Memo To Modi: Covid-19 Is Radically Changing The World Of Learning; We Need A New Right To Education Act

by Arihant Pawariya - May 15, 2020 05:05 PM +05:30 IST
Memo To Modi: Covid-19 Is Radically Changing The World Of Learning; We Need A New Right To Education ActPrime Minister Narendra Modi.
Snapshot
  • Right To Education Act is one of the most disastrous laws ever implemented by the Indian state. Covid-19 is proving its futility better than anything.

    We need an RTE act for the post-Covid-19 world, a law rooted in reality more than ideology.

The Right to Education (RTE) Act of 2009 is one of the most disastrous legislations ever implemented in India.

It is communal in nature as it does not apply to education institutions run by six national minority communities.

It is detrimental to supply of new schools as it puts a premium on establishing a new school by mandating certain infrastructure constraints such as ‘x’ number of rooms, minimum size of playground, library, etc.

It punishes those who are providing education at budget price by forcing them to reserve one-fourth of their intake at highly subsidised rate.

It robs private schools of their admission and financial autonomy. The government selects 25 per cent of students for them. It should ideally pay their fees but it pays an amount much lower than the normal fees charged by a school. Even then, it doesn’t pay reimbursements on time.

And on and on it goes. There is not just one thing that’s wrong with the RTE Act but the whole law is a travesty and each section of the act is litigious. It’s not without reason that one says that this act is one of the most disastrous laws ever implemented by the Indian state.

I have written various articles over the last four years highlighting the contentious aspects and fallouts of the RTE Act. Now, Covid-19 pandemic is proving the futility of this act better than anything.

One of the major criticisms of the RTE is that it has relied heavily on inputs rather than outcomes while regulating schools. Instead of judging schools based on their scores or learning, they are evaluated on the basis of quantity of classrooms, size of playground, presence of library, etc. And some state governments have tweaked their own acts to give a good amount of focus to learning outcomes as well. Of course, this hasn’t changed much for schools as they have to still comply with onerous input requirements.

Nonetheless, Covid-19 pandemic has turned this old way of thinking about ‘places of learnings’ on its head.

Today, millions of students are attending classes online. Earlier, there were only a few platforms but now they are proliferating left, right and centre. Services like Zoom or Google Hangouts, which used to be limited to catching up with friends have overnight transformed into virtual classrooms and virtual office conference rooms.

Students are submitting their homework over WhatsApp and e-mail. As brick and mortar schooling system remains shut, online learning is booming. A reform which was slowly being adopted has been forced on everyone. What would have taken a decade has happened in a month.

The only relationship between a student and the school system at the moment is about learning. No transportation. No using those big playgrounds. No using fancy buildings with expensive furniture and utilities that schools charge a bomb for. Except tuition fees, online learning makes every other aspect of school system redundant (ok, except science labs).

And everyone is doing all this from the comfort of their homes. A new form of homeschooling revolution.

Now, imagine how antediluvian this whole regulatory regime under RTE is which not only bans homeschooling but also specifies how much built area a school should have, type of classrooms it needs, size of playground and what not. Think also of the teacher-student ratio it specifies.

In a world, where a good teacher can impart a good lesson to thousands, lakhs or millions of people in one go, we have a law which mandates that schools have one teacher for every 30 or 35 students. To mandate this in a country where good teachers are in extremely short supply seems tragicomic.

We need an RTE Act for the post-Covid-19 world, a law rooted in reality than ideology, a legislation which intends to impart education to the poorest sections rather than aiming to arrest the growth of schools, an act which liberates education from the outdated schooling system instead of trying to control innovation and force everyone to continue with ‘one size fits all’ methods of learning.

Narendra Modi government is in process of finalising a new education policy. One hopes that it recognises the changes taking place today which are transforming learning around the world.

Imagine the possibilities: we can have teaching via virtual classrooms (think virtual schools), education costs of even private schools will come down drastically, good teachers will go ‘viral‘ quickly and can branch out on their own and start their own tuition classes, whole education payment system can be cashless which would eliminate the possibility of money laundering and tax theft that some big schools are often accused of.

The smartphone penetration in India is huge and as ‘Make in India’ in electronics and mobile manufacturing is taking off in a big way, costs will come down. Rather than spending thousands of crores on textbooks, buildings, other hard infrastructure, governments can distribute smartphones to the poorest and pay subscription money to attend virtual schools or transfer money directly to students via direct benefit transfer. This can be a twenty-first century version of school vouchers.

Tests can be taken online and tracking of the performance of even the poorest sections become easy. Interventions can be made on the basis of their learning graph.

Say, a student is not able to improve his score in a particular subject. The government can simply give him or her an additional online voucher to attend a virtual tuition from a good local teacher.

Many entrepreneurs are trying different types of schools which foster innovation rather than rote learning. Some have been able to develop small working models in a few locations. But scaling up is really tough for them given the huge costs involves in establishing school chains. But with virtual schools, scaling innovation in teaching would be a piece of cake.

The opportunities are endless. The government must drop its socialist mindset and think how it can utilise the present trends in technology to help as many poor students as it can and provide them with the best education possible.

The outdated mentality that drives it to frame acts like RTE must go. The universe is conspiring to bring radical reforms in education system. The only thing that will stop us from reaping the benefits is our own limits of vision.

Arihant Pawariya is Senior Editor, Swarajya.
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