The news is that the Government of India is bent upon introducing Detention System at school level; initially at Class-III and VIII. The move is said to be a measure of enhancing the quality and raising the bar of standards prevailing at the school level. It is also reported that the government is prepared to amend Section-16 of the Right to Education Act, 2009, which does not allow holding back of a child in any class or expulsion from school, till the child completes elementary education (i.e., Class-VIII). Though it is proposed for the present at the level of Class-III and VIII, the measure may be applied to every class in due course of time.
The Minister for HRD concerned also declared that they were able to muster the support of the State governments in this exercise. The significant issue of discussion is that to what extent the present move is consistent with the avowed objective of the 86th Amendment to the Constitution. When the said Constitution (86th Amendment) Act, 2002, was placed before the Parliament, it was stated that ‘equality in the provision of education’ is essential for ensuring social justice. Through this amendment, India became one of the 135 countries to have made education a fundamental right of every child. The follow-up legislation the Right to Education Act, 2009, has also made a provision under Section-12 (1) (c) mandating even private schools also to reserve 25 per cent of the sets to students belonging to economically weaker sections of the society.
When the matter was contested by the private school managements (Ref: W/P No.416 of 2012 filed by Pramati Educational & Cultural Trust and Others against Union of India), a five-judge Constitution Bench upheld the reservation of seats to the economically disadvantaged up to 25 per cent as consistent with the right granted under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution.
In this context, the decision of the Central Government is likely to impact certain crucial areas of the school education like the enrolments, drop-outs and finally literacy. As per the United Nations Report (2015) on out of school children, there are about 17.7 million children (14 per cent) in India that are not going to any school. Similarly, the Global Monitoring Report (2012) ranked India at as low as 102 out of the 120 countries on the ‘Education For All (EFA)’ Development Index. This Index is based on the progress made by the countries in terms of their initiative on Universal Primary Education, adult literacy, gender parity and the quality of education.
Even the Report of the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), New Delhi, estimated the number of out-of-school children in the age group of 6-14 years to be about 28.2 per cent of the total children (2005-06) who were supposed to be in the school. The Institute has observed that this percentage came down significantly to 4.28 by 2009-10. Yet in terms of the number, it stood at 8.15 million. As per the information submitted to the Rajya Sabha (March 10, 2016), the number of children that remained out of the school is about 6.064 million. Even without raising any doubt on these numbers, the figures are truly alarming.
In addition to the above, there is the issue of ‘drop-outs’ from the school system. Available data on this parameter indicate that the overall drop-out rate for Class I-V is still hovering at 24.9 per cent in 2008-09. Very surprisingly, the drop-out rate for boys is high at 26.7 per cent, compared to girls at 22.9 per cent. If we club Class-I-VIII, these percentages remain at 42.3 for all and 44.9 for boys and 38.9 for girls respectively. Unfortunately, these rates are highly alarming for marginalized sections of the society like SC (47.9 per cent) and ST (58.3 per cent).
The situation prevailing at the initial stage of enrolment is also not much encouraging. The enrolments, which were found to be 98.1 per cent at pre-primary level, are reducing to 93.3 per cent at the primary level. The Numbers are plummeting awfully low at the secondary level, hovering at around 73.5 per cent Higher Secondary level. The situation remained ill-responsive, inspite of the fact that the budget for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan had gone up from Rs. 12,825 crore in 2009-10 to Rs.22,500 crore in 2016-17; more number of schools (84.4 per cent) being served mid-day meal, and being provided with drinking water (73 per cent) and functioning toilets for girls (48.2 per cent).
The surprising fact is that the enrolment of girls has recorded only a slight increase by 0.07 percentage points between 2009-10 (48.12 per cent) and 2014-15 (48.19 per cent). It is also to be realised that it is not as though the children are promoted to the next higher classes without subjecting them to any test or evaluation. Under both the public and the private set-ups, evaluation is made continuous and rigorous too.
Ipso facto, there are many other issues impinging on the ‘quality of school education,’ such as unfilled vacancies, lack of trained teachers, high pupil-teacher ratio, teacher absenteeism and the lack of infrastructure. Therefore, it is highly pressing that the Government of India reconsider its decision on the ‘compulsory detention system’ and contribute for enhancing the literacy levels of the country. (Writer is Former Vice-Chancellor, Acharya Nagarjuna University)
By Prof K Viyyanna Rao
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