By Arvind Ilamaran
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 lays out a set of conditions that need to be satisfied by every school other than those established, run or controlled by Central government, appropriate government or the local authority. Non-governmental schools which do not conform to these requirements by 3013 will be shut down. In Delhi alone, this would put of operations close to 1250 schools and more than 200,000 students studying in these schools will be left without a school to study in, given that the State hasn’t made arrangements to reallocate students from such schools to other operational public/private schools.
Of the many issues to be contended with, the most important is why the criteria for meeting norms and standards applies to only private schools and not to public schools? What is the rationale behind leaving the public schools from scrutiny? While one could claim that the existing conditions for construction of public schools would, by default, cover the RTE requirements, the recent PAISA report by the Accountability Initiative of the Center for Policy Research, India has destroyed such illusions. The report states that as of 2010-2011, of all public schools surveyed:
• 38% did not have adequate number of class rooms
• 43% did not have girls toilet
• 34% did not have boys toilet
• 8% did not adequate drinking water
• 43% did not have ramp for physically challenged students
• 50% did not have boundary walls
• 43% did not have library at all or not more than 10 books per student in them
While there is an overall improvement compared to 2005-2006, there is an inherent dissonance in accepting lower standards in public schools as acceptable while in private it is not. The underlying incoherence arises from the ideology that with increase in inputs such as better infrastructure, teachers etc. there will be an increase in quality of education. This conclusion has clearly been arrived at without a comparative cost-benefit analysis between public and private schools.
The entire discourse of education and especially public education in India revolves around the ‘more-input-more-learning’ paradigm, which has led to nearly a six fold increase in expenditure per student but decline in knowledge level in the same period, while there has been no conclusive study that proves that inputs in the current form improve learning outcomes. This has also led to the injustice of closing down poor but effective private schools.