Education for All! How far are we from the goal posts?

Dayabati Roy

March 26, 2019

How does the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE), progress in India? Have the RTE Act begun to realize the goals that it set to achieve within a stipulated period? The answers seem to be not so optimistic as far as the education of the children in Sunderbans is concerned. If we peek at a primary school, or children’s performance in the Sunderbans region, we must realize that not everything is going well in the education front. Most of the children whose parents are in transition from one place to another or are in a vulnerable position in terms of livelihoods do not perform well in school learning. No doubt, that learning is always challenging for the children who are first generation learners, or often left behind at native villages by their migrant parents. However, the question is what the impact is then of various attempts that have been made in the form of legislations and policies for addressing the learning deficits of first generation learners on the overall education system.  

The RTE Act has put the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation system (CCE) in place of the pass-fail system with a view to promote a non-threatening and motivating system of evaluation at the elementary school level. Opposing the repeat a class and the expulsion of a child from the school, the RTE Act upholds a ‘no detention’ provision up to class VIII for ensuring the quality education in the elementary school system. As conceptualized, the non-threatening system of CCE would enable the teachers to pay individual attention to the child’s learning and performance. The question that arises is the way the teachers are implementing the CCE in a particular context. In other words, the question is whether the teachers who are accustomed to learn as well as to teach under the pass-fail system do face any challenges to implement the new system of evaluation in their respective schools. A teacher informed that the primary schools in the state did not have the adequate infrastructure needed to pursue the CCE effectively in the elementary school system. Even after the enactment and implementation of the RTE Act, several primary schools are allowed to operate with only one or two teachers. The scarcity of teachers leaves hardly any scope to evaluate students’ learning and performance continuously.

It seems that the concerned authority barely bothers about bringing into effect the legal provisions enshrined in the RTE Act which already has fixed a deadline to fulfill the prescribed norms and standards within a period of three years from the date of its commencement (Section 19, RTE). Notwithstanding its efforts to implement the RTE Act, West Bengal, an Indian state, is lagging behind particularly in providing for the stipulated number of teachers in the elementary school system. However, is it just the lesser number of teachers that concerns the quality of education in elementary schools? Or, is it also the training or the qualification of the teachers that matters for achieving the goals of quality education? It has become a banal saying that, ‘when we work towards reducing the pupil-teacher-ratio, as a report says, ‘the answer is not to fill the schools with under-qualified and contractual teachers’ (Azim Premji Foundation 2014: 15). The answer is to provide for the appointment of qualified and properly trained teachers. Here probably lie the problems of achieving the goals of successful implementation of the CCE, and the subsequent attainment of better learning outcomes. 

The teachers emphasized that paying individual attention to the children in order to evaluate appropriately their performance continuously requires the sufficient number of teachers also urging the concerned authority to provide training for the teachers. The task of evaluating the pupils through CCE has thus become complicated particularly because the system of inspection is dysfunctional due to lack of an adequate number of school inspectors in West Bengal. In several places, the school inspectors are compelled to inspect schools under more than one circle, often even all schools in a block, which turn the chore of inspection into a routine performance. The school inspectors could actually play roles in supplementing the teachers’ continuous efforts to evaluate the students, as well as to implement the RTE Act as a whole. The schoolteachers along with the school inspectors, as a teacher believes, can only make the elementary school system a fruitful abode of learning.  Whether the private tutoring is an ‘egalitarian supplement’ is actually not such a vital question. The key question is whether the supplementary private tutoring does act as a barrier to the proper implementation of CCE. The teachers state that the desired goals of the CCE are jeopardized for the reason that the rampant practices of private tutoring often invert the government-aided elementary school system merely into a site of formal certification. When the private tutors mostly teach the mass of students, the scope of evaluation of the teachers’ performance and the associated pedagogical activities is limited at least to an extent. Teachers do not get adequate opportunities to improve their own skills by means of systematic evaluation of their pedagogical activities. The question is, had the CCE been in a proper functioning mode, would the problem of educational deficit have resolved? Had all the students been evaluated continuously and then promoted into respective higher classes, what would have happened? Is the system of elementary education ready to enroll all the students who are ready to be admitted in higher classes? The answers to these questions are emphatic no. The figures regarding school infrastructure in West Bengal inform that the number of both upper primary and high schools decreases progressively in the state. West Bengal is perhaps not ready to admit the entire mass of students who are in transition from primary to upper primary, and upper primary to high schools, notwithstanding a good proportion of children, always opting out of the government and private aided schools in pursuit of socially secluded schools. These figures look much worse in rural areas of the Sunderbans where a girl has to travel a long terrain just to avail a girls’ high school. The daily cost of travel is sometimes around RS. 30.00. The bicycles that have been distributed among the class IX and X students as part of the West Bengal Government’s Sabooj Sathi scheme are likely of no use as the students, particularly the girl students, could hardly use them in want of proper roads within the village. Thus, the Sunderbans is far away from the goalposts set by the RTE. The education policy makers must either reset the goalposts or address the problems of the Sunderbans people so that they can achieve this goal. However, the question is whether the policy-makers would do it sooner rather than later. As the politics of education reveals, the bhadraloks are least interested in the education of the laboring people. Is there any exception here? Most probably, the answer might be no. Sunderbans is lagging behind, as perhaps it is the abode of migrant laborers. The migrant laborers are the ones who have been serving the bhadraloks of Kolkata since long in every sphere of manual works. Who care about the wellbeing of the subalterns until it poses a problem for their service?