Event ReportsPublished on Jun 14, 2014
The Centre's much touted 'Sarva Shiksha Abhyan' Programme has failed to meet its initial ideals because of many reasons, mainly "low teacher-to-pupil ratio in several States and "Minorityism" and "irregular monitoring of the facilities", according to former Vice-Chancellor of Bharatidasan University, Dr S Muthukumaran.
Need to amend RTE Act: Expert
Veteran educationist and former Vice-Chancellor of Bharatidasan University, Dr S Muthukumaran, noted that the Right to Education Act (RTE Act) is not as clear as it ought to have been. Starting with the title of the law, he recalled that the full title was "Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act". In a lighter vein, he noted it was self-contradictory: "If it is a right, it cannot be compulsory. If it is compulsory, it is a duty".

Initiating a talk on "Five years of Right to Education Act" at the Chennai Chapter of Observer Research Foundation on June 14, 2014, Dr S Muthukumaran, who had chaired the Tamil Nadu Government's committee that rolled out the "Samacheer Kalvi" ('universal education') system of school education amidst much debate, took the audience through a disciplined route in the analysis of RTE. Along the discussion he noted various achievements and shortfalls of the Act which has been a dream of many-a-government since Independence.

Dr Muthukumaran's two-pronged approach to the subject was based on firstly elucidating various noteworthy policies outlined in the Act and secondly suggesting amendments wherever he thought necessary. He reviewed the five chapters of the Act to enlighten the audience on some of the important provisions in each. He was joined by Dr D Kumaran, a specialist in education management affairs and also professor-cum-head at University of Madras, who chaired and moderated the session.

Dr Muthukumaran complimented the Tamil Nadu Government for its various accomplishments in the arena of educational reforms even before the RTE Act came into being. Some of them such as "Admitting of all children into schools above the age of eight", "not retaining the children up to class 8", "providing free books and uniforms", and "rolling out the mid-day meals scheme" deserve special mention. He also justified his compliments by pointing out the fact that the drop-out rate in the State now stood at a low 2.5 percent.

'Unrealistic ideals'

The speaker pointed out that the Sarva Shiksha Abhyan, a brain-child of the Centre, has failed to meet its initial ideals. He also enumerated some of the main causes of failure for the programme. "Low teacher-to-pupil ratio in several States (12 to be exact) meant that progress in implementation of the scheme is far from satisfactory," he said. "Minorityism" and "irregular monitoring of the facilities" were among other impediments, he said.

Dr Muthukumaran said that Chapter 4 of the Act was unrealistic in its ideals. The speaker also accused governments across the country for showing the government schools in poor light by providing opportunities for children to shift to fee-levying private schools by facilitating 25 percent reservation quota. However, during the discussion, it was pointed out that reservations in this context were provided in the first place in order to ensure availability of education for worthy children in areas where there were no government- funded schools or the access to such schools was poor.

The speaker suggested some amendments to the RTE Act. He said that mid-stream admission of children should be based not just on age criterion, but on several other credentials such academic abilities. Likewise, the concept of 25-percent reservations for poor and neighbourhood children in all schools should be transitory, rather than compulsory. This would reduce the misuse of special provisions granted to minorities.

Quota in fee-levying schools

Dr Muthukumaran explained how the role of fee-levying schools should be brought down in the education sector. He suggested that the quality of education and infrastructure should be improved in government schools and government-aided schools to ensure free and quality education to all.

This meant that fee-levying schools could be approached by students who desire more focus on advanced education and extra-curricular skills. Such fee-levying schools could also be set up for fast learners and differently-abled children who require special care and attention.

Dr Muthukumaran concluded the talk by discussing his experiences in the field of educational reforms.

(This report is prepared by Gururaj Kalanidhi, B.Tech Chemical Engineering, St.Joseph's College of Engineering, Chennai)

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