UK fail, if it every got to that point, the public would be up in arms demanding answers.’ – I think in India, we have given up on the govt. We have stopped demanding that the govt does the basic things it is supposed to do, because of the way the govt functions.. We know that there is no real point.

      • Isn’t that the problem, the government makes matters so complicated (deliberately I may add) only because they know the public will give up on them, or at least the pressure on them from public will weaken.

        Without putting pressure on government to do something about it, I don’t know what else one can do?

        • I agree. That’s exactly what has happened. And yes, in these kind of scenarios, it must be the govt’s responsibility to sort things out, rather than passing the blame and hoping that the people(private enterprises) can sort out the mess things are in..

  4. “I would have been more impressed if it came up with a methodology to bring up the existing state schools to a level where every parent would be happy to send their child, rather than make it a refuge for parents who can’t afford better.” I agree with you there completely, Smits. The core problem with our government schools lies in their pathetic functioning, in the way they are handled..or rather not handled.

    True, so very true.

    I am so impressed with the education system that you have in UK! The very point where you mention that the state schools there are comparable to private schools is something that I feel our government needs to take note of. I mean can you even imagine the standards of government schools being at par with the private schools in our country? I cant! If the authorities and government are to up the standards of the state schools, provide quality education so that more and more parents are driven to send their children to these schools, not to forget provide good teaching conditions and perks to teachers, then I dont see why the state run school cant have as much standing as private schools.

    The problem I think is that our govts have never taken education seriously. More often than not, they try to take short term measures, in the hope that it translates into votes, rather than go in for long term solutions that will actually make a difference.. And with the govt schools in such bad shape, is it any wonder that private schools have made education into a flourishing business..

  5. Hmmm true what you say . although I am out of india for a long long time now so dont know much .. but hearinf the stories from friends it is scary and with all that is in the news these days .. regarding fake degrees even for FLYING… It brings os much shame …

    Fake degrees and all – just shows how corruption has reached every aspect of our lives..

    I started my career as a teacher , I loved it and have ahd such a great repo with the students that we still keep in touch I am sure you have read a few of my posts on that ..

    Did you ? Wow! I am always impressed by teachers!

    all the best when you go to India

    Thank you so much – I will need all the wishes.

    The problem with people in india is although everyone wants their kids to study , some jsut cant afford and they prefer to put their kids to work rather than study.
    That is certainly true.

  6. Very true… I remember a friend who had to struggle to get his daughter into the school they wanted her in – the whole porcess of admissions and donations in Bangalore has gone crazy!

    I know.. I have avoided donations so far.. Lets see how it goes..

    Loved your thought provoking post
    Thanks Pix!

  7. excellent post Smitha.. you have voiced the thoughts of many many parents around.. Adi goes to a private school here as the public school closer to my home doesn’t have good rating. But, I have always admired the other public and charter schools that has good rating. They operate so well here.. I am still confused about my choices of Indian schools. I have to start my analysis soon as we might return in a year or two.

    I know.. It is so much more complicated in India, isn’t it? I found it tough to even get an idea of how things work..

    “Law enforcement is as important as drafting a sensible law” – can’t agree more..

    Glad that you got admission at a school for Poohi and all the very best with the transition.
    Thanks, Ani.. We will need all the wishes 🙂

  8. Sigh. I haven’t heard of many horror stories about schools in India, since we do not know of many people who have school-going kids. This just makes me scared for the future and education of my kid/s.

    I know.. I think it will work out – eventually, but it is tougher than abroad, from my experience.

    I realise I know next to nothing about the education system here. I should read up on this.
    Lovely, thought-provoking post, Smitha!

    Thanks, TGND

  9. Excellent post and so well researched.

    The school my nieces and nephews attend is the top school in Scotland and its not private but better than any expensive posh private school here. So we know govts have the ability to provide that standard of education through out the country too if they could and wanted to.

    I think in India and Pakistan if league tables were set up it would make a difference just like it does here. No school wants to be at the bottom of any table.

    Education should be top priority on any govts list but sadly in some countries it isn’t what has made it worse is when the public stops demanding it just slackens them more.

So, what do you think?

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