New Delhi: Corruption remains the biggest hurdle in the realization of the long-awaited quest of Indians to receive free-of-cost quality education, noted speakers and representatives of schools associations rued at the seventh School Choice National Conference in the national capital on Saturday.
This comes as the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) is currently developing the New Education Policy (NEP) in a bid to make India a knowledge superpower by equipping students with the necessary skills and knowledge to eliminate the shortage of manpower. The last NEP was brought out in 1986 and later amended in 1992.
While speaking at the Conference at the Indian Habitat Centre, Ekta Sodha, the CEO of Sodha Schools in Gujarat, narrated her “frustrating” experience when “one minor typo error” delayed her in opening a school in the state for a year.
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“We talk about policies and a lot of things, but this is not how we see it by working day in, day out at the grassroots level. How does corruption happen? It happens through discretion… Someone told me recently that in Gujarat the system of transfer of teachers has become very transparent. I asked him how. He replied that everything is done online now. There is a platform where the teachers can apply for transfers directly and it gets done in a time-bound manner. However, a teacher who came to my office a few days ago shared a different story. He told me that earlier a teacher was required to pay a bribe of only Rs 10,000 to 15,000 at a local level, but now they are supposed to go to Gandhinagar and pay Rs 50,000 for transfers,” Lodha said, as the gathering burst into peals of laughter.
Lodha also threw some light upon the rampant corruption in the Gujarat government’s endeavor to build ‘model schools’ that were meant to compete with any of the private schools in terms of providing quality education.
The model schools are being set up under the centrally sponsored scheme ‘Rashtriya Madhyamik Siksha Abhiyan’ (RMSA), where the central government provides 72 per cent funds while the rest 28 percent is contributed by the state government.
“Gujarat is talking about model schools. They say they’ll open what a model school will look like and a lot of grant has been passed for that… So, there is a school nearby (from where I am in Gujarat) and grant of around Rs four crores have been passed for that. I have a friend who is associated with that project. They have nearly spent Rs four crores on the school yet even plastering work has not been done on the building. They will apply for more grant, I am sure.”
Lodha also told the gathering that the teacher training programme in Gujarat remains only on the paper.
“When teachers of my schools go to these government training centres, they are made to get photographed with the trainer, offered food and then asked to leave… There is no training,” she narrated.
R C Jain, President of National Independent School Alliance and Delhi State Public Schools’ Management Association, also narrated the hurdles faced by the people in the education sector due to red-tapism, accusing the government of imposing unnecessary rules over the private schools where 30 per cent children of India study.
“Up until now I have written over 10,000 letters all over India talking about the lacunas in the RTE Act. Moreover, I represent around 4,000 schools in Delhi. They regret that they came to this field and I understand their pain… At least, give teachers the respect they deserve,” Jain said, adding, “The government should not impose rules and restrictions on the private schools, for it is important to keep their autonomy intact.”
Jain said the government through RTE Act set a limit in the number of students in a class but did not provide infrastructure to schools to accommodate them.
The speakers rued that the Right to Education Act 2009 under section (6) directs the government to establish new schools in areas where they do not exist. Contrary to this provision of the Act, various states are shutting down thousands of government schools due to falling enrolments, which is a clear indicator that more and more people prefer to send their children to private schools for education rather than free-of-cost government schools.
“In 2014-15, Rajasthan closed down 18000 government schools, Maharashtra closed down 4000 government schools and Chhattisgarh closed down 2913 government schools,” Professor Geeta Gandhi Kingdom said.
On the other hand, in accordance with Section 19 of the Act, thousands of private unaided schools which are not able to fulfill stringent infrastructure norms specified in the Act, despite producing higher learning outcomes, have also been forced to shut down. According to a National Independent Schools Alliance (NISA) report of March 2014, since the implementation of the RTE Act, 19,414 private unaided schools have been shut down or issued notice of closure (affecting the education of nearly 40 lakh children), she said.
“There should be a change at the grassroots level.”