VIEWPOINT

Five reasons to scrap this right

Posted on January 12, 2011 | Author: Manish Sabharwal | View 393

The Right to Education Act may be a well-meaning step, but it suffers from a number of serious flaws that will poison the ecosystem by sabotaging other ways to get India educated.

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It is said that one of most damaging virtues of George W Bush was his steadiness; he believed the same thing on Wednesday that he believed on Monday — no matter what happened on Tuesday.
 
Unfortunately, the well-meaning or self-interested people — these are the only two kinds pushing for swifter implementation of the Right to Education Act (RTE) — seem to share this dangerous steadiness despite new information.
 
As state governments start codifying the details or plumbing of RTE, I’d like to make the case that the RTE must be scrapped or substantially modified before it causes permanent damage because of five reasons; capacity, cost, competition, corruption and confusion.
 
As a company at the exit gate of the education system — we have hired somebody every five minutes for five years but only 5% of the kids who came to us for a job — we see and suffer the tragic consequences of India’s education emergency. True impact in public policy — unlike election campaigns — does not lie in poetry but in plumbing. So let’s look at the plumbing of RTE through its consequences: 

Lower capacity: RTE timetables the extinction of 25% of India’s 15 lakh schools that are ‘unrecognised’. These mostly low-cost schools have been an entrepreneurial response to parental choice — the antibiotic reaction to dysfunctional government schools chronicled in The Beautiful Tree by James Tooley.
 
Our demographic dividend — 10 lakh people will join the labour force every month for the next 20 years — would have been a bigger nightmare if these private schools had not substituted for the missing state in the last 20 years. And while it is a lie that all these schools deliver quality, it is true that a bad school is better than no school.
 
To paraphrase a beheaded French queen, this provision of RTE effectively says “if you can’t have cake, don’t eat bread”. Higher cost: RTE essentially mandates a huge rise in school fees. It micro-specifies salaries, qualifications and infrastructure.
 
Delhi schools that don’t pay a minimum of . 23,000 per month to teachers will not receive recognition and specifies that primary teachers must have a two-year education diploma; this means that 33% of teachers have to be fired. RTE specifies that every school must have a playground; Delhi specifies 900 sq yards but I know a state that is considering 1,500 sq yards.
 
The 25% children from disadvantaged groups will require massive cross-subsidisation because state governments propose to reimburse way below cost, e.g. Karnataka caps it at . 7,000 per student per year.
 
All this micromanaging of schools — to the delight of teachers and the real estate mafia — hits middle class parents with higher prices for essentially the same quality product. 

Lower competition: A big driver of higher quality and lower costs in higher education has been competition. The 50% vacant seats of 1 lakh capacity UP Technical University are forcing engineering colleges to offer free hostels, English training, only MTech faculty, and much else.
 
About 15,000 of the 45,000 Karnataka MBA seats are vacant; these colleges are reducing fees, guaranteeing internships and embedding soft skills in their curriculum. 
    
RTE makes it impossible for education entrepreneurs to compete on price since many states propose to regulate fees and uncertainty has paused the Cambrian explosion of energy in school entrepreneurship. This means lower capacity and lower competition. And that means schools don’t have clients, but hostages. 
    
Higher corruption: RTE mandates schools to take 25% students from ‘poor’ backgrounds. Some states are going overboard — Karnataka requires schools to conduct household surveys to create and maintain records of all children in a 1-3 km area from birth till 14 years of age to identify the poor. But who is poor?
 
If the Indian government can’t decide whether 24% or 42% of India is poor, how will a BEO (block education officer)? In reality, he or she won’t; they will auction their certification of poor to the highest bidder.
 
What constitutes appropriate efforts to bring back dropouts? How will teacher student-ratios be calculated?
 
The BEO, long a thorn in the flesh, now has powers to be a dagger in the heart. RTE provides the BEO’s the ability to convert every school into a personal ATM. Not all, but most will. 

More confusion: Does changed evaluation mean no exams? What does immunity for government bureaucrats mean?
 
Is incompetence good faith? How will mid-day meals be handled for the 25% in private schools? Where will these 25% go after Grade VIII? Will the 75% parent-populated government school management committees have the power to hire and fire teachers? 
    
RTE prohibits schools from admission procedures and forces them to select students on a random basis within a policy that “includes criteria for the categorisation of applicants in terms of the objectives of the school on a rational, reasonable and just basis”.
 
By definition, don’t random, rational, reasonable and just mean different things to different people? Why take away the right to detain or expel till Class VIII? Can we be equal and excellent? 
    
RTE does not pass the Hippocratic Oath of every doctor , ‘above all, cause no harm’, and has three birth defects. First the doctors in this case — civil servants — are unwilling to take the medicine they prescribe as they shamelessly and explicitly exempt the government schools they run (70% of all schools) and the walled gardens where their children study (Kendriya Vidyalas and the elite Sanskriti that is now going national) from RTE.
 
Second RTE values hardware over software but what can easily be measured may not matter. Third as enrolment ratios cross 100% it fights yesterday’s war of quantity and fails to focus on quality and learning outcomes. We don’t need more cooks in the kitchen but a different recipe. RTE not only fails this test but poisons the ecosystem by sabotaging other ways to get India educated. 
    

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