The Right to Education (RTE) Act of 2009 is being portrayed as a landmark legislation in the history of the country. I had the privilege of interning with the Principal Secretary of Education for Gujarat. It was around this time that the office was working on Rules to implement RTE in Gujarat. I got the chance to read those Rules before they were actually published for the whole world to see.
I dislike quite a few things about the RTE Act. Although one such stipulations takes the cake. It is according to me, the most damaging provision in the Act.
From June 2012, every primary school in Gujarat will have to compulsorily admit 25% students who are from “economically and socially backward” strata of the society. By every primary school, they actually mean ALL of them. Yes, even the private schools which don't take any grant from the government. This will, according to the government, integrate poor students into the main stream. Nobel thought but bad implementation.
The Government will pay fees for these 25% kids. The schools will be reimbursed by the government to the extent of the expenditure incurred by a child in the government school. It means, if the government's per student expenditure per year is Rs 5000/- but the private schools fee is Rs 20,000/- per year, the private school will be paid only Rs 5000/- by the government. Consequently, private schools will recover the difference amount from the remaining 75% of the students!
Consequently, everyone will try to widen the definition of "economically and socially backward" strata just to abuse the economic benefits attached to it. For, the policy that is “pro-poor” will, like all policies which are “pro-” something; increases that something.
Also, due to the shortage of quality schools in the country, a lot of corporate are opening up schools by themselves. They want to enter into the education sector for the long run. It is both, a service to the society and a money spinner. But with reservations being brought in like this, corporate will be discouraged to enter. Considering India’s need for schools, the government will in no way be able to start and manage the requisite number. Government needs private schools to flourish. In the Education sector, like in any other sector, setting the market free is the key to development.
Instead of trying to bridge the economic divide, government should try and reduce the hurdles which come in the way of setting up new schools. Reduction in red tape, loans and encouragement are the only things required. Government does not need to manage the education sector. It just needs to regulate it.
Education is one sector that was left behind in the 1991 reforms. We have delayed it long enough. The time; is now.
P.S. - For all Acts, Rules, Amendments, Bills, Notifications and Guidelines on the RTE, check this.