By Mujahid Nafees*
The crucial role of universal elementary education for strengthening the social fabric of democracy through provision of equal opportunities to all has been accepted since the inception of the Indian Republic. The Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution lay down that the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children up to the age of 14.
Over the years, there has been a significant spatial and numerical expansion of elementary schools in the country. Yet, the goal of universal elementary education continues to elude us. The number of children, particular children from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections, who drop out of school before completing elementary education, remains very large. Moreover, the quality of learning achievement is not always satisfactory even in the case of children who complete elementary education.
Article 21 A, as inserted by the Constitution (Eighty-Sixth Amendment) Act, 2002, provides for free and compulsory education to all children in the age group six to 14 as a fundamental right in such manner that the state may, by law, determine.
The Act says that every child has the right to get full-time elementary education to his or her satisfaction and of equitable quality in a formal school, which satisfies certain essential norms and standards. It makes appropriate government and local authorities, as also parents, schools and teachers, duty-bound and responsible for providing free and compulsory education, even as insisting on creating a system for protecting the right of children through a decentralized grievance redressal mechanism.
Section 6 of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, explains the duty of appropriate government and local authorities to establish schools in respective areas or limits of neighbourhood within a period of three years from the commencement of the Act.
Section 19(2) says, if a school, which is established before the commencement of the Act, does not fulfil the norms and standards specified in the schedule, the respective authorities should take necessary steps.
In reply to a Right to Information (RTI) plea, one finds that there are 3,10,791 classrooms in Gujarat’s government-run schools for upper primary standards (from the sixth to eighth standard), with 26,027 mathematics teachers, and just about 164 science teachers. Further, there are 50,417 language teachers and 2,472 teachers who teach environment. Apart from the teachers who are supposed to teach specific subjects, there are 2,62,936 teachers who are obliged to teach any subject. The respective data for Ahmedabad district is as follow:
|Classrooms||Math teachers||Science teachers||Language teachers||Environment teachers||Those teaching any subject|
The backward Narmada district – which is predominantly tribal – does not having any science teacher, and has only two mathematics teachers. Two districts of Saurashtra region, Porbandar and Jamnagar, too, do not have any teachers for science and mathematics. The data also show that in all there is a vacancy of 48,855 teachers at the upper primary level.
As for the lower primary (up to the fifth standard), there is a vacancy of 5,075 teachers. Each classroom should have one teacher, according to the norm, but as can be seen, this is not the case:
Against this backdrop, the state should have a strong monitoring authority for child rights. However, the authority, Gujarat Commission for Protection of Child Rights (GCPCR), is without any member for the last one year. Only chairperson has been appointed. This commission does not have any clear-cut rules about delegation of power to the chairperson and members.
The RTE Act insists on the quality education for all, but if the state government does not post subject teachers, the output bound to suffer. If we want quality education in government schools, the government must fulfil norms prescribed in the RTE Act, 2009.
*Convener, Shala Mitra Sangh, Gujarat