Only 25.5% of Indian schools are RTE compliant: Public Manifesto by civil society organisations

The manifesto stated that 8.4 lakh teacher positions are vacant and there is a constant shift towards contractual teachers.

The manifesto emphasised the importance of extending the right to education under the age of six. (Image: PTI)The manifesto emphasised the importance of extending the right to education under the age of six. (Image: PTI)

Alivia Mukherjee | May 18, 2024 | 04:02 PM IST

NEW DELHI: Amid the election in India, with political parties unveiling their agendas and pledges, a group of four civil society organizations is emphasising on the topic- children's education in the country. The four civil society group issued a public manifesto titled " The Education of India's Children: 2024 ," shedding light on the legal rights and entitlements of children. The civil society group involved are- the Right To Education (RTE) Forum, The Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL), Forum for Creches and Childcare Services, and Alliance for Right to Education. This manifesto, unveiled in March 2024, addresses various issues, including the urgent need to tackle the systemic challenges affecting India's education system.

Here’s the complete text of "A Public Manifesto For The Education Of India's children: 2024".

Critically, far from ensuring universal, high-quality standards of education in the form of a Common School system and even 14 years after the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act came into force, only 25.5 % of schools in the country are RTE compliant.

Teacher vacancies and shift towards contractual employment

8.4 lakh teacher positions are vacant and there is a constant shift towards contractual teachers.19% of schools in India are estimated to have teacher vacancies and one school in seven is run by a single teacher. While the quality of education cannot be ensured without professionally qualified and motivated teachers, 44% of all teachers across the country work without job contracts, many fail to receive social security benefits and all are pressured with non-academic work which is estimated to account for 20-25% of teachers’ working hours. The curriculum and the content of teaching have also been under constant attack with the curriculum becoming progressively less secular and democratic.

Concerns about out-of-school children and child Labour

While official statistics state that India has 9.3 lakh out-of-school children, the actual number is much higher8. India has the largest absolute number of child labourers in South Asia and is at risk of failing its SDG commitments to eliminate child labour by 2025. Being out of school not only deprives children of education’s transformative potential but also risks pushing children into child labour. Many governments have been closing and merging schools putting the right to education at risk; by some estimates, 72,157 schools have been closed between 2017 and 2022. India is yet to fully recover from the trauma inflicted by the COVID crisis and the world’s longest school lockdown.

India’s education is highly unequal with girls, children with disabilities, the poor and Dalits, Adivasis, Muslim minorities, migrants and other excluded groups suffering in the face of discrimination, linguistic exclusion, segregation and harmful social norms. Only 0.14% of India’s mother tongues are used as a medium of instruction and 0.35% have been taught in India’s schools something that hits Adivasi learners hardest. 57% of girls drop out upon reaching the 11th Grade. Among 5-year-olds with disabilities, three-fourths do not go to any educational institution as does a quarter of those aged between 5 and 19.

Commercialization of education and growth of private schools

Education has been commercialized and there has been a steady growth in the number of private schools across the country. Seven of 10 new schools in India are now private.18 The growth of private provision segregates society with rich and poor children growing up in different worlds. Children from the richest quintile are seven times more likely to attend private early childhood institutions than those from the poorest quintile19. Average out of pocket expenditure per student on education has been high, particularly in private schools, but also in all institutions offering pre-primary and secondary education which lie outside the ambit of the commitment to free education made by the RTE Act.

The general elections of 2024 provide a window of opportunity for Indian citizens to demand quality education for all children up to the age of 18 while placing a special emphasis on the foundational stage of education. Education is free and compulsory for eight years in India which falls short of the promise made under the SDG Education 2030 agenda to provide 12 years of free, publicly funded education of which at least nine years are to be compulsory. In 2023, only 24 and 46 countries and territories respectively (of 215) declared education to be free and compulsory for a shorter duration.The early years are a period of the fastest brain development (90% of brain development happens before five years of age) and structured interventions at this stage are critical to reducing the gap between socially advantaged and disadvantaged children at the starting gate of school.

Joint demands

1. Ensure complete implementation of the RTE Act including realizing the norms and standards in all schools by 2026 and notify clear responsibilities and penalties for non-implementation.

2. Ensure total eradication of child labour up to the age of 18 years. This entails removing the provision in Section 3 of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act 2016 which legalizes child labour in ‘family enterprise’, removing the distinction between hazardous and not hazardous work and strengthening the enforcement of penalties on employers.

3. Extend the purview of the RTE Act up to the age of 18 years, in line with the internationally recognized definition of childhood, by including ECCE, secondary, and higher secondary education as legal entitlements. Education across this age span must be free and age-appropriate in all schools and ECCE centres3 (both government and private) must be of a consistently high uniform standard, safe and equitable, provide children with the same services and provide for parent and citizen participation.

4. Enhance expenditure on education to at least 6 per cent of GDP4,23 with 10 per cent of the education budget committed to ECCE524 to ensure adequate resourcing for delivery of school and early childhood education including provision of quality and nutritious midday meals to all children.

5. Stop the closure and merger of government schools in the name of rationalisation or consolidation.

6. Fill teachers' vacancies. Ensure all teachers and ECCE personnel are professionally qualified and well-trained, have scope for career progression, receive a dignified wage and working conditions and are free from activities that are non-educational or unrelated to core ECCE functions.

7. Develop and enforce an enabling national regulatory framework for all private schools and ECCE centres to curb the commercialisation of education, particularly regulating school fees.

8. Take affirmative action and remove barriers to completion of at least equitable, quality education by Adivasi, Dalit, Muslim minority children, girls, children with disabilities and other vulnerable groups and stop discriminatory practices by ensuring all education adheres to constitutional principles of equity, fraternity, dignity and secularism.

9. Appropriately implement and disburse resources under the Child and Adolescent Labour Rehabilitation Fund to support children freed from child labour.

10. Put in place bridging mechanisms to bring all dropout and out-of-school children into school and institutionalise processes for the uninterrupted education of children from migrant families, particularly inter-state migrants.

11. Expand the number of mother tongues, particularly tribal languages, used as the medium of instruction in educational settings, promote the development of textbooks and materials and recruitment of fluent tribal language speakers as language teachers and strengthen, finance and staff core institutions to ensure that this is realized.

12. Revise the National Education Policy in light of the above demands.

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