Politics

NEP On RTE: The Committee Gets The Basics Right But Does A Half-Hearted Job, Passes The Buck To The Government  

Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’. 
Snapshot
  • The K Kasturirangan Committee has finally submitted the National Education Policy draft to the new HRD minister.

    However, it does not address two major concerns: Exemption given to minority institutions from RTE Act, and increase in reimbursement amount for students.

    The Act is prejudicial to the interests of schools run by majority groups, and to children of means, who have to pay the price for government parsimony.

The National Education Policy (NEP) draft is finally out after the K. Kasturirangan committee submitted it to the new Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhariyal aka ‘Nishank’ soon after he assumed office on 31 May (Friday). The committee was supposed to submit its report in December 2017, but the government kept extending its tenure. Five extensions and a general election later, we finally have the draft in the public domain.

The MHRD has invited comments from the public till the end of this month, after which the ministry will put out a final policy document and start working on various recommendations that will require it to fight many battles on the executive, legislative, judicial and even economic fronts [NEP calls for doubling public expenditure on education from 10 per cent of the total government (Centre and States) spending to 20 per cent.]

Significantly, NEP envisages a detailed and comprehensive review of the draconian Right To Education Act, 2009 (RTE), something which this author has been advocating for the past few years. It also suggests a few tweaks so that the Act is in line with the broad thrust of the new policy.

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For those uninitiated in the intricacies of the RTE Act, mentioning just the top three most serious problems with this legislation is in order even though most of its clauses are problematic. First, the Act exempts all minority institutions in toto, thereby distorting the market in their favour, while punishing schools run by Hindus. Second, it forces private schools to allot 25 per cent quota for poor students (Class 1 to Class VIII; age 6 to 14) who are selected by the government via a lottery. This robs the institutions of their admissions autonomy. The third issue is of financial burden. RTE quota not only hurts schools because amounts reimbursed by the State is paltry, but also because governments don’t pay on time. Due to this, schools are forced to raise fees on non-RTE students to compensate for the loss.

This is, however, not an exhaustive list, rather far from it. But it is sufficient to prove how terrible the law is.

In October 2017, this author had made a presentation to a member of the NEP team and suggested five steps to address the aforementioned issues with the RTE - a) removing exemption to minorities; b) considerably increasing reimbursement amount under RTE; c) providing refund within a couple of months of completion of admission; d) stopping the government lottery system and trusting schools to fill 25 per cent quota with poor children of their choice, thereby restoring the admission autonomy; e) doing away with onerous input requirements.

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The NEP doesn’t address the top two aforementioned core issues satisfactorily though it agrees with the c) and e) in principle and incorporates them in its recommendations.

First, it not only advocates loosening of input (physical/infrastructural) requirements but also their mechanistic nature (from one size fits all to make them more responsive to ground realities). It bats for giving “suitable flexibility for each school to make its own decisions based on local needs and constraints, but without in any way compromising on the requirements of safety, security, and a pleasant and productive learning space,” it says.

NEP emphasises on focusing more on educational outcomes rather than inputs.

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Second, NEP admits that RTE’s most contentious and important clause 12(1)(c) (which forces private schools to have 25 per cent quota for poor at paltry reimbursement rate from the government) is not in tune with the principle of autonomy of institutions which NEP champions. Instead of strangling and choking private institutions with stringent regulations, NEP’s thrust is towards empowering schools and trusting them to do the right thing. NEP highlights how this clause has been misused by some private schools by inflating fake RTE student numbers, lobbying to get minority institution certificate to avoid implementing the law. Additionally, it says that the money/effort spent in implementing this clause may be better utilised in the public school system.

While the NEP highlighted the various problems associated with 12(1)(c), it only calls for its review and not its repeal. In fact, it suggests a couple of ways to implement it in a better way if the review of the RTE advocates retaining the clause - a) implement this in a transparent manner so that schools don’t just teach as well as paying schools on time and in a punctual manner; b) stopping misuse of RTE by minority schools which do not primarily serve that minority group.

It is worrying to note that the committee members didn’t know the basics of availing a minority certificate - it doesn’t matter if an institution is serving their group or not. As long as the management belongs to one of six minority religious groups, the institution is eligible for the coveted certificate. So, this suggestion by NEP is impractical and has been overruled by at least a couple of high courts.

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But NEP does suggest that misuse must be stopped by even legislative measures. So, if the government brings in an amendment to Article 29 and 30 of the Constitution to categorically state that only those minority institutions which primarily serve their minority groups will receive protection of these articles, then it would go a long distance in stopping the misuse.

However, it still leaves the question of equality unaddressed: if minority institutions can get added protections for primarily catering to their minority groups, why can’t the majority get these protections for primarily serving their people?

NEP does a half-hearted job by not recommending repeal of clause 12(1)(c) with conviction despite listing its blatant flaws and misuses. The recommendations for its reform also do not inspire much confidence as they do not address the biggest problems created by this clause - loss of admission autonomy, financial terms forced by the government, and minority exemption.

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On top of that, NEP recommends extending this draconian law up to Class XII and even to pre-primary class, making it applicable to children of ages 3 to 18 as opposed to the current criterion, which covers only those in the age-group 6 to 14.

NEP has failed to give any concrete action points on RTE apart from suggesting that outcomes replace input requirements - something which the Modi government has been taking about for a long time now. Thus, NEP deserves zero points for carrying out its task on this issue in a perfunctory.

However, NEP must be applauded for presenting quite a liberal agenda for regulating private schools. It categorically states that, “Public and private schools will be regulated on the same criteria, benchmarks, and processes, emphasising public disclosure and transparency rather than mandates, so as to ensure that public spirited private schools are encouraged and not stifled in any way.

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NEP also deserves kudos for stating that introducing diversity in schools with forcing schools to have 25 per cent quota for poor, SCs/STs,OBCs, etc. ‘has not worked nearly as effectively as had been hoped.’ It suggests trusting the schools to do the right thing and innovate.

This shows the committee has got its basics right. Perhaps the reason for recommending a separate review of the RTE is because it felt the Act can’t be salvaged by mere tweaks because the principles on which NEP and RTE are based are highly contradictory.

One hopes the MHRD constitutes a committee very soon to review the RTE Act exhaustively. The new minister has his task cut out.

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