Providing good quality basic school education for children is widely recognized as a primary responsibility of the State in any modern society.
A recent announcement by the Rajasthan government states that it will hand over 300 ‘poorly performing’ government schools to private hands, to be run on the public-private partnership model, in the name of “improving the quality of education”. This brings into focus the state of government school education in India and the abysmal failure of the State to fulfill this primary responsibility towards our people.
In the field of school education, the Indian State has from the beginning, adopted two parallel systems – one, private schools owned and run by private managements and trusts; the other, schools owned and run by the State (this includes schools run by central and state governments, municipal corporations and other local bodies, as well as government aided schools). While the State-run schools were meant to provide good quality education of uniform standard, at affordable cost, the private schools mainly catered to those who could afford to pay high fees. Over the years, the State-run school system, which was supposed to provide a good, all-round education to the children of the toiling masses, has been systematically destroyed, as a conscious and planned policy of the Indian State, through woefully inadequate funding, corruption and mismanagement as well as political indifference and deliberate neglect.
The struggle to improve and expand the State-run schooling system, in order to fulfil the deep aspirations of the millions of toilers of our country, for a good education for their children, has been an important component of the struggle of the working class and other working people for a better future. Teachers, academics and all progressive people concerned with the well-being of society have been actively raising their voice, demanding that the State fulfil its responsibility of providing uniform, good and affordable school education.
It was under pressure from this struggle that on April 1, 2011 the previous UPA government passed the Right to Education (RTE) Act, making it mandatory for the government to ensure free and compulsory, quality education to all children between the ages of six and 14 (up to Class eight).
The RTE Act laid down rules for minimum standards that must be followed in all government schools – in terms of teacher-student ratio (see Box: Teacher-student ratio), necessary infrastructure and services, school working days and working hours of teachers, quality of teachers, etc. It laid down rules for no discrimination in admission, no detention, inclusion of parents and community members in the school management committees (SMCs). It mandated the setting up of neighbourhood schools within 1 km, so that children do not have to travel long distances to go to school. In the name of promoting ‘social inclusion’, the act declared it mandatory for all private schools to reserve 25% of their seats for children of economically weaker sections (EWS). The RTE Act was to be justiciable, with a Grievance Redressal (GR) mechanism that would give opportunity to people to take legal action against violation of various provisions of the Act.
Public-private partnership in school education
According to the “Public Private Partnership in School Education 2017” policy of the Rajasthan government, 75% schools in rural areas and 25% schools in urban areas will be identified on the basis of very poor academic results, and handed over to be run by private managements. Each private buyer would have to pay Rs 75 Lakh for operating each school. The state government, apart from handing over the existing prime land, buildings and other infrastructure, students, teachers and other staff, will reimburse the amount paid by the private buyer over a seven-year period at Rs 16 lakh per annum. Another Rs 20,000 would be reimbursed to the private owners as expenses per student. The private owner would have the freedom to fix the students’ fees and salaries of the staff, its own admission policy and staff selection criteria.
Side by side with this, the government continued to encourage public-private partnership in school education, in the name of “making quality school education available to all”. Public-private partnership in school education is a euphemism for handing over government schools to private buyers to run on profit making basis. (see Box: Public-private partnership in school education). The private schooling system was allowed to continue and flourish.
The toiling masses hoped that with the RTE Act in place, their dreams of providing quality education for their children would finally be fulfilled. However, a review of the state of government schools in urban and rural areas across the country, 6 years after the notification of the RTE, makes it amply clear that the state has failed miserably in implementing each and every aspect of the Act. The Grievance Redressal mechanism was not even set up in most cases!
Teacher student ratio in India as mandated by the Right to Education Act:
While the average teacher-student ratio across India may come close to this, there are wide variations in different states, as seen from the bar chart
In State-run schools across the country today, the rules laid down under the RTE Act can be seen more in their violation than in their compliance. It is a matter of grave concern that India fares worse than many other countries in providing state-run basic school education.
Most government schools today lack even the most basic requirements, such as class rooms, desks, drinking water, etc. There are no separate toilets for boys and girls. Broken window panes, furniture, fans and lights, paint and plaster peeling off the walls, leaky roofs, stinking toilets and garbage piled up in corners, children being taught sitting on the corridors due to lack of classrooms, etc. are a common sight in most government schools across the country. There are many rural and even urban areas, in which schools have no electricity or water supply. There are no libraries or laboratories in many of these schools. In many areas of the country, students still have to trudge long distances, over mountains, rivers and through forests, to reach school (see charts – access to toilets and access to electricity).
Books and stationary, to be supplied by the state authorities, often do not reach the schools till many weeks after the beginning of the academic session. Mid-day meals, often stale, infected and served in unhygienic conditions, have caused hundreds of students to fall sick.
The plight of shiksha mitras in UP
Shiksha mitras (contractual teachers) in government schools in Uttar Pradesh, face an uncertain future today.
In 1999, the state government had decided to appoint, through the gram sabhas and municipal councilors, 2 shiksha mitras per government school. Initially, they were paid Rs 2,250 a month. By 2010, 1.68 lakh shiksha mitras had been appointed all over Uttar Pradesh. In 2010, their pay was raised to Rs 3,500 a month."
With the Right to Education (RTE) coming into effect, the state government decided to upgrade these shiksha mitras to assistant teachers to address the shortfall of teachers in schools. The graduate shiksha mitras were to be given two years of special BTC (Basic Training Certificate) training before they were duly appointed as assistant teachers and by 2015, 1.67 lakh shiksha mitras had been upgraded as assistant teachers in the state's educational system. In September 2015, the Allahabad High Court declared these 'upgraded' appointments as null and void.
However, the Supreme Court stayed the High Court order's implementation and with the 7th Pay Commission recommendations coming into effect, the payscale of these shiksha mitras was raised to Rs 39,000.
But in a recent judgment, the Supreme Court has made it mandatory for them to pass the Teachers Eligibility test (TET) within two years, in order to continue on the upgraded payscale and cancelled their appointment as assistant teachers until they clear the TET. Thus, the future of over 1.67 lakh teachers hangs in balance now.
Students are cramped into tiny class rooms, with a single teacher often attending to more than 100 students at a time. Even in the capital city of Delhi, some of the best government schools have a teacher-pupil ratio of about 1:80. (see Box: Teacher-student ratio).The teachers are required to perform multiple duties such as school administrative and clerical duties (due to lack of administrative and clerical staff), replying to RTI queries, disbursal of funds, grants and scholarships, books and uniforms, organizing mid-day meal, following up on absentees and drop-outs, election duty, census duty, state government secretariat duty, etc. for no additional remuneration. This puts enormous pressure on teachers being able to perform their academic duties properly. Hundreds of thousands of teachers’ posts in government schools across the country have been lying vacant for years. Giving the excuse of “not finding qualified teachers” to fill these vacancies, the government has been employing the services of ad-hoc and guest teachers hired on contract at very low salaries. (see Box: The plight of shiksha mitras in UP)
Requests for repairs and resources
Repeated requests by government school principals to the higher authorities, for more funds and improvement in infrastructure and facilities as well as appointment of teachers have received poor response. (see Box: Requests for repairs and resources fall on deaf ears).
Under pressure of persistent demands to improve the state-run schooling system, the state has set up various model schools (Navodaya Vidyalayas, Sarvodaya Vidyalayas, Pratibha Vikas Vidyalayas, etc.), in which meritorious students from a cluster of some 80-100 schools are selected for enrolment. Through adequate state funding and support, these schools have, in many cases developed proper infrastructure, libraries and laboratories, playgrounds, and other amenities, trained teachers etc. Students of these model schools have often surpassed their counterparts in private schools in the examination results of the state and central education boards. This shows that wherever the state has put in the necessary attention and resources, it is capable of providing good quality education. However, such State-run model schools are very few and far between, accessible only to a very tiny section of children in certain parts of the country. Today many of these model schools too are facing shortage of government funds and resources and have to depend on NGOs and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs of private companies, to continue some of their educational initiatives.
The abysmal condition of government schools forces many working people to send their children to private schools which charge exorbitant fees, with no social control or accountability. The complete absence of government schools in many areas, problems of commuting long distances, displacement and migration of working class families, teenage girls having to drop out of schools due to lack of toilets and long distances of travel – all these aggravate the problem, forcing children into private teaching shops. As a result, many State-run schools face increasing problems of low enrolment and high drop-out rate. The State uses this as a justification for further neglecting and destroying the State-run schools.
All this points to the deliberate and conscious wrecking of the State-run schooling system in our country and the simultaneous boost given to the private schooling system. What we see today is its logical conclusion, i.e. even State-run schools are being handed over to private buyers to rake in profits by fleecing the working people.
The working class and toiling masses of our country, all progressive people, have consistently upheld the demand that ensuring good quality, uniform, affordable school education is the responsibility of the Indian State. Basic school education is a universal human right, which any modern State is duty-bound to guarantee. The Indian State has violated this universal right blatantly. Education is a crucial social investment, for ensuring enhanced productivity and quality of life for the whole of society. The Indian State has invested less in education over several decades compared to most other countries of the world with comparable social development indicators. Education cannot be left in the hands of the private capitalists, whose sole aim is making maximum profits. The deliberate wrecking of the State-run school system and the handing over of this vital sector to the profit-hungry private capitalists once more reveals the utterly anti-people and anti-social character of the Indian state. The working people have to step up the struggle demanding that the State fulfils this important duty towards our people.