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Where is the quality in RTE?
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for Tamil Nadu, produced by Pratham, highlights some of the major challenges of primary education in Tamil Nadu.
THERE IS A clear lack of emphasis on quality in the primary school education system. The ASER report states that only 17.1 per cent of children in Class 3 were able to do simple maths and only 31.5 per cent of them could read a simple paragraph. Even though the RTE Act has facilitated the right to education for everyone, in reality the scenario seems dire. The poor teacher student ratio and the lack of proper quality mentoring are major reasons for this mess.

Look at the state of classrooms in government schools in India. Most government schools, especially in rural areas, have all students from class 1 to 5 in a single large room. They teach subjects irrespective of the capability of individuals and irrespective of their grade. Also there is no form of examination for anyone till the 8th grade. Further, the teachers are confronted with excessive administrative duties. Not only does this dilute the quality of learning, it also de-motivates the teachers from performing to potential. However, the teachers and the teaching system are to blame.

Poor teaching quality

The teaching profession has always been considered holy. Contrary to popular opinion, they are paid reasonably well, especially after the latest pay commission updates. A fresh teacher earns Rs 18,000 per month on an average. This is likely to increase for the higher classes. Despite these, 99.9 per cent of the teachers failed the Central Teachers Eligibility Test (CTET), which is a benchmark for teaching quality in the country! Some of the blame vests with the B. Ed syllabus, which lacks depth and quality and has little emphasis on application-oriented learning. It is imperative that we restructure the academic curriculum for teachers.

Private schools are preferred…

The ASER survey shows that there is a substantial increase in the enrollment in private schools over the last couple of years. The enrolment rate in private schools was 15.7 per cent in 2007 and this increased to 30.2 per cent in 2012, while in government schools, it had come down to 69.8 per cent from 84.3 per cent. True, this increase in enrolment in private schools augurs well since most of the private schools have better quality education.  But one needs to understand that it is important that the public education system should be near the best because the essence of education at the grassroots is through the public education system. If this system is not upto the mark, then the migration to private education system is inevitable. This reflects the confidence people have in the public education system and more importantly, increases the disparity of education among the school going children both in the state and in the country. The 30.2 per cent in private schools in 2012 are more likely to see a vast increase in standard of education compared to the 69.8 per cent in the public schools.

Veteran educationist Vasanthi Devi argues that the increase in private school standards could be a myth and that most people from rural areas send their children to private schools by default. The lower confidence in the public education system could be seen as a major cause to the increase in the private schools across the state.

TN stands tall in RTE implementation

In comparison to other states, Tamil Nadu has had a significantly better implementation of the RTE Act. There has been good progress in providing basic sanitation facilities to all the students including female students in schools. In addition, drinking water facilities have increased tremendously over the years in schools.

Three years after the passage of the RTE Act, the state of affairs of the education system across India is not something that we could be proud of. RTE is a brilliant concept and that’s where it stands, with a relatively abysmal level of implementation of quality in the education system. There has to be a renewed emphasis from the state and Central authorities on the quality of education that they provide to students.

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