The Right to Education Act will soon be implemented (Apr 1, 2010) and that may be all well since some of CCS’ earlier critique in the 2005 and 2009 Bills actually was taken into account. From formerly six new bureaucratic levels in the earlier Bills to just two in Act and the ensuing recommendations to the States known as Model Rules has downsized governence. We bow to the wisdom of the RTE authors. But still we have some doubts even about the need for these two…

The RTE Act has two local governmental innovations, the School Management Committee (SMC) and the School Tribunal. The last one may be the only way to bypass the legal red tape that has courts processing firing procedures of teachers for years. But the SMC leaves one wondering if all is well thought.

What is bewildering is that a voluntary committee such as the SMC is supposed to function as a school management group without any financial reimbursements to its members and professional legal bindings to its work. It leaves no way for resourceless parents to be involved and there is little to demand from a group of well-wishers than from a competent principal or similar person/ group.

Looking at the “Composition and functions of the School Management Committee for the purposes of section 21” in the Act and 13 and 14 in the Rules, there is quite a tall order for a group of volunteers  (no paisa mentioned here) to do in their spare time monthly (yes, monthly it says in the Rules). Below is a selection of the required tasks:

“13. 6 (a) communicate in simple and creative ways to the population in the neighbourhood of the school, the rights of the child as enunciated in the Act; as also the duties of the State Government, local authority, school, parent and guardian;
(c) Monitor that teachers are not burdened with non-academic duties other than those specified in section 27;
(d) Ensure the enrolment and continued attendance of all the children from the neighbourhood in the school;
(e) Monitor the maintenance of the norms and standards prescribed in the Schedule
(f) Bring to the notice of the local authority any deviation from the rights of the child, in particular mental and physical harassment of children, denial of admission, and timely provision of free entitlements as per section 3(2).
(h) Monitor the identification and enrolment of, and facilities for learning by disabled children, and ensure their participation in, and completion of elementary education
(i) Monitor the implementation of the Mid-Day Meal in the school.
(j) Prepare an annual account of receipts and expenditure of the school.

14. (1) The School Management Committee shall prepare a School Development Plan at least three months before the end of the financial year in which it is first constituted under the Act.
(2) The School Development Plan shall be a three-year plan comprising three annual sub plans
(3) The School Development Plan, shall contain the following details –
(a) Estimates of class-wise enrolment for each year;
(b) Requirement, over the three year period, of the number of additional teachers, including Head Teachers, subject teachers and part time teachers, separately for Classes I to V and classes VI to VIII, calculated, with reference to the norms specified in the Schedule
(c) Physical requirement of additional infrastructure and equipments over the three year period, calculated, with reference to the norms and standards specified in the Schedule
(d) Additional financial requirement over the three year period, year-wise, in respect of (b) and (c) above, including additional requirement for providing special training facility specified in section 4, entitlements of children such as free text books and uniforms, and any other additional financial requirement for fulfilling the responsibilities of the school under the Act.”

Anyone can see that these tasks are very well stated and needed in order to run a school well but why on earth would a group of voluntary parents (75%) and other within and outside the school (local politicians, teachers, older children, local educationists (?))?

The Model Rules has given up on running schools on a professional basis as these tasks should either be done by a good head master (which 50 % of Indian schools lack at least some time every year and 2 % all the time) or be given to a (school) manager from a qualified private enterprise.

To head schools with extra parental power sounds nice but will not only be inefficient but also socially excluding. Which poor parent or just normal hard working middle class families with two jobs like to be met with these attitudes?
“ Hello, come and put your beti/beta with us. And by the way can you also manage the school for us? No there is no reimbursement, Madame/ Sir, we just trust your good will and other parents’. Just sign here and read these 240 pages on school legislation and current staff needs. And don’t’ forget to check the playground swings. I think they may need repair. Do you know a cheap mechanic ? And…”.

The parents which may show up for the SMC will be the bivis/begums of the sarpanch and his allies alongside with government people who have time enough to go to meetings, esp. in government schools– all well meaning busybodies that will have views on everything and nothing that is relevant to the school. Professionalism from the remaining 25 % is soon taken over by the majority.

Yes, the intention of a parental voice is good but give it directly to the parent as a voucher so the right of choice can be executed. Leave parents the right to enter and exit schools and the rest will follow. If they want to be busy with education there are Parent Teacher Associations, tuition talk, library clubs, tours and outdoors excursions that need parental involvement and child minding. But keep management aside if the school is to be run professionally or hire the Committee members 1- 2 days/week. Then accountability can be counted upon – not by volunteering middle class mums.

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The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.