It has been exactly three years since the Right to Education (RTE) Act came into force in April 2010, but barely half the schools covered under the plan have managed to put in place the physical infrastructure they were required to. The HRD ministry has said it does not intend to extend the deadline of March, 31, 2013, that was set for schools to build the necessary classrooms, playgrounds, libraries, toilets and other facilities; HRD minister MM Pallam Raju is on record saying there will be no grace period, but whether the government will cut back on funding is as yet not clear. That would be unfortunate because it could result in many of the schools closing down, leaving several million children in the lurch. Indeed, it would be irresponsible on the part of the government to wash its hands off what was conceived as a joint initiative by it with the states. The union government—which is picking up the bigger share of the tab—needs to support the states for a little longer given that the education of so many children—between the ages of six and 14—is at stake. The fact that the government has given states more time to recruit teachers is a good idea—13 states asked for an extension on the March 31, 2015 deadline—since in even a state like Delhi, just 7% of teachers managed to pass the Teacher Education Test.
The larger question, of course, is of whether the government’s focus on getting all schools to be “recognised” by the education departments of various states is even a good idea. After all, if poorer parents are willing to pay to send their children to unrecognised private schools instead of to free government schools, there must be a reason for this. In any case, there is enough evidence from Pratham’s Aser studies to show the quality of teaching in the unrecognised private schools is largely better than in government schools. At a national level, in rural India, Pratham’s ASER data shows that in 2010, 46.3% of all children in Standard V could not read a Standard II level text. This proportion increased to 51.8% in 2011 and further to 53.2% in 2012. In 2010, of all children enrolled in Standard V, 29.1% could not solve simple two-digit subtraction problems. This proportion increased to 39% in 2011 and further to 46.5% in 2012. Instead of infrastructure-driven goals, the government would do well to think of how to get greater private involvement in government schools, to get teachers to come to school, and to then teach.