Only 13 pc Indian schools RTE-compliant: Why this may not reflect education quality

Experts say that while the 10 criteria used in the govt study are important – not all of them are essential. For instance, whether a school has a headmaster’s room of a specific size is not reflective of quality of education.
Only 13 pc Indian schools RTE-compliant: Why this may not reflect education quality
Only 13 pc Indian schools RTE-compliant: Why this may not reflect education quality
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Almost a decade since the Right to Education Act, 2009 came into effect, a survey by the Unified District Information System of Education (UDISE) has found that less than 13% of schools across India are compliant with the law. Even in the state that has the highest percentage of RTE compliance – Gujarat – only 43.9% of schools have met the criteria. But what does this say about quality of education in India? Does this mean a large percentage of schools across the country are not up to scratch? Not really, say education activists who work on the ground.

The criteria that the UDISE study used were tenfold. The parameters include a teacher student ratio of 1:30; office for the headmaster of a specific size; ramp for students with disabilities; separate toilets for boys and girls; drinking water facilities; kitchen shed; boundary wall and availability of playground.

Padam Narayanan, Director of Chennai-based Change India, an organisation which works on children’s issues, explained that while some of the 10 criteria are essential (like functional and separate toilets for boys and girls, drinking water facility, ramp for disabled children, student-teacher ratio and playground), others are desirable (like a headmaster’s room). Therefore, the perception that a school does not provide conducive environment for education or quality education, because it has been unable to fulfil some desirable RTE criteria, is misleading.

If a school does not fit even one of these criteria, it will be deemed RTE non-compliant. Which is not the best way to assess the quality of a school, experts say.

Take schools in south India for instance. Here’s how they fared when it came to RTE compliance:

Looks dismal, right? But here’s why it is not reflective of the quality of education in these schools.

Take for instance the case of Tamil Nadu. Over 99% schools, private and government run ones included, had functional, separate toilets for girls and boys; and 98% schools had functional drinking water. Almost 76% of them have three WASH (Toilet, Drinking Water and Handwashing) facilities. The student classroom ratio was at a comfortable 24 children per classroom. 70% schools had a playground as well. 67% schools were found to have ramps for students with disabilities.

And yet, about 77% schools failed the RTE test.

Now, if you look at the number of schools with a separate room for the headmaster in Tamil Nadu, a criterion for compliance under the RTE, the percentage of schools drops to 52.7%. The inability to fulfill criterion such as this can bring down the overall percentage of RTE-complying schools.

Further, conditions like these do not take into account that only schools with more than 200 children are required to have a headmaster in the first place, points out Prince Gajendra Babu, an education activist. “A headmaster not having a separate room does not mean that the school is not providing conducive environment for children’s education,” Gajendra Babu states.

Also, each state had a small number of single classroom schools, which would probably not be able to fulfil several RTE adherence criteria, like each teacher having at least one classroom, which is a requirement for the ‘building’ under RTE’s schedule on norms and standards for school.

Numbers not reflective of utilisation and ground reality

A redeeming quality about the UDISE study is that it takes into account functional WASH facilities, i.e., functional separate toilets for boys and girls, functional drinking water facilities and so on.

This reveals the gaps in availability of facilities and their usage. For instance, in Andhra Pradesh, almost 20% schools were found to not have functional facilities for drinking water. However, 94.8% had water facilities. The difference between the two meant that in many schools, despite provisions being there, students cannot access drinking water.

In Kerala, while around 98% schools had functional and separate toilets for boys and girls, much fewer had four or more urinals – only 44% government schools, as compared to 60% private unaided schools.

The consistency of these facilities in being available and accessible is also an issue that the study, and subsequent RTE compliance or non-compliance, does not reflect. “In many places, there is no sanitary worker, but there is a toilet,” Gajendra Babu points out. “Does the study reflect if drinking water is available all year round?” questions Narayanan.

Gangadhar, Trustee at the Usirigaagi Hasiru Trust, an RTE activist in Chikkaballapur, Karnataka, adds, “There are also issues like a single toilet being there for 70-80 kids. It may be functional, and so the school checks one RTE-compliance box. But is it enough? Moreover, many schools may show that they have working facilities at the time of checks, when they actually don’t consistently work.”

The experts TNM spoke to also said that several private schools did not have a playground, and many schools simply point to a nearby corporation ground as a playground when questioned by authorities.

Lack of qualitative approach

Experts say that while the 10 criteria are important in terms of ensuring that the physical space a child is in, is conducive and safe for the child, perception that RTE-compliance is reflective of quality education is false.

For instance, the study does not take into account the availability of neighbourhood schools, specified under the RTE. “A child should have access to a school within one-kilometre radius. This is an important factor for safe and accessible education,” says Narayanan.

Similarly, while RTE says that play material and sports equipment should be provided, this is not a criterion for RTE-compliance – only having a playground is, Narayanan adds.

Gangadhar points out that infrastructure parameters for RTE compliance are important to ensure that children are in a safe environment. However, this should not lead one to believe that low RTE compliance translates to low quality education. “Quality of education also depends on comprehensive continuous evaluation. We don’t know how well this is being followed,” he says.

Further, Gajendra Babu says that it is essential that government run and government aided schools start performing better. In most southern states (except Andhra Pradesh) for instance, government and government aided schools performed worse than private schools when it came to having three WASH facilities. A number of studies have shown in the past that functioning toilets are essential to retain students, especially girls.

“Activists have been pushing for the government to offer quality school education for everyone cost free and in an accessible manner. Only that can really make right to education equitable and a reality, not having more and more expensive private schools,” Gajendra says.

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