Who is trying to kill the RTE and why?
A lot is being said and written against RTE and Public Education System in India of late. Here is an insight into who is perpetrating these attacks and what’s the agenda.
The public education system (PES) has for long been under attack. It has always been painted as non-functioning, wasteful and un-improvable. The Right to Education Act (RTE) was designed and implemented to improve this system. Therefore, it is only natural that the RTE will also come under fire from the same quarters that have been attacking the PES.
What’s interesting is that almost all attacks arise from private schools, their supporters and the privatisation lobby. Needless to say, the solutions that are being aggressively pushed to “solve” the problem will only lead to the profit of these vested interests.
Oh what a tale!
A lie is being perpetrated through sheer force of repetition that learning is better in so-called low-cost private schools. It is obviously an attempt by bigger private schools to checkmate the PES ensuring that they fade into oblivion.
And what better way to turn a lie into a truth than giving it a varnish of facts and figures. So in every few days you will run into an article about a research which shows that private schools outperform public schools and they are efficient on other accounts.
Then there are some ‘real’ studies that claim that after adjusting for family and socio-economic background of the children, there is not much of a difference in learning outcomes. Amita Chudgar and Elizabeth Quin claim that they “find insufficient evidence to claim that children in private schools outperform those in public schools in India… better data are needed” (“Relationship between Private Schooling and Achievement: Results from Rural and Urban India”, Economics of Education Review, 2012).
In fact, the report by Sangeeta Goyal and Priyanka Pandey, “How do Government and Private Schools Differ”, EPW, 2012 shows that students in private “schools are less likely to belong to low caste groups” which means that they are less inclusive. Therefore, the repeated claims of better learning in private schools are unfounded simply on the fact that they do not account for a large section of the society.
Well the vested parties pretty soon realised that it was difficult to empirically prove that children learn better in private schools, so they invented a new weapon: per unit cost of learning outcomes. Little did they realise that over time this bogus benchmark of learning outcomes too will fall flat on its face.
Most of the learning outcome researches almost always reduce the entire purpose of education to so-called 3Rs. The new claim that emerged is that everything in education can be quantified in ‘per unit cost of outcome’ which is lower in private schools. Which means that even if the learning outcomes of private schools are not better than the public schools, the cost of running private schools is much lower.
This argument is completely bogus and shows very little understanding of education. The costs quoted for private schools, firstly, have no reliable data source and secondly, they ignore or forget hidden costs — to the family. Here’s the hidden cost to family. Often the cost of education in private schools is equated with the fee per child. This is obviously an understatement of the cost as the cost of school uniform, books and stationery, and transport, which all are under the monopoly of the school, are not included. What about the additional money for special occasions like festivals, picnics, excursions and projects? None of this is counted in this cost calculation. However, the family bears this burden and these items add significantly to the revenue of private schools.
Another fiction: school closure
To add to the force of two spurious arguments mentioned above a new falsehood is being spread: that the low-cost private schools are closing due to implementation of the RTE. What RTE demands of infrastructure, children per teacher, teacher qualifications and teacher remunerations is just minimum to run a decent school.
If schools which do not have classroom, do not have trained teachers, do not have toilets and drinking water and do not pay even the minimum wages to their teachers close down, why should it be blamed on the RTE? Actually, they have no right to run in the first place. Recently the Azim Premji Foundation conducted a study in 69 districts across seven States and one Union Territory and found that across these districts only 5 schools were closed due to non-compliance of the RTE and notices for compliance had been served to 7,156 schools.
Finally peddling false remedies
The remedy suggested for the low learning levels in the PES is to encourage the private sector. Simply put, that means provide public money to the private profiteer either though the vouchers or by facilitating their compliance with the RTE norms. The vouchers are seen as the ticket to quality education as the parents can decide to take their children to any private school they like. In reality vouchers are like a hidden demand for letting the market regulate schools. The market is not a just god, it favours big money; and competition raising quality is a myth at least in education. To understand this, simply look at the condition of Teacher education in India where it is almost entirely in the hands of the private colleges. We all know that it has completely ruined teacher education and all attempts to improve it so far have failed.
The proponents of the voucher system forget that freedom of choice requires informed decision-making. Poor parents do not have adequate information about schools, and that information cannot be reliably and systematically provided. Their judgment can be easily swayed by false propaganda, as is being done right now across the country.
The truth is that RTE is not being implemented either efficiently or fairly, efforts are half-hearted at best. Governments have diluted it and are uninterested in making the private schools comply with it. It was constructed to provide better schools to the poor. But these schools have made provisions to spare themselves.
However, this is the fault of implementation and not of the Act. Dr. Ambedkar made a poignant comment while adopting the Constitution that “however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot.”
The tirade against the PES and RTE is a classic case of giving the dog a bad name with intention to kill it, so that a wolf of their choice could replace it in the name of guarding the house.