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The Pratham Column: Building capacities to deliver Education in India

The Right to Education Act was expected to transform the landscape of Indian education. However, three years into the implementation of the Act - and not even itís vehement supporters would disagree, it has had little bearing on the quality of elementary education.
BY Neeraj Trivedi |   18-07-2013
Pratham: Every Child in School and Learning Well...

ASER, an annual survey to understand learning levels of children in rural India, clearly indicates the decline in educational outcomes. The findings show that in 2010, nationally, 53.7% of children in Std 5 could read a simple Std 2 level text. The corresponding figure for 2012 is 46.8%. Worse, while in 2010, 70.9% of children in Std 5 could do a simple 2 digit subtraction problem, the percentage dropped to 53.5% in 2012. Whether the Act has caused this decline can be debated but it seems quite clear that the Act has had zilch, if not negative, impact on the quality of learning nationally.

While much of the debate prior to the passage of the bill, and even after, revolved around some of the clauses contained in the Act, the capacities of the personnel, officials and institutions involved was not sufficiently analysed. The HRD Minister at the time had an explanation - Let us start with a vision and everything will fall into place. But institutions that have been plagued with inefficiency and ineffectiveness cannot be revamped through mere lofty visions.

A framework comprising five key questions could provide a deeper understanding of the capabilities of pivotal institutions and agencies, and could begin to make the wishful thinking in the Act more evident:

  1. Are the goals for the institution/body specific and in alignment with the overall goal of universal elementary education
  2. Are the roles of the personnel in these institutions/bodies clearly spelt out, aligned with the overall goals and in sync with the overall professional environment in which they operate?
  3. Do the institutions and bodies have the necessary authority to meet the goals?
  4. Do the institutions and have the necessary resources (human, physical and financial) to meet the goals?
  5. Are the institutional policies and practices in alignment with one another and the institution’s goals?

For purposes of brevity, we shall limit the analysis only to 3 institutions and bodies: District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs), Block and Cluster Resource coordinators, and School Management Committees. However, the framework can be applied to other key institutions and bodies to understand systemic issues that constrain effective implementation.

The DIETs are responsible for teacher training and ongoing professional development of teachers. Applying the framework here leads us to ask what amounts to “professional development of teachers”. The vague articulation of goal has meant that teacher training courses are merely instructional and seldom take into account the reality in the classroom – multi grade teaching, children from diverse backgrounds, high pupil teacher ratios etc. In addition, most DIETs in the country continue to be plagued with limited staff and infrastructure.

The block and cluster resource coordinators are responsible for academic monitoring. While they do monitor schools, their focus is often limited to monitoring of inputs. Seldom do officials visit classrooms and even more rarely do they provide inputs to teachers to help them deal with the complexity in classrooms. The problem doesn’t lie in their motivations to do so, but in the expectations placed upon them by their superiors. Their performance is not measured by the improvements they bring in the performance of schools under their supervision but by the monitoring formats they fill. This is no surprise since the entire education administration is input focused. In addition, the block and cluster officials often lack the authority and resources to act on the issues identified through monitoring.

While the Act expects the School Management Committees to monitor the working of school (again a vague articulation of their role), they are armed with negligible punitive powers and financial autonomy. Seventy five per cent of SMC members are expected to be parents, who are often illiterate and do not consider themselves to be in a position to enquire about the school’s functioning, much less create a School Development Plan. Evidence shows that even in the rare cases where SMCs have created School Development Plans through a thorough identification of needs and resources, the block and district level machinery has been unable to incorporate it in their annual work plans.

A holistic approach to capacity building that systematically addresses the questions posed above is a prerequisite to the successful implementation of the RTE Act. The abrupt passage of the Food Security Ordinance makes it clear that the government has neither learned from its mistakes nor does it intend to. Rather than understanding the gaps in the public distribution system in the country and systematically working towards removing them, it has hurriedly brought about another right. One cannot help but agree with the view that the government has thrown another piece of paper in the plates of the hungry millions of this country, much like a 13-page document was handed out to millions of children desiring good education.

Neeraj Trivedi, an alumnus of IIT Madras and IIM Lucknow, has been working with the ASER Centre for over three years as the Head of Capacity Building and Human Resources. Prior to this, he worked with Pratham for around 2 years, overseeing operations in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Much like most of his fellow countrymen, Neeraj is an ardent fan of cricket and Bollywood movies.



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Indeed a good piece of work. Congratulations. At the same time just wondering, whether the Govt. or lets say Ministry had any yard stick or not to b4 implementing the act to measure its efficiency and efficacy after the grace period of 3 years. I am sure they must have and if they had why not they are now publicizing their out comes / achievement as the transition period has gone in last April 2013. Further it very correctly pointed out why this concept of quality measurement is not peculating down among the functionaries. What type of management strategy is this ???
19 July 2013

19 July 2013

Maria Grazia Pastorello
Neeraj, this is an excellent piece, really!! The questions that you ask are so well doubt if they had put these questions to themselves before writing the ACT, things would probably work differently today..
19 July 2013

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