BT Brinjal has a strong rival fighting for news space these days —India's education sector. Suddenly, news about raising the age bar for nursery admissions to allowing foreign universities into the country has become a talking point.
To begin with, President Pratibha Patil, in her address to the Parliament, has announced that a law to make education a fundamental right of every child in the age group of six to 14 has been notified and will be effective from April 1. The Act, which was passed by Parliament in the August last year, also earmarks 25 per cent seats to children from economically weaker sections in private schools. It stipulates that the local governments ensure that the children in the specified age bracket get elementary education.
But as always, the intentions sound good, but the implementation looks bleak. When I informed my sweeper about the Right to Education Act, he just shrugged his shoulders. Since three of his children fall in this age-bracket, I rephrased the question for better understanding. I needn't have bothered because the indifference was not due to lack of understanding. He calculated the money he would have lost if his three children went to school every day for a few hours instead of working. He didn't care if education was free or compulsory.
Nevertheless, the Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal has also said that his ministry would hold consultations with the states to resolve issues such as fee structure and teachers’ salaries — issues that are likely to arise while implementing the Act. This is good thinking on the minister's part because in the no- o distant past teachers in Delhi University went on a strike when the move to extend classroom hours by a few minutes was proposed. They demanded everything from a salary hike to more leave to tackle the so-called 'stress' caused by the change in their schedule.
Sibal also said that the government will take steps to prevent commercialisation of education, and that the consultation would be undertaken to evolve a policy so that “poor, marginalised, and disadvantaged” students are not adversely affected.
“Our aim is to ensure that all children in India get quality education, but we are against commercialisation of education. Incessant fee hikes and overcharging from parents is something we do not support. I will talk to every state government on issues regarding implementation of the RTE Act from April 1." he said.
All these claims look very impressive on paper. But one wonders if these are just that...claims.
The 10-point admission process for Delhi schools was a great way of putting an end to the vulgar exchange of wealth and power through school admissions but we all know how the elite schools still find ways to coin that 11th invisible point that matters most to them and least to the children. Mid-day meal has been a wonderful idea but a quick survey in the neighbouring MCD schools is enough to explain why even those poor hungry children reject the meals that are otherwise meant to lure them to school.
The ideas have been good. It is time to turn that small step into a giant leap to ensure that the implementation is visible and effective.