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Publication Date : 17-07-2014
In India, in view of the very limited rate of adult literacy, this problem of parents being unable to help their children is bound to be a handicap to the success of the schools of the RTE idealisation.
The teachers, however, theoretically well-trained they might be, will hardly have the time, perseverance, dedication and sensitivity to appreciate, attend to, and solve the day-to-day difficulties faced by such children.
The Act takes care to make the local authority responsible for arranging extra care in deserving individual cases. But the local authority in most cases is the elected civic body. These entities are served by people from the middle to lower levels of political parties and their main acumen is in their political skills, and certainly not in organising education at any level.
No examinations from classes I-VIII and no detention in any class will act to the advantage of the local authority and the segment of teachers unequal to the trust bestowed in them. Because, even if a superior authority like the State-level Advisory Council wishes to assess the core performance of a school, there will be no records on the students’ attainments to go by; the accreditation will, very likely, be based on superficial criteria of an infrastructural nature.
The state government and the central government perhaps do not care; they will be happy as long as the relaxed free and compulsory education creates ~ at least theoretically ~ a cent per cent literacy in the country within a few years.
Although reform and rejuvenation of higher education have already received serious official attention, it is notable that the secondary and higher secondary stages for the age group 15-18 years have still been left untouched in the present spate of educational reorientation. A serious lacuna arises out of (i) such compartmentalisation of education into different stages; and (ii) the parallel running of two tiers in modern India in the dispensation of education right from the first stage.
Over the last several decades, the Common School System (CSS) defined in the Kothari Commission Report has been eroded and an inequitable two-tier system has been firmly established with the patronage of the economically upper stratum of society. The upper tier is accessible to the children from such affluent homes who can afford to send their wards to the expensive English medium schools.
The National Knowledge Commission (NKC) has observed the unfortunate ground reality that “even (many) middle-income and (some) lower-income housholds spend a large proportion of their modest income on sending their children to English-medium schools” because our post-independence socio-economic system has evolved to a status where “an understanding and command of English is the most important determinant of access to higher education, employment possibilities and social opportunity”.
As noted earlier, the RTE schools will in the main have students from the existing lower economic tier and in the public’s esteem they will be equated with the existing vernacular language schools that at present run with the same category of children. Many of these students are fated to end up in the vocational stream to acquire an eligibility for earning their livelihood.
The minimum qualification for entry into this lowest level of career opportunity these days is higher than class VIII. It is, therefore, vitally necessary that along with the RTE schools, the national education plan should include creation of adequate opportunities for a smooth continuity to the Secondary and Higher Secondary levels. Unless at least 80 per cent of the RTE schools are coupled with an extended wing reaching up to class XII, there is bound to be a huge dropout after class VIII and these unfortunate ones might have to make do with unskilled odd jobs.
This essential bridge-building from the elementary of the higher secondary stage must be entrusted to an academically competent authority and certainly not to the elected civic bodies. The envisaged bridge should not stop at class XII. The system must develop in-built measures that enable more and more of the lower tier students to become eligible for entry to at least the colleges and universities.
For a long time, the entry of this category into the Indian Institutes of Management, the Indian Institutes of Technology or the medical and engineering colleges will still remain prohibitive because of the huge expenses and the barrier at the entry point with very stiff admission tests for ensuring the best intake.
For those who are obliged to join the workforce after class XII or a few years later with a technical diploma, the National Knowledge Commission has recommended conversion of a large number of our existing colleges into Community Colleges that offer the benefit of part-time courses at suitable hours “with a relaxed entry requirement”.
The NKC has emphasised the importance of such a continuity of education that enhances knowledge, skills and the individual’s happiness and fulfilment as a human being.
In the RTE Act, one of the guidelines to the common curriculum lays down very rightly that the medium of instruction in elementary schools established under the Act must preferably be the vernacular language. This is a correct decision, keeping in view the background of the majority of children going to these schools. It has observed that although English is being taught in India for more than a century, till date “it is beyond the reach of most of our young people... no more than one per cent of our people use it as a second language, let alone a first language”.
The advice relates to the medium of instruction and does not in any way de-emphasize the teaching of English as a language at any level of school education. To promote the quality of education imported through the vernacular language, the commission further suggests that well-proven text books of merit available in English or any particular Indian language be translated into as many regional languages as possible.
In the process of implementation of the RTE Act ,academic persons are needed to participate only in the National Common Curriculum Committee and the State-level Advisory Councils. The former obviously has a one-time job for many years and the latter are prescribed to meet only once in a year. T
he community at large ought to take a keen interest in identifying and remedying some of these drawbacks in the interest of millions of Indian children coming from lower-income homes and also in the interest of generating the best possible and all-inclusive human resources as an input to higher education.
Finally, it needs to be stressed again that learning is an indivisible and continuing process from the cradle to the pyre or the grave. Formal and continual education plays a major role. We must ensure that every Indian child gets an access to this continuous process to be able to make his best contribution to the national pool of human resources.
(The writer is former director of Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics)