The Union government may have made elementary education (Stds I to VIII) a fundamental right by bringing into force the Right to Education (RTE) Act, but India perhaps needs another few years to implement it because a large number of schools lag far behind in fulfilling basic infrastructure norms mandated under the Act.
The latest District Information System of Education (DISE: 2013-14) survey conducted by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Maharashtra) reveals that only 23,099 out of 1.05 lakh elementary schools (22%) are able to qualify on 10 indicators mandated under the Act. Details for the 1.05 lakh schools across the state were collected in September-October 2013 for which the report was submitted to the school education and sports department last week.
A year ago, only 7% of the schools were fulfilling all 10 infrastructure norms.
The 10 basic parameters include building, drinking water, separate toilets for girls and boys, one teacher per classroom, boundary wall, playground, shed for kitchen, ramp (for the disabled) and office-cum-store-cum-headmistress room.
Private schools, aided and unaided both, are worse than the institutes run by the government and local bodies, reveals the report. As against 28.6% state- and local body-run schools, only 8.2% private aided and 12.6% private unaided schools meet the basic norms.
The report also reveals the pathetic state of schools with many not having drinking water (1,400) and toilet facilities (2,100).
Interestingly, the deadline given by the Centre to implement the RTE Act ended in March 2013 and parameters with regard to quality of education, learning environment and overall development of children are yet to be assessed. Shockingly, over 700 schools are yet to be recognised.
As many as 1.62 crore children have been enrolled in the elementary schools across Maharashtra of which 63.3 lakh are studying in government run-centres, 97 lakh in private institutes and 77,700 in illegal schools, states the report.
Educationist Milind Wagh said, "A large number of schools are with government and local bodies. It's their responsibility to focus on school education aggressively instead of merging or closing down the schools."
Project director of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and RTE (Maharashtra) Anil Kale, however, defended the situation and said, "The progress in the past one year has been good. Moreover, the DISE data was collected in September 2013. By now, more schools would have improved. By next year, over 60% schools will be able to qualify on these parameters."
He also cited government's compulsion for not cracking down on private institutions which lack infrastructure. "A large number of children study in private schools so those can't be closed down. With the Centre's consent, we have relaxed norms for the boundary wall and playground by allowing the school managements to use green fencing and forging a contract with the nearby playground. Still, a lot need to be done, which they are unable to do due to lack of funds."
President of BMC Teachers Association Ramesh Joshi, however, slammed the government and said, "The RTE Act came into effect in 2010. Even after four years, neither Maharashtra nor other states have implemented it effectively. The state lacks the will power to crack down on private managements. We have approached the Bombay high court in this regard so that the court can compel the government to act seriously towards the overall development of the children."