The RTE is clearly hampering school education in India. So, what is the way out?
These are the two options before the government.
Now that it is amply clear that the Right To Education Act, in conjunction with the 93rd Constitutional Amendment is a gross perversion of the principles of justice, we need to ask one incredibly important question: How do we save our educational institutions from this legislative perversion? What can be done?
The government has two options:
1. Pervert the law and its implementation even further with the aim of ensuring that as few educational institutions as possible come under the purview of the RTE Act. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) should realise that perverting an immoral law is a good thing and go ahead with no apprehensions.
Here are a few ways of doing so:
a. Through the National Policy for Women 2016 (currently being reviewed by a group of Ministers appointed by Prime Minister Modi), the government can bring in exemptions from RTE to educational institutions run by trusts established or currently led by a woman. The stated reason for such an exemption should be that the government seeks to empower women and prevent unnecessary harassment of women in power.
Of course, such a move may be legally challenged and the Supreme Court may even stop the government from continuing with this.
But that would give the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a wonderful opportunity to talk in and outside the parliament about already existent exemptions to minorities courtesy the 93rd Amendment. Those that benefit from the current blatantly discriminatory legal regime wouldn’t want anything to affect the 93rd and this new exemption in all probability will meet with little opposition.
b. An additional measure could be the inclusion of atheists in the National Minority List. It would indeed be a “secular” way to solve this problem. The dangerous National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) Act which created a quasi-judicial body where no Hindu could ever be a member, can be repealed using the justification that minorities should not be subject to bureaucratic harassment and the rights of atheists need to be protected.
To replace the NCMEI Act, a new body can be created to enable institutions to self-certify their minority nature. All the “certification” ought to happen digitally to ensure transparency and eliminate corruption (in continuance of Prime Minister Modi’s #DigitalIndia campaign).
c. Under current conditions, the Kashmiri separatist Yasin Malik and Father Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, a priest convicted of paedophilia in the United States, have more rights than any patriotic, community-oriented member of the Other Backward Class (OBC), Economically Backward Class (EBC), Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) communities in opening and running schools. A change can be made in our current educational policies to ensure that justice is done and people from these communities are accorded the same rights as our brethren from non-Hindu faiths have in running educational institutions.
d. In addition to a and b, the RTE Act can be amended to ensure that RTE input norms—land requirements, teacher salaries and qualification requirements; and fee regulation is only applicable in those states where all (that is, more than 95 per cent) of the government-run schools are RTE-compliant.
Not even Prime Minister Modi can ensure that all government schools are RTE-compliant in this decade. Such a move will at least give some breathing space to battered schools.
e. Relax and make transparent the process to create new school boards which can cater to different geographies or classes of people. This will provide some competition to the Central Board of Secondary Education and state school boards, and probably force them to raise their standards.
NDA will have to accept that the RTE Act has worsened educational standards. This worsening of standards has affected the poorest amongst us the most for they can’t afford to spend on private tuitions to catch up with the rest. It is the “cooperative federalism” way of doing things.
This will work better than Human Resources Development Minister Prakash Javadekar’s new plan to mandate education outcomes and using fines and the judiciary as tools to enforce the same.
2. The second more difficult option is again two-fold:
a. Replace the RTE Act with something which comes close to being sane public policy. This may be charter schools or school vouchers. The excessive and needless focus on input requirements and fee regulation can to be done away with and replaced by a focus on monitoring quality.
All this can be done in a manner which ensures that no state government uses this as a tool to harass and shut down private-run institutions like what the West Bengal government is currently doing with Vidya Bharati Schools and the Karnataka government did with the NPS group of institutions.
b. Admit to having made a mistake in allowing the 93rd amendment to pass in the first place and make the case for removing this dangerous amendment from the Constitution.
This can also be done differently by bringing in a new constitutional amendment to give educational institutions run by all religious trusts the same rights as those run by minority trusts.
This can possibly be clubbed with measures giving all religious institutions the same constitutional protections that are accorded to minority religious institutions.
Various combinations of #1 and #2 can be used to prevent these laws from causing any further harm. All that is needed is for leaders in the NDA to realise that this situation is dangerous and start acting.