Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Strengthen elementary education

The Right to Education Act is sadly making slow progress in many states of the country in the absence of a strong political commitment. It is also unfortunate that the NDA-government which has begun its second term after the general elections that concluded last month has also not shown any positive sign to pursue this goal in right earnest. Instead of looking forward to implementation of the far-sighted RTE, the Centre has been busy in pursuing its objective of communalizing the situation across the country than educating the common masses. The NDA-II has not realized the potential of educating the Indian masses, who need it badly for future as compared to dividing the society on communal lines. The draft National Education Policy (NEP) that has been invoked to thrust on people in different states with Hindi learning and making it compulsory instead of extending the scope to younger children through early childhood education that can be a positive sign. The proposal suggested in the draft NEP to put children three years and older in a stimulating nursery environment is a welcome logical measure for the people. An important view is that the pre-school phase is crucial to stimulate a child’s curiosity and help in preparing for schooling at age 6. The NEP proposal to infuse the existing child development schemes, which are primarily nutrition-oriented, with a learning component is in line with this thinking on holistic development. An extension of the RTE would be a big step forward, but in the absence of measures that will deepen equity; the law cannot transform the Indian society. The Centre has to guarantee that in its totality, the RTE will encompass all schools bar those catering to minorities. This is necessary to achieve its moral goal of bringing quality schooling to all in the age group of 6-14. The early childhood section, now under the Ministry of Women and Child Development, will then be meaningful in the long run. It is unfortunate that the evidence indicates that only 12.7 percent schools comply with the law’s requirements, and at the pace seen since RTE became law in 2010, it will take decades to achieve full coverage in this vast country. Under the existing conditions across the country, giving all children aged three and above the RTE can become a reality only if the central government is willing to live up to its promise of devoting more financial resources for this sector. It has been pointed out time and again that allocation of more than 6 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education could have transformed the sector. But it is unfortunate that only 2.7 percent was spent in 2017-18, which is less than half the required expenditure in this sector. The years that have been cost millions a brighter future, but the draft NEP provides an opportunity to make amends. Bringing more children into the formal education stream needs a well-thought-out road map. The Centre has to play a leadership role to ensure that states, some of which have done a poor job of implementing the RTE Act, are persuaded to implement urgent reforms. The NEP’s proposal to have well-designed school complexes, where pre-primary to secondary classes will be available, is in itself an ambitious goal that will require mission-mode implementation. Shortcomings in Anganwadi Centres must be addressed in the expansion plan. The state governments will have to fill teacher vacancies and ensure that the training of recruits is aligned to scientific, child-oriented teaching methods. Education reform is vital to prepare for a future in which cutting-edge skills will be necessary for continued economic progress. Changes to the RTE Act that will prepare all children for a more productive schooling phase can help make India’s educational system fair and egalitarian. In the backdrop of the present scenario when the primary schools are without teachers and necessary buildings, the step to involve children of age 3 and above will be difficult to achieve. Moreover, strengthening the elementary education system is the first requirement for expanding the scope of pre-school facilities to children of younger age.