Prevailing Questions of ‘RTE’ & Emerging Contentions In The Educational Policy Discourse

By Somingam PS

Constitutional yet partly Praxi Paradoxical’ Education in India is considered a matter of Right for every child (6-14 years), an intrinsic value of the Indian constitutions laid down as the Fundamental Rights. With the 86th amendment Act of 2002 specifically in article 21.a guaranteed “Free and Compulsory education” for all children between the ages of 6-14 years based on the principles of Inclusion, Equality and Non-discrimination. Nearly after 8 years of constitutional amendment act of 2002 (Universalization of education)’Right to education Act, 2009 came into being as a landmark achievement which brings in the fundamental changes and shift in the Indian education system setting up various Institutional mechanism with numerous roles and responsibilities of state and society and with set goals and objectives to be achieve over the next few years and decades. The Act is envisioned on the principle of Holistic approach, equity and accessibility, gender concern, centrality of teachers, moral compulsion on parents, teachers, educational administrators and other stakeholders.

Over the years with the coming of RTE, statistically India has finally almost achieved universal enrollment in primary education with 99.21% and 92.21 at the upper primary level (DISE 2015-16) with the growth rate of 13.56% from class 1- XII (times of India 2013) Despite this massive increase in enrollment at the primary level, six million children aged 6-13 are estimated to be still out of the school system, according to the 2014 survey by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. According to Montreal based UNESCO institute for statistic and global education monitoring, India still has 47 million youth of secondary and higher secondary school-going age are dropping out of school (2016 report). Over the years, the drop-out rate has been increasing at the secondary and higher secondary level. In 6(six) north eastern states (Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Mizoram, Arunachal, Tripura & Meghalaya, it increases to 10% (India today, 2016). Most children out of school in India is leading by Uttar Pradesh, followed by Bihar and Rajasthan.

Data source & yearAge-groupOut of schools children(OoSC) in Numbers
Ministry of human resource development, 20056-13 years13.5 million
Ministry of Human Resource Development, 20096-13 years8.15 million
Census, 20116-13 years38 million
UNICEF, 20145-13 years17.5 million

Variation of children out of Schools from different source in different years.

According to RTE Forum (2016-2017), after 7 years of implementation Rights to Education’ only 9.54 schools are compliant with all norms and standards till today. According to the report of the committee of evolution of new education policy, 2016 (Subramanian committee) there is a shortage of 9.4 lakhs of teachers [5.6 lakhs in primary schools and 3.5 lakhs in upper primary school] in government school; and 14 % of secondary schools don’t have a prescribed minimum of six years. a recent MHRD report shows about 1,05,630 government elementary and secondary schools with only single teachers; with Madhya Pradesh emerging as a worst state where 17,874 of the institutions have just one teachers. Further the Report (2017) says 6.3 lakhs of teachers in India don’t have professional qualification. And yet the new education policy Draft titles ”inputs to the new education policy” in 2016 seemed failed to bring out these fundamental issues and challenges of school education at this juncture. The new education policy (Subramanian committee), which was just came into being last year in 2016 under the right wing-Bharatiya Janata Party Government had greatly underscore the continuing contention in India (Venkatraraman, 2016). Instead of attempting of addressing the fundamental educational concerns where millions of children are still out of school, low quality education in purview of DPEP, SSA, ICDS etc. the HRD Ministry have put in place a process that emphasizes issues that are not concern with education at all (Bhatty, 2015) continuing the fashion trend of new Educratic and bureaucratic recommendation (council for excellence in higher education, national higher education fellowships, central bureau of educational intelligence, constitution of standing education commission, national law for higher education) rather than reconstructing the existing failures and complexities.

Over the years’ one of the major critiques of RTE is the lack of quality which the Act has a least focus on outcome. Surveys frequently reported under-performance in children’s attainment. Few years back in 2013, the annual state of education report (ASER) watchdog NGO conduct a largest annual household survey of children in rural India that focuses on the status of schooling and basic learning are carried out facilitated by Pratham. The report reveals two major findings i.e. the worsening of the learning level and the preference for private schools and private tuition in the rural India. The report also says that the learning quality is certainly better in the private schools. On checking of class 3 children’s ability to read a class 1 textbook, only 33% of children from government school could do compared with 60% children from the private schools. This condition has also led to the alarming growth of private school/institutions which provide much better quality education. Even parents from poor family background began preferring private schools with much higher fees and expenditure rather than the free education in the government schools; which means parents are at any cost concern for the quality education of their children despite condition of being poor or financial instability. The overwhelming growth of private schools is also driven by the larger forces of liberalization and privatization. These further creates wider gap between those who are economically better position and those who are not. To see the growth trend of private schools; in 2005, all India private schools is 17%, it has gone up to 29% in 2013. In some state such as Manipur and Kerala 70% percent of children are in private schools. Moreover in some state though enrollment is increasing in government schools high proportion of students are depending on private tuition s. For examples in Bihar and Odisha, only 8.4 and 7.3 percent are going to private schools however, 52.1 and 52.2 % are going for private tuition respectively. With the poor quality of education on government schools, the number of “Small schools” is also increasing among the govt. schools. The numbers of schools with the total proportion of 60 students and below are 27.3 % in 2010 and 33.1% in 2013 (SSA annual report, 2014).

Again to look from the ankle of Socially Disadvantage/marginalize statistic, as reported by the UNICEF on “South-Asia regional study 2015” children from minorities (Muslim), Schedule Caste and schedule Tribe face a higher degree of non-participation in the schools as compared to national average pointing out that in all the three; there are 11.9 million children (age 6-13) who are not in school, the study says. Further it pointed out that girls from SCs have the highest rate of exclusion at 6.1 percent. The average rate of exclusion primary school age children from SCs is 5.6 percent and 5.3 percent from the STs compared to national average of 3.6 percent. According to IMRP survey 2014 report revealed that out of 75% of all children out of school are Dalit’s, Muslims and schedule tribe. Hence the questions of inclusive education or exclusion in the education system of these marginalize groups despite of numerous affirmative policies and actions it still widely failed to ensure fair and just inclusion in education in contestation to Constitutional mandate. The social-cultural milieus and inequalities of caste or being downtrodden or disadvantage remains pertinent to it reflected in the education system. On the other hand, if we see the budget allocation for ST and SC, the schedule caste sub plan (SCSP) and schedule tribe sub plan (TSP) is again hugely neglected. According to SCSP budget data of 2016-17 the mandated budget for SC is 91,302 Crores but it is only allotted with only 38,833 Crores and for ST 47,301 is the mandated budget but is also assigned with only 24,005 Crores.

One of the reasons for the failure of RTE act is also that there is no dedicated financial resource for its implementation. Even when the act was passed, it was not accompanied by financial memorandum to ensure the availability of the requisite financial resource for its implementation. However surprisingly as per the report though there are undedicated limited funds on the other hand these funds remain un-utilized. The comptroller and auditor general (CAG) in the performance audit that was tabled recently stated that the government/state implementing agencies were inconsistently unable to utilized the funds (Disha Nawani, EPW 2017). This underutilization of funds ranged from 21% to 41 % between 2010-2011 and 2015-2016. The state government have failed to utilize over 87,000 Crores of the allocated funds in the first six years of act (Nanda 2017). also As per the DISE report, 2014-2014’ most of the state are spending less than one percent of SSA budget on community mobilisation and training of SMC school management committee). With this’ the role and participation of community for the effective functioning of government schools is weak [no sense of ownership by the community].

While the budget allocation for children’ also remains stagnant from the last few years. The union budget is half to the budget recommended by the kothari Commission (6 % of GNP) allocated only 3%. It was 2.42 in 2014-2015(RE), 2.44 in 2015-2016(RE) and 2.19 in 2016-2017(BE). As we see the statistics the funds allocation are also gradually limiting (decreasing) whereby to address and ensure education for every children remains a pertinent question amidst series of obstructing factor.

New Amendments, Recommendations and Debates

In 2016, the Subramanian Committee on NEP, 2016 recommended that RTE should be included standard norms and infrastructural requirement for measuring learning outcomes to enhance quality education. Each class should have such standard norms and evaluated through periodic and external assessment. It further recommends that teachers should be accountable in achieving the targets or outcomes within certain given time frame (MHRD 2016). However the debate evolves around this recommendation is that, education is narrowly understood which may likely ignore the production of multiplicity of views and opinion of the student. Disha Niwani (2016) pointed out that it is hugely dominated by the B.S Bloom concept of mastery learning (1975) which is ignorant to constructivist understanding of learning. He further argued the recommendation fails to acknowledge the variation of teaching strategies, social context, student’s differences etc.

Again, in respect to examination reforms, the committee recommend the class 10 board examination should be held of every subject in 2 parts; part A ad Part B. Part A to be compulsory for all the students especially for those who wish to join the vocational training courses after their class 10 and part P is only for those who wants to continue for further studies. The idea of giving options attempting to ensure students friendly examination system is a good moves on one hand. However it can also mislead the students because at the stage of class 10 deciding a diverging carrier for future might not be a wise move. Mostly it is seen at risk for those who are first generation learners whereby parents and elders have limited knowledge of guiding them.

The RTE act of 2009 initially guarantee for those state which doesn’t have sufficient number of teachers training institute and qualifies teachers were given a relaxed deadline of 6 years till 2015. However even after 7 years of RTE implementation more than 2.1 lakh government school teachers and approx 5-6 lakhs private schools teachers remained untrained. This figure was presented by the union home minister MHRD while presenting the amendment act of RTE 2017 (published in; The Hindu 2017). The amendment bill of 2017 confers again the extension of two years to get the required qualification by March 2019.

One of the long standing debates of RTE is also the exclusion of Pre-school clause under RTE Act, perhaps the most neglected area in policy and legislation. The Subramanian committee 2016 taking a view of providing early childhood care and protection of children in age-group of 4-6 years of children but surprisingly declare that it is not a suitable coverage under RTE act for this age group. However the policy draft to an extent covers the age group of 5-6 years which is to be implemented under ICDS. But ICDS itself are not equipped for implementing Pre-school education. In fact ICDS is largely top-down approach and fails to address numerous contextual needs. Moreover the policy recommendation was blind enough to see into the age-group of 15-18 years where higher number of drop outs happens. Till today the Government is nowhere ready to give any concrete commitment for the children of this age-group. Madhu Prasad, founding members and spokesperson of all India forums for Right to education said that RTE became a legal form of system of discrimination at every level.

Strangely, the 2016 amendment of child labor Act in July last year is ; allowing/legalizing the child labor except three; mines, with in-flammables substances and explosive and hazardous work. Coupled with the policy to introduce vocational training s in schools. It can be anticipated that children would be more easily drop out of schools and take up employment. It is hugely critique that the policy is trying to promote caste based pattern of occupation. The policy actually opens up a way/disguised for Children belong to economically backward and girls to actually out from the schools.

Emerging Contentions in the Educational Policy Discourse

India’s education systems today to a larger extend’ still in subscribe of NPE (National education policy) of 1986/92. In fact the RTE Act of 2009 which came into being in 2010 is the comprehensive result of NPEs. The first national education policy (1968) though efforts were made to ensure free and compulsory education, minority education, and address regional disparities on educational infrastructure and however it was focus more on science, technology and scientific research. With the national policy on education (NPE) 1986/92; education policy was much based on equality (bridging the social gap) and inclusion through various affirmative action by introducing of various schemes and policies for the women’s, SC, ST, minorities and other disadvantages groups and also strengthening the existing policies was envisioned. It set to view education in a more holistic manner; Education system with more cultural orientation (Cultural perspectives), language development (Mother tongue), vocational education, setting up of rural schools and institutes, education of handicapped, minorities, ST, SCs, women, teachers education and training, education of games and sports etc. were introduced paving way of some representational space from the vulnerable and marginalize sections and their knowledge system into a mainstream education system. However the questions of being in subjugation, discrimination and exploitation of people who are socially disadvantage and marginalize remains unanswered over the years till date.

School Curriculum are framed by NCERT as a continuous and evolving process over the periods of decades; The Curriculum for the Ten Year School Curriculum 1975, National Curriculum Framework for Elementary and Secondary Education-1988, National Curriculum Framework for School Education-2000 and the last curriculum was prepared by NCERT in the year 2005, which favors the plurality of textbooks. The need for introducing new National Curriculum Framework (NCF) adapting the fast changing scenario of social, political and economic order over the past one decade has put forward by several educationists, experts, Activist etc. and it becomes a challenge before curriculum framers and developers to assimilate and absorb new changes to meet the aspirations of the people.

NCF 2005 identify independence of thoughts and action, sensitivity to others well-being and feelings, learning to respond new situation in a flexible and creative manner and importance of participation in the democratic process and social change. “In the social sciences’ the approach proposed in the NCF recognizes disciplinary markers’ a paradigm shift is recommended, proposing the study of the social sciences from the perspective of marginalize groups. Gender justice and a sensitivity towards issues related to SC and ST communities and minority sensibilities must inform all sectors of the social sciences (National curriculum Framework, 2005)”. In 2012, MHRD directs the State/UT governments to “modify their existing school curricula and textbooks to include gender positive material”. That would require authors who have internalized the significance of the task assigned and further, are free from “urban middle class biases”.

These are the few important milestone development leading to paradigm shifts at the level of policy framework in the field of education. Yet in these waves of constant adaptation and re-adaptation with the changing social economic and political scenario of the country it is undeniable that the emerging educational trends have lots of ideological underpinnings and political motives in it. On 27TH June, 2017 Delhi Deputy Chief Minister ‘Manish Sisodia once remark during the meeting with the NCERT “Textbooks should not be used as ‘ideological battleground’ between the Left and the Right, they must be designed to suit the need of the children”. These remarks came out from the kind of situation emerging in education system over the last few years/decades. At present, with the coming of the new (BJP) government the ideology of “Hindu Rashtra” has been invisibly visibilising putting as a central agenda taking its shape in all the institutional settings behind the idea of nation state. In fact’ the new amendment Act of RTE 2016, notwithstanding innumerable social disparities, particularly of caste and gender in its social fabric, it hails Indian civilization as the most glorious civilization in the world (MHRD 2016: 5) which uncritically trying to celebrate ancient India in its education system is one of its kind. Arguably Indian education system are obscurant with national identity/goals which in a way overemphasizing on Indianizing’ rather than being rational cutting across boundaries producing multiples knowledge and ideas. In fact the very idea of “national identity” is undeniably questioned and debated among scholars of different communities/region. For the country is a multi-diversified nation with so many nations within the Indian state. Frequently the question arises to whose national identity are we referring to? The question of whose cultural or sociological facts and narratives is represented or how it is represented remains debatable/un-answered till now.

If we are to raise such questions’ Strangely, the historical facts and culture of North-Eastern people and society and Tribal’s are nothing less discussed or mentioned in the central educational boards of syllabus and curriculum until recently few integrated studies started in the college and universities. And tribal sociology of knowledge for that matter only claim a limited space in the academic spheres till today. Moreover few discussions about them are often portrayed distorting the historical and cultural facts in converging to ancient Indian civilization and Hindu narratives (GK-CBSE textbook, 2017). The basic fundamental values and ethos of diversities of the country is violated and constantly attempted to portray in the shadow of ancient Hindu civilization.

Ironically “Indian educational policy” is still majorly caught up in the realms of propagating national identity/ achieving national goals. From NPE 1986/92 there see a shift towards critical thinking however, individual is still seen as a resource for achieving national goals rather than active participant in defining these goals. With the subscription of liberalization, globalization and privatization (LPG) from 1991, education became gradually more commercialize and taking an approach to meet the market requirement rather than producing a rational, critical and creative citizens for realization of national goals.

National policies on education have been shaped by the political and economic contexts within which they were formulated and these in turn defined the espousal of specific policy goals” (Dewan & Mehendale 2015).

Perhaps’ many scholars argued that Indian education system is run by politically governed policies rather than educationally governed policies. Every new ruling government may it be BJP or Congress keep framing new policies, new framework etc. based on their certain political agenda. even few years back, after the coming of NDA government they want to rewrite the History textbook (syllabus) and also came up with a “New education policy, 2016 which itself receive a lots of critics that the new education policy is attempting to corporatize and Brahmanize the Indian education system. Indeed every right thinking citizen welcomes new policy and curriculum which would adapt/update with the new changing social-economic and political environment however the question remains unanswered whether the policy envisioning educational attributes such as critical thinking, creativity, scientific temper, analytical abilities, aesthetic appreciation, sense of philosophy and rationality are reflected on the idea of equity-equality, liberty, rights and justice. At the outset disparity between the rich and the poor becomes wider; the element of caste, or being a tribal or women or minorities etc. became more and more vulnerable at its complexity. Madhu Prasad, founder member &spokesperson, All India forum for RTE remarks that “Clearly, India’s education system is reproducing social inequalities and not removing them”.

Surprisingly, the New Education Policy draft which was just framed in 2016 in reference with the school education has a limited reflection on the two emerging/changing social-cultural issues of the country; Gender concerns and environmental concerns. However, One should also note that the new education policy Draft, 2016 came out of the feature that;

  • It came after the gap of 30 years (last formulated in 1986/92).

  • It is an initiative of Right wing-Bharatiya Janata party, which invites saffronization of education in the past educational policy and reforms.

  • It comes at a time when the neo-liberalist waves of privatization and globalization was at its height with increasing negligence in social sector.

Out of the many themes discussed for the school education in the NPE 2016, there is completely no mentioning of gender concerns (apart from mentioning the addressing social gaps) and environmental concern (See NEP, 2016) which is also an important SDGs goals of 2015. Ajay S Sekar also put forward” as Saffronizing and corporatization of Indian education system; critique on new education policy, 2016 in the journal of in Cultural forum. The strong evident point of being not in conformity with the changing Socio–cultural scenario/issues is that; violence/crime against women in the country is keep on increasing at the alarming rate according to National Crime Record Bureau. The overall number has been increased from 2, 28, 650 cases in 2011 to 3, 27, 394 in 2015 (national crime record bureau, 2015). The overall crime reported by national crime report Bureau is also increasing over the years; with 36.3 % in 2005 to 40.3 in 2015. The alarming situation of increasing crime against women in India over the years’ despite of being growing discourse and awareness of gender rights and empowerment along with the growth of education posed a serious paradoxical concern. Similarly, the environmental concern which gained itself a serious global attention has ignored in the new education policy in a largest democratic country. It simply reveals the situation of sinking education in the shadows of powerful corporate. The corporatization of India’s development model whereby the powerful capitalist unwillingness to compromise their power/prestige on to the environmental concerns is the reason for its ignorance. Because the education itself is slowly materializing and corporatizing moving towards to fulfill the demands of market.

The surprising feature of new education Policy (NEP) 2016 is also that it came within the few months of time-line. Contrary to student–centric learning, the report emphasizes the teacher Centric system “Guru Shisya” Tradition of the past (MHRD 2016: 1) whereby schools and universities are termed as Temples of learning. The new policy failed to engage with relevant literature and previous policy documents (Venkatraraman, 2016). It is viewed in Skepticism by many people that the new education policy document was given mostly to retired bureaucrats rather than the educationist, academic experts (Panda, 2016). These whole questions of un-clarity in the new education policy 2016 revealed itself the hidden agenda of the regressive right wing political ruling party.


the Indian education system particularly in reference with the school education; for that matters RTE seems lacking commitment in its policy orientation and implementation without really underlying the complexities and needs of the ground reality. Right to education was bold enough at the policy level however even after 7 years of implementation, only 9% are in compliance with the RTE norms and provision which means there exist a unnoticed fundamental gap/issues between the policy orientation and contextual ground reality. And this was least concerned and revealed in the new education policy drafted in 2016. The basic concerns and issues largely remained unadressed and the new policies are absurdly more driven by Educratic and bureaucratic recommendations and commitments which may have a least impact.

In a Midst of all this prevailing complexities; achievements and failures, the worrying situation is brutalizing the essence of education by the political ideologies and motives. It is undeniably true of a claim that Indian education system is politically governed rather than the educationally governed. The remarks of Delhi deputy chief minister “Textbook should not not be an ideological battleground between Right and Left, it should be design to suit the need of the children” is such a remark of a prevailing context. The ultimate aim of education as achieving national goals and maintaining national identity, which is again obscurantize in Hindu realms of construction violating the very nature of diversity which actually drives India and democracy’ needs to deconstruct and aim to produce a rational, critical and creative citizens for realization of National Development Goals.

Disclaimer: The Arek do not claim ownership of this article. 

For the reference: Somingam.PS. (2018). Prevailing Questions of ‘RTE’ & Emerging Contentions In The Educational Policy Discourse. Indian Journal of Dalit and Tribal Studies and Actions, Vol 4, Pp45-54.

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