Sangeeta Pillai has a complaint for the regional government: her daughter’s private school was closed, compelling her to enter a government-funded school with classes as large as 100 students, where her daughter is forced to sit on the floor and her work is never checked by the indifferent and often absent teacher. She wants to know why her daughter’s private education was forcibly interrupted to put her into an educational environment that was worse than the one she came from by authorities who claimed this was necessary in order to enforce the Right to Education law. She’s not the only person asking this question across India as thousands of schools are being closed in the name of ensuring equal access to quality education in a safe environment.
Passed in 2009, RTE mandates that students be provided with an education through elementary school, in facilities that provide running water and toilets for girls and boys alike, along with playgrounds. In theory, the legislation was supposed to address the growing educational gap in India, which was also contributing to massive income inequalities. By ensuring that all children could go to school, the act could improve literacy, provide access to more opportunities and build a better world for Indian children.
But something has gone tragically wrong with the way the Right to Education is enforced, as it’s leading to the forced closure of thousands of small private schools across India. These schools offer education for under two dollars a month, in most cases, a price which puts them in reach of at least some impoverished laborers and members of the lower classes. However, they can’t upgrade their facilities to meet RTE standards without raising their fees dramatically, and this would put them out of reach for many of their students.
Consequently, officials are closing them, arguing that they don’t provide running water and basic amenities, and calling their performance into question as well. Yet, parents are fighting back, and so are statistics. Evidence suggests that education in such schools can actually be of quite high quality, with students performing better in math, and receiving more attentive education than they receive in crowded government schools with minimal teacher accountability. The situation is creating a tension between parents, students and officials who are attempting to provide Indian children with the best educational options, but are caught between the RTE and a hard place.
The issue is particularly troubling in light of a recent UNESCO report indicating that it will take 70 years to achieve full parity when it comes to global access to early childhood education. In a nation that is already struggling to meet the educational needs of its youth, the thought of closing schools and forcing children into environments where they may not get the education they need and deserve is troubling. Is the RTE a case of a well-intentioned law that may not be so beneficial when put into practice? India may find out, possibly at the cost of this generation of children.
Photo credit: Yorick_R.